CHALLENGES & ADVANTAGES OF COLLABORATIVE LEARNING:

Developing Workforce Readiness in Students

05/18/2016  |  By Gina Sansivero
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Ask management level professionals what is the most difficult part of their job and many will respond, “finding good help.” Arguably, the biggest complaint GenExers have about “workforce rookie” Millennials seems to be their lack of preparedness when entering the “real world” after school. There has been a lot of discussion about using collaborative learning in both K-12 and higher education classrooms to help close the skills-gap. At the forefront of these discussions has been the variety of instructional technologies designed to enhance collaborative classrooms and the modification of lecture-centered pedagogy. There are many technologies and resources available to teachers that support an active learning curriculum. While technology in itself is not collaborative, i.e. collaboration systems are only collaborative if students and instructors utilize them to that end, it can help facilitate and provide a conduit for collaborative, active and group learning.

Collaborative or active learning is a methodology that transforms that traditional lecture or teacher focused classroom into a student or learning centered room. Students work together to help each other understand content, solve problems or create projects and products with the instructor working as a moderator or facilitator. Collaborative spaces in education trickled down from corporate “flex/open workspaces.” They were designed based on the understanding that interactivity and collaboration in small groups produces stronger solutions that would have not been reached individually and encourages sharing of research for enhanced learning. Further, it encourages trust building, communication, practical learning/application, and acceptance and enhances problem-solving skills.

Creating a Foundation for the Prepared Future Worker

Modifying historically lecture-centered pedagogy and curriculum to create active learning based courses is time consuming and difficult without the proper resources — for example, an instructional designer to help teachers. In addition to pushback from educators, some students have concerns with this type of environment, citing concerns such as slower workers holding the group back, team members conducting distracting and irrelevant conversations, and individuals with dominant personalities taking over. However, all of these perceived problems will be present in the world beyond school. Preparing students for modern professional interactions is an essential piece of education. Collaborative learning supports this preparation and addresses the current skills-gap in a number of ways. The Global Development Research Center (http://www.gdrc.org/kmgmt/c-learn/index.html) and a study “Benefits of Collaborative Learning” published in the Procedia journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Modifying historically lecture-centered pedagogy and curriculum to create active learning based courses is time consuming and difficult without the proper resources — for example, an instructional designer to help teachers. In addition to pushback from educators, some students have concerns with this type of environment, citing concerns such as slower workers holding the group back, team members conducting distracting and irrelevant conversations, and individuals with dominant personalities taking over. However, all of these perceived problems will be present in the world beyond school. Preparing students for modern professional interactions is an essential piece of education. Collaborative learning supports this preparation and addresses the current skills-gap in a number of ways. The Global Development Research Center (http://www.gdrc.org/kmgmt/c-learn/index.html) and a study “Benefits of Collaborative Learning” published in the Procedia journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042811030205) outline some advantageous findings as follows:

  • Collaboration affects personality: increases openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, trust and stability
  • Teamwork strengthens community bonds, socialization and both written and verbal communication
  • Collaboration increases measures of achievement
  • Group work increases subject matter comprehension, efficiency and productivity
  • Collaboration encourages cooperation and exposure to and acceptance of cultural diversity
  • Group work increases self-esteem
  • Collaborative learning increases student retention (sticking to a difficult task, track or course)

In fact, a recent report published by ACT® outlines four skills that contribute to success after high school:

  • Core academic skills in English, math and science (note: research published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that active learning increases student performance in STEM)
  • Cross-cutting capabilities such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and information and technology skills
  • Behavioral skills such as dependability, working effectively with others, adapting and managing stress
  • Navigation skills needed to successfully navigate future pathways, such as self-knowledge of abilities, likes and dislikes, values, exploration and planning skills, and knowledge of majors, occupations and career opportunities.

(http://www.act.org/newsroom/act-defines-workplace-readiness-calls-for-new-model-of-college-and-career-readiness/)

There is indication that potentially all four skills that contribute to continued success can be developed through collaborative learning. In fact, research supports a clear relationship between active/collaborative learning and the development of skills that will support success post-graduation.

It’s a lot of work ... plan accordingly.

Collaboration and active learning can be keys to student engagement. In fact, a study published on pnas.org indicates “failure rates under traditional lecturing increase by 55 percent over the rates observed under active learning.” This is impressive evidence that investing in active learning pedagogy and supporting technologies can affect student performance. Unfortunately, a couple of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of collaboration and small group work spaces in K-12 and higher education is budget and instructor buy-in. Creating an outline of the type of collaborative learning spaces needed for the environment will help manage precious time and create a team of champions to spearhead the process. Consider points such as:

  • Portable or fixed installation: What is the environment: allocated space in the library, oversized classroom, and computer lab? What are the intended uses for the space? Will the space be occupied by modular flex desks or fixed tables?
  • Durability: No questions here, schools need durable equipment that will stand up to high use and the inquisitiveness of children and adults. Put the sleek, sexy equipment down, it probably isn’t right for your school.
  • Reliability and network: This basically breaks down to determining if wireless or hard wired equipment is going to be considered. The arguments have been made for both from a technology standpoint, but now think about the school’s network, security and policies.
  • Power, connections and devices: Where will the power have to go? What type of connections are required? Will a technology team have to support multiple types of equipment and/or operating systems? Is this a BYOD or school issued devices only scenario?
  • Intuitiveness and training: How much time can be allocated to train the teachers and students on how to use the new space?
  • Team support: Is there a team in place that will help design the rooms, technology systems, and course structure that will lead to successful installations and student outcomes? Consider the stakeholders; administrators, instructors, technology managers, architects/designers, instructional designers and event students. Who will be the champion to provide support and enthusiasm?
  • Support for when things don’t work: Inevitably this happens. What type of trained staff does the school have for technology support? Will there be lengthy downtime for collaboration rooms if equipment goes down?

To increase the effectiveness of a collaborative learning methodology, full integration of instructional technology into the curriculum and goals is essential. Simply using technology as a random complement to group work or classroom instruction is not enough. Technology must be incorporated as an integral part of the strategy for learning and can also be used as an evaluation tool to assess outcomes and comprehension. Purposefully developed active learning rooms encourage mental/intellectual, social and psychological development. This provides a foundation for mature interpersonal, problem solving and communication skills.

In conjunction with space design and supporting technologies, two more important pieces of the educational re-development for teachers is instructional design and defining new classroom management strategies. A new classroom environment will assuredly require new strategies to maintain order and provide guidelines to create a well-run, dynamic and useful classroom.

There are challenges associated with collaborative learning environments, specifically creating and embracing a new environment and methodology for learning/instruction. Challenges aside, arming the students with resources and skills to remain productive outside the classroom is the keystone of education. Collaborative learning has proven to encourage the improvement and maturation of a variety of skills necessary for future success in the work place. Supporting this progress helps to ensure that today’s students will be productive, effective and influential members of the future workforce. It may also give GenExers less to complain about ... or maybe not.

Gina Sansivero is Director of Business Development, Education at FSR, Inc (www.fsrinc.com)(www.fsr.education) in Woodland Park, NJ. Sansivero is a member of InfoComm International, CCUMC, and PADLA. To reach her directly, please email [email protected], find her on LinkedIn or chat on twitter @GinaSans.
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