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Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

How to Unleash the Power of Collaborative Learning

By Sidney D'Mello — April 21, 2021 1 min read
How do I use collaborative learning to engage students?

What are some new ways I can use group activities to help students learn?
According to the science of learning, students learn better from interactive activities where they talk, act, deliberate, and reflect compared with passive and (superficially) active behaviors, such as taking verbatim notes while listening to a lecture. Asking open-ended questions, peer teaching, and group problem-solving are some of the most effective ways to promote deep learning. Collaboration also helps students develop interpersonal and teamwork skills, which are key 21st century competencies.
Here are three ways to unleash the power of collaborative learning:
Transform assessments into learning opportunities. In an artificial intelligence course I teach, I use “power of two” quizzing. Immediately after submitting their individual quizzes, students complete the same quiz again, but this time working with a peer to provide a team response. Though this can lead to more grading, the ensuing discussions and deliberations are well worth the effort.
Employ online games to engage students. Remote collaborations can be effective when centered around well-designed group activities. For example, my colleagues and I conducted a virtual summer camp where students from across the country teamed up to play Physics Playground, a highly engaging learning game that leverages the power of play to boost students’ creative potential.
Use artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate small groups. Teachers can’t be everywhere at once, so when it’s time for breakout groups, some students might struggle, go off task, or disengage. Looking into the future, our new NSF National AI institute for Student-AI Teaming is addressing this challenge by developing “AI partners"—intelligent systems that help teachers to facilitate collaborations with small groups of students in an ethical and equitable manner.
Don’t be afraid of the messiness that results from collaborative activities. Learning is a contact sport, and encouraging and supporting students to discuss, explain, reason, negotiate, and problem solve is challenging but immensely rewarding.

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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