This evidence-based practice paper focuses on techniques for large-scale implementation of collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is a form of pedagogy that views learning as having a social and cultural component. While there are many implementations of this underlying concept, one common approach is to have students work together in small teams on longer-form activities. When implemented correctly, this has been shown to have positive benefits for student motivation, technical learning outcomes, knowledge transfer and broader objectives such as the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams.
A key challenge for collaborative learning is how to implement it at a large scale, especially in introductory courses with students and instructors who are not familiar with this mode of education. In this paper, we describe results from an iterative design and implementation process of collaborative learning in the introductory mechanics course sequence at Midwestern Research University (MRU), where over 1000 students per semester now participate in weekly collaborative learning activities during discussion sections.
Successful collaborative learning at scale is a multifactorial problem, requiring consideration of the learners, the instructors and the environment within which the learning takes place. This paper focuses on three factors that were identified as particularly important at MRU. First, a new active learning classroom was created that altered the traditional authority structure of the classroom, and fostered greater affinity between students within teams. Second, a new Teaching Assistant (TA) training experience was implemented that focused on collaborative learning, because TAs are the primary student interface and yet have almost always had no prior experience of collaborative learning in their own education. This training aimed to highlight the importance of collaborative problem solving skills and prepare TAs to implement this form of pedagogy. Third, student team creation and management at a large scale necessitated the use of the automated CATME system, allowing teams to be formed and evaluated even with many hundreds of students and tens of discussion sections.
This paper evaluates the collaborative learning implementation at MRU in the context of learning space theory, teacher-training methodologies, and team interaction and assessment systems. Longitudinal survey data and two-sample hypothesis testing are used to demonstrate the impact of collaborative learning and particular implementation decisions on students.
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