How have cooperative and collaborative learning developed since they became popular?
Over the past twenty-five years, the use of small-group learning has greatly increased. Informal collaborative projects have grown into structured, cooperative group work. Cooperative learning became especially popular in the early 1980s and has matured and evolved since.
One evolving aspect of cooperative and collaborative learning involves how the educational community approaches the composition of the small groups. Debates still occur on this topic. Researchers disagree mainly about whether to group students according to their ability, or to mix them so that stronger students can help the weaker ones learn and themselves learn from the experience of tutoring.
Some researchers, such as Mills
1 and Durden (1992), suggest that gifted students are held back when grouped with weaker students. More researchers support diversity in small groups, however. Radencich and McKay (1995) conclude that grouping by ability does not usually benefit overall achievement and can lead to inequalities of achievement. With good arguments on both sides, most teachers make choices based on their objectives.
Or, they simply alternate. Sometimes they group according to the strengths or interests of students, and other times they mix it up so that students can learn to work with different types of people.
Just as experts differ on the make-up of groups, they also debate about the most effective size for small groups. According to Slavin
2 (1987), having two or three members per group produces higher achievement than groups with four or more members. Antil et al. (1997) conclude that most teachers prefer pairs and small groups of three and four. Elbaum et al. (1997) suggest that we have dialogues with students about their preferences for group composition and expected outcomes. And Fidler (1999) discusses the value of reflecting in order to correct errors we make in group assignments. Through many mistakes, Fidler learned how to refine the composition of his groups.
As we work through some examples of cooperative learning, you will learn how to devise groups that work best for particular assignments.
Most recently, new technologies have added an exciting new dimension to collaborative and cooperative learning. With the Internet, collaboration can occur without regard to distance or time barriers: e-mails can be sent at students' or teachers' convenience to practically anywhere around the world, and the recipient can reply when he or she has time. Students can work together to create Web pages or find and share data gleaned from the Net. There is software that can be used with school computer networks to allow students in different classrooms to work together simultaneously or a group of students to collaborate on projects like desktop publishing.
Science teacher Janet Torkel at Brooklyn's P.S. 200 discusses how collaboration between teachers helps her students learn better. Seeing teachers working together helps reinforce the students' own collaborative work.
For more on using technology with cooperative and collaborative learning, see the topic "How can technology be used with cooperative and collaborative learning?" in the "Exploration" section of this workshop.