Collaborative Projects: The Benefits of Collaborative Learning

  • promotes higher level thinking
  • develops critical thinking
  • improves student motivation
  • builds interpersonal relationships and improves social skills
  • helps students learn problem-solving skills
  • creates a “safe” environment in which students are less afraid to make mistakes
  • provides a more authentic learning experience
  • allows students to achieve a better understanding of concepts and succeed at activities they would not be able to do alone
Potential Pitfalls of Working in Collaborative Groups
  • High status students may dominate the interaction.
  • Minority students may be less assertive, talk less, and contribute fewer ideas than “white” students.
  • Some students may sit back and let the other team members do the work.
  • An entire group of students may “go through the motions” of working, trying to appear busy without actually doing anything productive.
  • Some students’ first reaction when placed in groups is to divide the work, essentially working alongside, rather than with, their peers.
Strategies for Avoiding Pitfalls
  • Structure student groups carefully. Things to keep in mind as you are forming groups:
    • Heterogeneous groups can minimize the impact of status differences and encourage active participation by female and minority students.
    • Low-ability students often benefit most when paired with medium-ability students rather than those of highest ability.
    • Giving each member of the team different, interdependent research and problem-solving roles can ensure that they work together rather than in parallel.
  • Consider assessment strategies carefully. Look for ways to reward the group while also emphasizing individual accountability. Try to avoid assigning a single shared grade to a group project — multiple group and individual assessments encourage students to work together and minimize “shirking”.
  • Train students in interpersonal communication skills ahead of time so that they know what behavior is expected of them.
  • Structure tasks in ways that require certain kinds of interactions. This could include:
    • Giving students specific group management role and responsibilities, such as manager, encourager, cheerleader, coach, question commander, checker, taskmaster
    • Requiring discussion of group functioning, focusing on how students should talk and listen to each other.

The Teacher’s Roles in Collaborative Learning

Instructional designer

Successful collaborative projects require a good deal of advance planning. Take some time to think about how you want to organize activities, share limited resources and redirect students in case of difficulties. Happily, after you have done an activity like this, subsequent implementations will require little more than tweaking what you already have.


In this role the teacher serves as “guide on the side” rather than “sage on the stage”. Researchers have found that speaking to the entire class during an activity can be disruptive to group interactions, so after students understand what they are to do that day, focus primarily on monitoring students one-on-one.


Support students learning through scaffolding. Begin by explaining and modeling the behavior in which you want the students to engage. Then offer them the opportunity to demonstrate this behavior and provide support when needed. Gradually reduce the amount of help you offer students as they are able to do it on their own.

Useful Web Resources

  • University of Minnesota (directed by Roger T. Johnson and David W. Johnson) sponsors a website devoted to cooperative learning that includes a large number of useful resources and links.
  • The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) at the U.S. Department of Education has an online Education Research Consumer Guide focusing on cooperative learning (number 1 - June 1992)
  • St. Edward’s University Center for Teaching Excellence has a useful Cooperative Learning site that includes suggestions for ensuring individual accountability along with an overview of collaborative and cooperative skills.
  • The Jigsaw Classroom website has a very thorough overview (written by Elliott Aronson) of one popular approach to collaboration and techniques for implementing it in the classroom.

Useful Print Resources

Cooperative Learning

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Holubec, E. (1998).
Cooperation in the Classroom (7th ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book company.

Kagan, S. (1994). Cooperative Learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Resources for Teachers.

The Jigsaw Method

Aronson, E., Blaney, N., Stephin, C., Sikes, J., & Snapp, M. (1978). The Jigsaw Classroom. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publishing Company.

Next » Organizing Student Groups: Sample Grouping Scenario

The DV Project: Intro • • Planning • • Assessing • • Organizing • • Storyboarding
Using the Technology: Hardware • • Software
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