provide access to diverse sources of information” (pp. 157-158).
enhanced communication opportunities can be visualized through this
communications can significantly multiply the opportunities for
communication, so much so that faculty adding this dimension to their
hybrid classes or online courses have a genuine concern that they will be
overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages.
Most practitioners end up negotiating with students the nature,
frequency, and response rate of electronic communications.
The good news is that Brown (2001) and others report that
“communication is central.” At
Wake Forest the research “shows that 87% of faculty and students believe
that their learning has increased because professor-student and
student-student communication is so much better.”
Using Technology as a Tool to Promote/Further Sound Pedagogy
(1997), who was a cognitive psychologist, strongly advocates the use of
cooperative learning as it is enhanced by electronic communication: “The
kind of learning that is important to me requires active rehearsal, and
one of the best forms of active rehearsal is to talk to someone else about
what you know. While learning
is based on what we have individually acquired, the consolidation comes
about best when we discuss our ideas with others—I think learning is
primarily a communal event. I
rely heavily on cooperative learning in my courses to meet this communal
sharing of knowledge” (p. 153).
(1993), too, recommends the use of cooperative learning.
Because of the influence of peers and faculty, he concludes that
"how students approach general education (and how the faculty actually deliver
the curriculum) is far more important than the formal curricular content
and structure" (p. 425). He
unequivocally endorses cooperative learning as a valid and effective
what we have come to call cooperative learning methods, where students
work together in small groups, students basically teach each other, and
our pedagogical resources are multiplied.
Classroom research has consistently shown that cooperative learning
approaches produce outcomes that are superior to those obtained through
traditional competitive approaches, and it may well be that our findings
concerning the power of the peer group offer a possible explanation:
cooperative learning may be more potent than traditional methods of
pedagogy because it motivates students to become more active and more
involved participants in the learning process.
This greater involvement could come in at least two different ways.
First, students may be motivated to expend more effort if they know
their work is going to be scrutinized by peers; and second, students may
learn course material in greater depth if they are involved in helping
teach it to fellow students. (p. 427).
enough, a recent e-mail by the well-respected scholar, K. Patricia Cross
(2001) summarizes two key trends in faculty development: an emphasis on
student learning and an emphasis on collaborative learning. Most faculty
developers and teachers recognize that collaboration alone is not
sufficient. Thus, many
faculty members, like Creed, are turning to a highly structured form of
collaborative learning, cooperative learning. As a paper supporting a
recent Teaching Learning & Technology Group webcast suggests (Millis,
2001a), the principles underlying the solid classroom use of cooperative
learning also apply when courses are offered through distance education
What is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperative learning tends to be more carefully structured and
delineated than most other forms of small group learning.
Cooper and Mueck (1989) describe it as "a structured,
systematic instructional strategy in which small groups work together
toward a common goal" (p. 1).
experts, including Cooper (1990), agree that the most important
cooperative learning elements are positive interdependence and individual
accountability. Three other
components important to the authors’ teaching approaches are appropriate
grouping (which usually means heterogeneous grouping), group processing,
and cooperative social skills.
Two Key Components of Cooperative Learning
interdependence occurs, according to Kagan (1992), "when gains of
individuals or teams are positively correlated" (p. 4:7).
Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991) believe that positive
interdependence occurs when “cooperation results in participants'
striving for mutual benefit so that all members of the group benefit from
each other's efforts (your success benefits me and my success benefits
you)” (p. 3).
careful planning, positive interdependence can be established by having
students achieve: (a) mutual
goals, such as solving specific problems or creating a team project;
(b) mutual rewards, such as individually assigned cooperative
learning points that count toward a criterion-referenced final grade
(points that only help, but never handicap);
(c) structured tasks, such as a report or complex problem with
sections contributed by each team member; and (d) interdependent roles,
such as group members serving as discussion leaders, organizers,
recorders, and spokespersons. Despite a popular misconception, cooperative learning does
not entail undifferentiated group grades.
second component of cooperative learning, individual accountability,
indicates to students who might be "hitchhikers" (students who
do not—for whatever reasons—typically do a fair share of assigned
group work) or "over achievers" or "workhorses"
(students who assume a disproportionate amount of the workload), that
these roles are unacceptable in a cooperative setting.
Such practices are counter-productive in an environment where
students, no matter how much mutual support, coaching, and encouragement
they receive, are individually responsible for their own academic
achievements. Because most
American students accustomed to traditional education have been acclimated
to an academic setting where they compete against fellow classmates, this
aspect of cooperative learning is somehow reassuring: their final course
grades will be based on their own efforts, uncompromised and uncomplicated
by the achievements of others. Faculty
also generally applaud this important aspect of cooperative learning.
In fact, when their grading systems are fully formulated, students
find that their efforts to help others never hurt their own achievements
and can, in some cases, actually increase their course grades either
directly or indirectly. Research
by Webb (1989), for example, indicates that student achievement is
directly correlated to the level of elaboration of help that students
provide other group members. This
finding should come as no surprise to faculty, who already know that those
who teach learn the most. Thus,
instructors establish for students a "win-win" situation.
Some Further Attributes of a Cooperative
grouping is also essential. Researchers
such as Kagan (1992), Johnson, Johnson & Smith (1991) and Millis &
Cottell (1998) recommend heterogeneous teams, reflecting varied learning
abilities, ethnic and linguistic diversity, and a mixture of the sexes. In a semester-length academic course, most practitioners
recommend teacher-selected learning teams of four. Teams composed of four
students work effectively because they are small enough to promote
interaction, large enough to tolerate an occasional absence, and balanced
enough to permit focused activities in pairs.
The teams can be kept in place throughout the semester or, more
typically, rearranged at the midsemester point.
In briefer situations, a short-term mix of students focusing on
specific learning goals are appropriate; depending on the task and the
group members, these teams can be homogenous.
Because most employers value cooperation and teamwork,
heterogeneous teams provide opportunities to prepare for or to reinforce
practices needed in the work place. Teacher-selected
teams insure heterogeneity along a number of lines including age,
ethnicity, and ability. If
students are allowed to select their fellow teammates, they tend to seek
out friends or students who share similar educational, economic, or ethnic
homogeneous groupings tend to undermine the heterogeneity that promotes
creative problem solving. Teams
formed randomly may be unbalanced. It could be counter-productive, for example, for all the less
academically prepared students to find themselves on one team formed
through random grouping.
A fourth component, group processing, helps build team skills,
allows students to reflect on the learning process and outcomes, and
provides teachers with continuous feedback.
Both teachers and students monitor group and individual progress. After an assignment or activity, for instance, students could
respond to questions such as: "Did all members of the group
contribute?" "What could be done next time to make the group
function better?" or "What were the most important things I
skills are also important in cooperative learning.
These go beyond mere politeness.
Students must recognize the importance of cooperative interaction
and mutual respect. Teachers
should model appropriate social skills, including ways of providing
constructive feedback or eliciting more in-depth responses through probing
questions. They should also reinforce these social skills by publicly
commenting on ways students use them effectively.
reluctant to consider cooperative learning can be reassured by the fact
that the research base for cooperative learning is long‑standing and
is far from a
“flavor-of-the-month” fad (Millis, 2001b).
The Research Base for Cooperative Learning
the learning outcomes and the social dynamics of cooperative learning have
been studied under a number of conditions.
Slavin (1989-1990) regards it as "one of the most thoroughly
researched of all instructional methods" (p. 52).
Similarly, Johnson and Johnson & Smith (1991) describe the
amount of research conducted over the past 90 years as
"staggering" and conclude that:
During the past 90 years, more than 600 studies have been conducted
by a wide variety of researchers in different decades with different age
subjects, in different subject areas, and in different environments.
We know far more about the efficacy of cooperative learning than we
know about lecturing . . . or almost any other facet of education"
addition to cooperative learning's positive effect on student achievement,
Johnson, Johnson & Smith (1991) also find that it significantly
affects interpersonal relations:
relationships within the class or college become more positive,
absenteeism decreases and students' commitment to learning, feeling of
personal responsibility to complete the assigned work, willingness to take
on difficult tasks, motivation and persistence in working on tasks,
satisfaction and morale, willingness to endure pain and frustration to
succeed, willingness to defend the college against external criticism or
attack, willingness to listen to and be influenced by peers, commitment to
peer's success and growth, and productivity and achievement can be
expected to increase. (p. 44)
in higher education can feel assured, also, that although much of the
research in the last decades has been conducted at the kindergarten
through twelfth grade level, its benefits, according to Natasi and
Clements (1991), seem to be universal:
Cognitive-academic and social-emotional benefits have been reported
for students from early elementary through college level, from diverse
ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and having a wide range of ability
levels. . . . Furthermore, cooperative learning has been used effectively
across a wide range of content areas, including mathematics, reading,
language arts, social studies, and science. (p. 111)
Bossert (1988), after a meta-analyses on the now substantial body of
research, concludes that its benefits affect students of all ages, in all
content areas, for a wide variety of tasks, including problem-solving
learning is also one of the most versatile educational strategies
available. It complements and
enhances virtually every pedagogy or approach we know to promote effective
teaching and learning, including classroom research,
writing-across-the-curriculum, case studies, "The Seven Principles
for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education" (Chickering &
Gamson, 1987) and problem-based curriculum.
It is powerful because it enables faculty members to apply the
considerable international body of research on deep learning.
Get Beyond the Superficial: Promoting Deep Learning in Your Discipline
power of cooperative learning lies in its ability to promote what is known
as deep learning. Deep
learning does not occur simply because students are placed in groups,
however. It emerges from the
careful, sequenced assignments and activities “orchestrated” by a
teacher committed to student learning.
research on deep learning has been ongoing, systematic, and convergent.
A project, “Improving Student Learning,” sponsored by the
Council for National Academic Awards in Britain, was initiated not to
generate new research about student learning but rather to encourage
faculty to use the existing research and tools to strengthen their
courses. The project is
predicated on research indicating that:
students’ approach to learning--whether they take a surface or a deep
approach--[is] the crucial factor determining the quality of learning
outcomes. Those who take a
deep approach understand more, produce better written work containing
logical structures and conclusions rather than lists, remember longer, and
obtain better marks and degrees than those students who take a surface
approach. (cited in “Deep
Learning, Surface Learning,” 1993, p. 14)
research suggests that although specific implementations will vary, four
key components characterize a deep, rather than a surface approach to
learning. Rhem (1995) summarizes them as follows:
Motivational context: We
learn best what we feel a need to know.
Intrinsic motivation remains inextricably bound to some level of
choice and control. Courses
that remove these take away the sense of ownership and kill one of the
strongest elements in lasting learning.
Learner Activity: Deep
learning and “doing” travel together.
Doing in itself isn’t enough.
Faculty must connect activity to the abstract conceptions that make
sense of it, but passive mental postures lead to superficial learning.
Interaction with others:
As Noel Entwistle put it in a recent email message, “The teacher is not
the only source of instruction or inspiration.”
Peers working as groups enjoin dimensions of learning that lectures
and readings by themselves cannot touch.
A well-structured knowledge
base: This doesn’t just mean presenting new material in an organized
way. It also means engaging
and reshaping the concepts students bring with them when they register.
Deep approaches, learning for understanding, are integrative
processes. The more fully new
concepts can be connected with students’ prior experience and existing
knowledge, the more it is they will be impatient with inert facts and
eager to achieve their own synthesis. (p. 4)
research has enormous implications for college and university teaching. Researchers generally agree, for example, that group work and
problem solving within the context outlined above can result in deep
Thus, the cooperative activities—whether face-to-face or
electronically facilitated— must be viewed within the larger teaching
and learning framework. Specifically,
they form the center of a carefully crafted learning sequence, one
enhanced by technological tools such as e-mail submissions.
One could think of the sequence as a complex sandwich, with
carefully designed out-of-class assignments (homework) motivating students
to learn the subject matter—the two pieces of bread.
Then, class time can be profitably spent reinforcing the learning
through active and interactive learning activities—the meat.
Leamnson (1999) strongly advocates building out-of-class
assignments and in-class activities that give students the opportunity to
face the difficult task of learning.
He reminds us that:
err, I believe, if they pretend that what is by nature difficult can be
made easy through clever pedagogy. Any
subject can be made easy by trivializing it, but doing so only perpetrates
the superficiality and shallowness that we are supposed to be eliminating.
intent, then, is to get the elements of our discipline to pass through new
synapses. It follows that the
difficult work of organizing, abstracting, and relating is better done by
students than the teacher.” (p. 61)
how do all these wonderful enhancements to cooperative teaching and
learning come about? They
occur largely because of committed faculty who recognize the value of
technology to strengthen their teaching options and thus offer students
more avenues for communication and more tools for learning.
But, not all faculty are able to devote the time and energy into
learning new software such as WebCT or Blackboard.
They recognize the value of technology to extend their classroom
walls, but they also recognize that they do not have the time or in some
cases, the expertise to learn the intricacies of new technologies.
That’s where creative, supportive people come in.
Can Be Our Very Best Resources
A lot has been
written about the role of supportive IT staff. As mentioned in an earlier
webcast, people who understand the technology and can link it with
effective pedagogy in a cheerful, efficient way are worth their weight in
silicon chips (Millis, 2001c).
most faculty members these services should be seamless, invisible and
virtually instantaneous. If a
floppy containing my semester lesson plan expires, I want a cheerful
technician to breathe life into it. If
my computer keeps accusing me of committing “fatal errors,” then I
want someone to slap some sense into it.
If I can’t build a PowerPoint slide to illustrate a crucial
point, then I want someone to sit next to me and guide my mouse.
Basically, I don’t have the time or the interest to learn html or
to tinker lovingly with a web page, and I certainly don’t want to get
into the business of designing software.
I am not alone in desiring support from knowledgeable technology
folks. Richard Tiberus (2001)
notes in a recent e-mail that he always selects software programs
supported by his university: “Otherwise I end up becoming a computer
person and I have a day job.”
Besides the professional IT staff, many schools offer multimedia
centers, often staffed by technologically gifted students.
Here faculty can experiment with new software or receive help
building multimedia presentations. As
a recent Webcast emphasized, altruistic faculty peers can be tremendously
helpful. At the Air Force
Academy, for example, every department identifies a technology expert
available to help faculty with day-to-day technology problems or with
complex teaching projects. When
a large number of faculty are teaching a core course, often one individual
assumes responsibility for technology projects such as the use of
Blackboard in an Engineering Mechanics course.
That way, all sections of the course are supported without each
faculty member having to reinvent the Blackboard wheel.
Often one individual will assume the initiative for identifying
appropriate resources within the discipline.
Technology options—including both the delivery channels and the
tools—are rich and exciting. Thousands
of unique resources are available for use in hybrid and online courses.
Teaching (JiTT), a collaborative effort between physics faculty at the
United States Air Force Academy, Indiana University-Purdue University
Indianapolis, and Davidson College, is a teaching and learning
strategy that, through its sequenced nature, promotes deep learning.
Patterson (2001) explains that:
respond electronically to carefully constructed web-based assignments that
are due a few hours before class, and the instructor reads the student
submissions ‘just-in-time’ to adjust the lesson content and activities
to suit the students' needs. Thus, the heart of JiTT is the 'feedback
loop' formed by the students' outside-of-class preparation that
fundamentally affects what happens during the subsequent in-class time
together. The students come to class prepared and already engaged with the
material, and the faculty member already knows exactly where the students
are and where classroom time together can be best spent (p.1).
Much of the class time is
devoted to active learning, interactive techniques that will foster deeper
Adopted by faculty at more than 50 institutions throughout the
word, JiTT has been hailed as an effective, innovative combination of
sound pedagogy and technology by key science organizations (The National
Science Foundation, Project Kaleidoscope, and the American Association of
Physics Teachers) and individuals (Richard Hake and Eric Mazur).
A sample puzzle (http://www.usafa.af.mil/dfp/physics/webphysics/courses/421f98/pzl/421pzl10.htm)
and a sample Physics 110 preflight lesson (http://www.usafa.af.mil/dfp/physics/webphysics/courses/110pf14.htm)
follow this paper and are posted to the World Wide Web.
I recently had coffee
with Frank Price, the chief designer of BioQuest/BIRDD (http://bioquest.org/index.html).
The premise behind this extensive project is that:
students should have the opportunity to learn biology by engaging in
activities like those of practicing scientists—that is, they should
learn science by experiences where they pose problems, design ways to
develop an answer to their problem, and persuade their peers as to the
validity and utility of their answers. (p. 1)
Designed to help students learn evolution,
the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium emphasizes problem-posing,
problem-solving, and peer persuasion.
Suggested activities are highly collaborative.
Through extensive text, web-based, visual, and software modules,
students and teachers can use information technology to supplement actual
laboratory and field work.
to Dan Jensen (2001), the Department of Engineering Mechanics at the US
Air Force Academy uses combinations of technology and pair-work to provide
deep learning. To help cadets understand the concept
of stress through the use of
the department has built several photoelastic
devices that allow students to physically turn a screw and view the
colored stress patterns. More
significantly, several faculty members along with colleagues at the
University of Texas at Austin have been developing engineering web-based
modules to help students master complex conceptual material such as finite
element analysis. The
American Society of Mechanical Engineers has awarded this series the most
for the year 2000."
the Department of Foreign Languages at the US Air Force Academy is doing a
number of innovative technology-based projects to aid cooperative
learning. Recognizing the promise of Computer-Assisted Instruction, particularly
as software becomes more and more sophisticated, educators are looking for
ways to lower costs and to eliminate the isolating effects of self-paced
instruction. Light &
Mevarech (1992) state: "Current trends are throwing the spotlight on
the embedding of CAL [Computer-based Learning] in cooperative learning
environments. At the
intersection of these two domains, cooperative learning and CAL, a body of
research has emerged which has examined peer interaction in relation to
computer-based learning" (p. 156-157).
Such research efforts involve a number of variables including task
design, size and dynamics of learning groups, age, gender, and time on
task. Many studies, such as
those by Dalton, Hannafin, & Hooper (1989), seek to measure both
performance and attitudes.
medium of interactive video Supinski (1996) postulates, may be even more
effective than CBI when students also interact, often in pairs.
In fact, his research has affected practice in the Department of
Foreign Languages at the US Air Force Academy.
Many instructors there use cooperative learning techniques in both
the Language Learning Center (LLC) and in the classroom. The departmental guidelines for teaching in the LCC
(Department of Foreign Languages, USAFA, 1996) recommend scheduled
interactions between students with the stipulation that "interactions
should be between group members as well as between group members and the
technology: insure there is time for both."
The amount of time spent on each segment should be timed with
recommended splits of 30/20 (Thirty minutes of video-watching followed by
20 minutes of student-student interaction) or 15/10.
During the human interaction time, the students are directed to
perform various tasks for which they are held accountable.
summarize the events of the video
some of the characters or scenes
a dialog or conversation using the vocabulary they learned (this can be
oral or written)
a worksheet together.
department has developed state-of-art web pages for a variety of languages
including German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic.
These include a sophisticated collection of tools such as digitized
audio clips, free software, PowerPoint presentations, Word documents,
online lessons, videos, quizzes, and games.
These materials are shared throughout the state of Colorado (and
the world) through the Colorado Language Improvement Project (CLIP). A
part of CLIP is a series of interactive lessons produced by DFF and based
on authentic German video clips provided by the Goethe Institute, an
official German organization with the mission to support German language
and culture. This archive is the first ever, online repository of
copyright authentic videos made available at no cost to improve language
instruction worldwide. See URL: http://www.usafa.af.mil/dff/goethe/index.htm.
(2001) notes: “Far more convenient than traditional language
laboratories, CLIP resources will be there when students have time to
learn. Moreover, these materials have been carefully crafted with file
formats and directories that facilitate the transfer of entire programs to
CD-ROM for those schools with limited connectivity” (p. 1)
interesting project has been a highly successful experiment to feed daily
“Russian vitamins” to Russian linguists worldwide via the Internet.
Supinski (Spring 2001) states that:
The “vitamins” consisted of
short, 15-minute daily language lessons delivered to the linguist’s
computer desktop . . . After reading or listening to the content, the
linguists took a short test similar in format to the Defense Language
Proficiency Test, which is required of linguists annually to determine the
level of their skills. . . . Another key component of the program was
tying the linguists together into a true learning community.
Study participants could instantly contact all the other members of
the group via email distribution software.
They belonged to two distribution lists:
an Announce List, which allowed them to receive the lessons and
other administrative announcements, and the Discuss list, which served as
a forum for discussion. The often-lively discussion consisted of debating the meaning
of words, what was actually said in audio or video content, grammatical
points, and discussion of cultural and political issues. Participants also shared knowledge of web-based and other
language resources that they found useful in their language maintenance
and development efforts. (2)
it or not, technology is a fact of life.
It can be used creatively—and cooperatively—to enhance student
learning. Any time we
consider using technology, we might keep in mind Farrington's (1996)
the challenge is not just in advancing the technology, but in learning
what to do with it, in particular, learning how to harness the power of
the new computer technologies to make learning more effective, more
humanly interactive, and more widely available. (p. 56)
we have seen, cooperative learning and technology are natural partners.
When both technology and the underlying pedagogy are supported by
collaborative individuals, the possibilities are limitless.
Creative use of technology, resting on all we know about human
learning, involves human dimensions of caring, community, and commitment.
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