Enhancing Collaborative Learning

Many students do not like working in groups and do not want their grades affected by peers who may not pull their weight. Nonetheless, research shows that there are many benefits to group work, including expanding teamwork skills, better communication skills, critical-thinking abilities, time management, problem-solving skills, cooperation, and reinforcement of knowledge (Forrest & Miller, 2003; Hammar Chiriac, 2014; Kilgo, Ezell, & Pascarella, 2015). Teamwork and collaborative groups are essential in healthcare, making it important for students to experience working in groups prior to a work setting.

Here are a few suggestions for creating more effective and positive collaborative learning experiences:

  • Explain the purpose of the group assignment, specifically pointing out the benefits for student learning and growth, both at an academic level and as preparation for the workplace.
  • Have a class discussion about previous group experiences to allow students to voice their concerns and hear about other students’ experiences. This may allow them to alter their perceptions and learn new strategies for collaboration.
  • Set aside class time for the groups to meet and introduce online technologies that allow students to interact and share files more effectively outside the face-to-face interactions.
  • Check in with groups periodically to assist them with their collaborative projects and provide guidance should any conflicts arise.
  • Consider giving students the opportunity to evaluate each other as this can increase accountability and performance as well as make the students feel that the process is fairer in case there is loafing in the group.

*Adapted by Brigitte Vittrup, Ph.D., Associate Professor of child psychology, Texas Women’s University.

Forrest, K., & Miller, R. (2003). Not another group project: Why good teachers should care about bad group experiences. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 244-246.

Hammar Chiriac, E. (2014). Group work as an incentive for learning: Students’ experiences of group work. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1-10.

Kilgo, C., Ezell Sheets, J., & Pascarella, E. (2015). The link between high-impact practices and student learning: Some longitudinal evidence. Higher Education, 69, 509-525.

Brigitte Vittrup, Ph.D., is an associate professor of child development at Texas Woman’s University.