People collaborating at a table

Strategies for Facilitating Collaborative Activities

Authors: Patrick Kelly, and Dr. Natasha Kenny, PhD

Relevant Literature

  • Establishing subject matter relevance motivates student learning so students can connect to their own experiences and interests. (Kember, Ho, & Hong, 2008)
  • Peer discussion improves student learning (Deslauriers et al., 2011; Smith et al., 2009)
  • When 30-40% of lectures designed with collaborative learning activities, learning gains are significantly higher than ‘traditional’ lectures. (Knight and Wood, 2005)
  • Students with a range of abilities and preparedness benefit from group learning for different reasons. Higher achieving students benefit from having to explain in different ways, and lower achieving students benefit through learning from peers. (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005)

Strategies for group work in class

  1. Make consistent and diverse groups. Create a seating chart or breakout rooms/D2L groups and have students stay with their groups all semester.
  2. Have groups select 1 student to report and ask questions to the instructor/TA, which requires students to have clear questions/updates and reduces the number of students asking questions.
  3. Have in-class assignments that groups submit at the end of the class, or shortly after in D2L.
  4. Recognize and reward both the correct answer and the students solutions, creating an atmosphere to encourage trying.

Common challenges

  1. Most likely causes

    • Intimidated in large groups, fear of failure
    • Unclear expectations
  2. What to do

    • Plan a variety of activities
    • Give students time to prepare a response
    • Use How? and Why? questions with multiple possible solutions
    • Set clear expectations for participation (e.g. why you are doing what you are doing)
    • Foster a community of trust, respect and safety

Approach conflict with a spirit of inquiry where we seek to understand and embrace our multiple differences (Pillay, 2006).

  1. Most likely causes

    • Working agreements unclear
    • Role of ‘conflict’ and open dialogue unclear
  2. What to do

    • Provide opportunities for students to prepare
    • Stay calm, revisit shared norms
    • Help students explore all sides and perspectives, drawing on facts and evidence
  1. Most likely causes

    • Perception that evaluation is based on frequency of participation
    • Over-enthusiastic participant(s)
  2. What to do

    • Use participation ‘tickets’ or paired discussion techniques
    • Provide time for individual reflection
    • Intentionally invite others to speak
    • Assign individual roles in groups such as recorder, researcher, question asker, speaker
    • Put limits for online discussions such as word count
  1. Most likely causes

    • Purpose, structure, and relevance of discussion are unclear
    • Students need time to build rapport
  2. What to do

    • Keep goals, topic and questions visible
    • Provide structure and “active” facilitation (e.g. time limits, tasks)
    • Stop and clarify where discussion is at
    • Shared responsibility with students
  1. Most likely causes

    • Physical space
    • Limited opportunity to hear from all students
    • Higher perceived risk
    • Passive expectations
    • Minimal student rapport
  2. What to do

    • Model the way from the start. Spend time at the beginning of the semester creating collaborative norms with students, and provide time for team building activities.
    • Reduce the scale by giving time for students to think independently and working with 1 or 2 partners (such as think-pair-share)
    • Provide rationale and relevance for discussion and how it supports student learning
    • Use technology to ‘hear’ from all students. Tophat, quizzes in D2L and mentimeter are examples of technology all students can engage with.
    • Use mini-lectures to sustain attention (10-15 minutes)
    • Use relevant, structured small group activities (e.g. case studies)

Your role as facilitator

Your role as facilitator infographic

(Dallimore et al., 2004; Sautter, 2007)

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Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. 2005 Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. 2005. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Dallimore, E.J., Hertenstein, J.H., and Platt, M.B. (2004). Classroom participation and discussion effectiveness: student-generated strategies. Communication Education 53(1): 103-115.

Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science, 332, 862-864. doi: 10.1126/science.1201783

Kember, D., Ho, A., & Hong, C. (2008). The importance of establishing relevance in motivating student learning. Active learning in higher education, 9(3), 249-263.

Knight, J. K., & Wood, W. B. (2005). Teaching more by lecturing less. Cell biology education, 4(4), 298-310.

Pillay, V. (2006) Culture: Exploring the River in Conflict across cultures. A unique experience of bridging differences. Intercultural Press: Boston. p. 25‐55.

Sautter, P. (2007). Designing discussion activities to achieve desired learning outcomes: choices using mode of delivery and structure. Journal of Marketing Education 29(2): 122-131.

Smith, M., Wood, W., Adams, W., Wieman, C., Knight, J., Guild, N., et al. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323(5910), 122.