Promote Student Collaboration

Defining Collaboration | Tips for Success | Examples | Tools | Additional Resources

Defining Student Collaboration

According to Breen (2013), student collaboration can be defined as “an interdependent and democratic online group process grounded in constructivist pedagogy in which students debate and reflect on shared knowledge to construct new understanding of relevant information.” (Virtual Collaboration in the Online Educational Setting: A Concept Analysis. Nursing Forum, 48(4), 262-270.)

Students benefit from student collaboration by retaining the information longer than from listening to a lecture or working individually, developing teamwork and leadership skills, and engaging in higher order thinking and problem-solving in authentic activities. When student collaboration methods are used, the role of the instructor switches from delivering content to facilitator/mentor (see Flipped Classroom)

Tips for Success

Set clear expectations or roles, and have students journal/reflect on the group process including areas of contention, barriers overcome, solutions reached, etc.

  1. Assign tasks that are suitable for collaboration, i.e., avoid busy work and provide ‘real world’ or authentic activities (see below for ideas)
  2. Give the collaborative aspects of a course sufficiently grade weight that students cannot ignore them and still ‘pass’.
  3. Start with an easy ‘ice breaker’ or ‘trust building’ activity where students get to know one another so they start to develop a level of trust and respect for one another.
  4. Create a clear plan for grading/assessing students participation and work


There are various methods that can be used to promote student collaboration depending on your learning objectives, environment (online or face to face), and subject area.

  1. Synchronous Peer Review Writing Groups (holds promise for GenEds): Melkun, C. c. (2012). Nontraditional Students Online: Composition, Collaboration, and Community. Journal Of Continuing Higher Education, 60(1), 33-39.
  2. Discussion Boards: see Engaging Learners for how to develop effective discussion prompts
  3. Group Presentations: making students the content experts and teacher
  4. Case Studies, Scenarios, and Simulations


Additional Resources: