Jawad Fayaz, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

For centuries, classroom teaching has been mainly based on the conventional approach of lecturing by faculty members and learning being evaluated by traditional examinations. This approach does not lead to the development of highly required skills such as critical thinking, communication, and leadership. Recent research demonstrates that classroom discussion, collaborative learning/teaching, and team experiences are usually required to enhance these skills. Nevertheless, the concept of group learning and especially discussion may, at times, be difficult to initiate since students have generally competed against each other since they were young. Four useful ways of conducting collaborative learning include:

  1. Scheming a phase-based group project in which the students work in phases,
  2. Creating a section of the project where the group members are required to make their own choices,
  3. Including a section that requires each group member to submit reflections on their own individual contribution,
  4. Before beginning the group projects, dedicating a portion of the class time to allow the group members to get to know each other and establish their group rules and norm.

It is a well-known fact that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Collaborative learning is based on the concept of learning by teaching each other. A recent study at Lamar University concentrated on the collaborative learning and teaching practice in Civil and Construction Engineering. Instead of relying on group work for collaboration, the whole class worked together and helped each other in understanding the material. The results indicated that utilization of collaborative learning and teamwork was thought-provoking and educational by the students. Drawing motivation from this study and to also incorporate other methods of evaluation, an example for evaluating a class with collaborative learning is proposed below.

Hypothetical Example Evaluation Metrics for a Class with Collaborative Learning

1Weekly Homework 10% (1% for each week)
2Weekly Quiz (except for your group’s lecture)18% (2% for each week)
3Group Lecture12%
4Midterm20%
5Final20%
6Project20%
Total100%

Evaluations 1, 2, 4, and 5 will be conducted on individual basis, and each student will be responsible for their own work. For evaluations 3 and 4, the class will be divided into 10 groups. While evaluation 4 will require the group to conduct project based on the teachings of the class, for evaluation 3 each group will be randomly given a weekly topic that they will be responsible for handling. They learn the topic and teach it to other classmates through a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation will be conducted in the first 20 minutes of that week’s class session and the presenting group will make their best efforts to help other students understand the material. The instructor will closely watch the presentation and evaluate each member of the presenting group for 4% of the 12% grade. The presenting group members will also evaluate each other’s contribution out of 4% of the grade to avoid social loafing. In social psychology, social loafing is the phenomenon where a group member deliberately exerts less effort to achieve a goal. After the student presentations, the instructor will use the remaining 60 minutes of the class to review and clarify the topic. And the remaining 4% out of the 12% of the grade for group lecture will be evaluated from the weekly quiz conducted next week. However, the presenting group will not be required to complete the quiz. Rather, the remaining 4% grade of the presenting group members will be equal to the average grade of the class for that quiz. This will make sure that every week, one group will be responsible to learn a topic, then teach the topic to others and also make sure that fellow students succeed in the quiz. This will create good interaction between the students even after the class and is expected to create a good collaborative learning environment within the class.

References

Enghag, M., & Niedderer, H. (2008). Two dimensions of student ownership of learning during small-group work in physics. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 6(4), 629-653.

Tomcho, T. J., & Foels, R. (2012). Meta-analysis of group learning activities: Empirically based teaching recommendations. Teaching of Psychology, 39(3), 159-169.

Hammar Chiriac, E. (2014). Group work as an incentive for learning: Students’ experiences of group work. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1-10.

Kilgo, C., Ezell Sheets, J., & Pascarella, E. (2015). The link between high-impact practices and student learning: Some longitudinal evidence. Higher Education, 69, 509-525.

Synnott, K. (2016). Guides to reducing social loafing in group projects: Faculty development. Journal of Higher Education Management 31 (1), pp. 211–221. 

Enno “Ed” Koehn (2012). Collaborative Learning in Civil/Construction Classrooms, Lamar University.

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on December 2nd, 2019.