Category Archives: Group Work

Are Closed Book Exams Still Relevant?

An interesting post to the ProfHacker section of The Chronicle of Higher Education asked it’s audience and interesting question recently.

Knowledge is changing. In the world of print knowledge, internalized knowledge of facts once signaled expertise. But in the age of smartphones, Google and Wikipedia, this knowledge is now at our fingertips. How important, then, is it for our students to have this knowledge memorized?

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Cooperative and Collaborative Learning

In the Teaching Centre we often get questions regarding group work. What is the best way to facilitate group work? How do I keep groups on task? How much involvement should I have in group activities as an instructor?

Two articles provided some insight into the differences between collaborative and cooperative learning. Exploring these articles might provide some insight on how to structure your groups.

A Definition of Collaborative vs Cooperative Learning by Ted Panitz

Sharing Our Toys: Cooperative Learning versus Collaborative Learning by Kenneth A. Bruffee

These articles focused on few key points that determine the differences between the cooperative learning paradigm and the collaborative learning paradigm.

1. The first point that is made within these articles is that whether we use the cooperative learning paradigm or the collaborative learning paradigm, we negotiate with the group when we enter into these group activities. Negotiations have different outcomes with the different paradigms.

2. The second point is that cooperative learning is teaching centered and groups in these learning paradigms have a structure often implemented and followed up on by the instructor. Conversely, collaborative learning groups often have little or no structure.

3. Finally the articles comment on the on different learning paradigms and their relation to foundational and non-foundational knowledge.

Negotiating group membership

Cooperative learning often has specific goals set due to the structure imposed by an instructor. Therefore students in these groups negotiate different terms with each other. Students involved in group negotiation give up beliefs and gain other beliefs or they negotiate the space they work in just to name a few things that are in negotiation.  The negotiations occur so the group can move forward to a consensus or goal.

In collaborative learning situations the students in the group often negotiate different terms that are very much geared towards individual needs rather than the needs of the group. A big part of this is because of the lack of group structure, but also the purpose of the groups which we will touch on later in this article.

Student vs Teacher Centered

Cooperative learning is viewed as a teacher centered paradigm because group structure is looked upon as a necessity to keep the group moving forward. Roles and tasks are assigned usually with input from the instructor, and the group becomes structured.

On the other hand, collaborative learning alternatively does not impose group structure and tasks. The needs of the group will differ depending on the individuals within the group and not according to a goal. Factors that will affect what is negotiated are the questions or problems that are being investigated and what level of problem they are. A higher level university course will likely see more negotiation as students argue their stance on a specific issue.

Foundational vs Non-Foundational?

The education levels that each learning paradigm is used within also is important when looking at the difference between cooperative learning and collaborative learning. According to the articles, cooperative learning is viewed as a learning paradigm that should be implemented in groups that are at primary, and even secondary school levels. At this age and learning level students often need group structure imposed on them to accomplish a goal and stay focused on tasks to accomplish a goal. The articles reviewed also mention that in a cooperative learning paradigm the goal of the group is often foundational. The question or problem they are trying to solve is part of a foundational piece or concept. Accomplishing the tasks or goals of the group will help the individuals within the group gain better foundational understanding of a specific discipline.

The collaborative learning paradigm is associated with the post-secondary level. At this level students do need to gain foundational knowledge, but as the courses progress students are asked to examine questions that relate to non-foundational knowledge. In this case they may be concepts or problems that have opinions or speculation related to them, but not necessarily a defined answer. In this case the students use the collaborative group to learn the language of a specific discipline to gather insight and pose their arguments. As well the group can function as a feedback mechanism for these arguments. In these cases a consensus is not the goal. The goal of these exercises becomes not to define a pre-determined answer by the instructor but to increase the students ability to participate in a discipline specific community.

So does this mean at the University level we should only promote collaborative learning groups?

Although these two articles helped define a difference between collaborative and cooperative learning, I don’t think they made a strong enough argument to exclusively use one paradigm or the other within the University. Determining what type of learning paradigm to use with your groups will need to be determined by what outcomes you have defined for the students. If you wish students to learn a foundational piece of knowledge through group activities then a cooperative approach will likely be more appropriate. However, if you wish your students to critically think about a concept or question, as well as have them learn how to formulate good arguments around that concept or question, then a collaborative learning paradigm may be a better approach.

If you are working with groups in your class and would like to discuss strategies for engaging students using group work, please contact the Teaching Centre and one of our consultants will be glad to meet with you to work on a strategy that meets your intended outcomes.