Supporting Student Collaboration

student collaboration
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Student collaboration is an important aspect of teaching and learning. As we prepare students for career and college, we must ensure that they have experience developing soft skills, one of which is the ability to work with others. Many tools are available that can be used to engage in collaborative learning, but there are also the “nuts and bolts” in preparing students for successful collaboration. 

Focusing on the four main areas of collaborative work for K-12 teaching and learning is key, so consider incorporating these best practices as you create opportunities for your students to learn to work together.

Student Collaboration: Group Development - How do you choose group membership?  

Choosing groups can be tricky. Some students are more vocal than others, while others may be a bit reserved. You also have students with different interests and, as students get to higher grades, different motivation and academic goals. 

Whichever way you choose, it may be helpful to develop a preference inventory using Google Forms to match and/or mix groups by interests, experience, levels, personality traits, etc. You could also leave it to chance and use Random Group Generator

Topic Selection: How do you get students to agree on what to focus? 

Once you have groups, the topic and/or approach to the project will need to be decided. To ensure that one student does not solely determine the direction to go, and that each group member has a voice in the decision-making, you could have each group member prepare and record on VoiceThread a one-minute “elevator pitch” with their idea. Using VoiceThread will allow all recordings to be on the same slide, and group members can vote and comment on the idea they like best. 

Groups may also decide to take parts of different group members’ ideas and combine these to create a new idea for the group. This would also help students practice their public speaking and negotiation skills. 

Content Development: Who does what and how do you ensure each student contributes?  

Larger projects with different components work well for group collaboration because there are enough tasks to keep everyone busy. Have students outline the components of their projects, and make sure each group member can lead a certain piece. For example, there may be a research component, writing component, presentation slide component, and so forth. 

By using an open online idea board such as Padlet, each group member can have a space to organize and facilitate the content development for the section they are leading. And all of the project materials and links can be housed within one online space so every team member has access.  

Assessing the Final Product: How do you grade collaborative work? 

While group projects can be very exciting, in order for us as teachers to know how students are progressing, there needs to be an assessment piece. 

Typically assessing group projects can be challenging as often one or two students carry the load. However, by following the practices here, each group member will have an equitable role and contribution to the project, allowing you to use your typical assessment measure and rubrics to determine if the learning objectives were met. If you want to leverage digital tools to assess student learning, you can do this as well in a group setting.  

So many ways are available to engage students in collaborative learning opportunities with their peers, and although working with others can sometimes be taxing, when ideas come together, the end result is often more robust and complete. Try using some of these practices to set up your students for fun and seamless collaboration. 

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Dr. Stephanie Smith Budhai is an associate clinical professor in the department of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum at Drexel University, in Pennsylvania. She holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies and K-12 teaching certifications in Technology Education, Instructional Technology and Business, Computers, Information Technology, Special Education and Elementary Education. She is also the 2021 Emerging Leader for the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) and the 2017 ISTE Awardee for Excellence in Teacher Education. Dr. Smith Budhai is a Nearpod, and VoiceThread Certified Educator.  Dr. Smith Budhai has more than a decade of online teaching experience, and has published myriad books, articles, and invited editorials surrounding the use of technology and online learning in education. Her publications include: 

- Leveraging Digital Tools to Assess Student Learning 

- Increasing Engagement in Online Learning: Quick Reference Guide

- Culturally Responsive Teaching Online and In-Person: An Action Planner for Dynamic Equitable Learning Environments 

- Teaching the 4Cs with Technology

- Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies

- Nurturing Young Innovators: Cultivating Creativity in the Classroom, Home and Community