So I held my workshop on collaborative learning yesterday, and now today is my last day here at the University of Windsor. I think the workshop went well – I was happy with the level of energy in the room, the participation, and we had some great discussions. I kept to the core structure that I talked about in my last post, but I decided, after talking to some of my colleagues here, to focus on two main messages threaded throughout the session.
The first message was the idea that we needed to be very clear regarding the learning outcomes and objectives that we had in mind for the activity, so that our students understood what their goal was. Some of the research I have been doing recently has looked at achievement goal theory, and self-regulated learning. It indicates that students will come into an activity with assumptions as to the purpose of that activity – their behaviour, and the self-regulation processes that they employ are dependent on many factors including their environment, their assumptions or perceptions of purpose, and their past experiences. A simple example of this is considering two students taking part in a collaboration, one who is achievement focussed and wants to push forward with achieving their discipline outcomes, and another who is focussed on the learning process, and wants to explore multiple outcomes in order to learn as much as they can from others in the collaboration. This conflict, just between two members, can immediately introduce stress and anxiety into the collaborative activity. However, by making the learning objectives clear – letting students know whether the primary objective is learning development, the development of professional skills, the achievement of a complex task beyond that that could be completed by an individual, etc – we are able to help students adjust their learning processes, expectations and behaviours, and hopefully reduce some of the potential for conflict.
The second point I wanted to stress is related, and is the alignment of assessment mechanisms with our learning objectives. In my experience, many lecturers introduce collaborative learning activities because they want to include opportunities for their students to learn from each other, share processes, and develop professional behaviours. However, we often include assessment techniques based on the discipline-outcome of the collaboration – i.e. an indirect assessment of the group function through the result that they produce, be it an essay or a software artefact.
I think that what this tells our students is that even if we tell them we are interested in learning development, what we are really interested in is the discipline output – after all, that is what we are basing our assessment on. Of course, that is not all that we assess – sometimes we will include assessment that looks at group function, but that is difficult to assess fairly, and takes a fair amount of time. I wanted to stress the importance of aligning the assessment with our objectives – to directly assess the development of learning behaviours, professional skills etc, as well as the indirect assessment of the group outcome. My hope is that by doing this, we will move away from the tendency of students to break up collaborative assignments into a set of independent parts that can be completed without collaboration – that they will see more explicitly what we are hoping for them to learn and embrace that more openly. Perhaps ambitious, but we’ll see 🙂
And now I have reached the end of my visit here. Honestly, I cannot recommend the Visiting Fellowship program here at the Centre for Teaching and Learning more strongly. They are great group – informed, interested, enthusiastic and very friendly. I am looking forward to hopefully continuing our conversations once I return home.