work cooperatively while learning about computation improves academic achievement, information retention, critical-thinking, enjoyment, teamwork, and leadership skills. Cooperative work can also help students build self-efficacy. There are many avenues for incorporating cooperative learning into courses on computation and modeling. However, effective cooperative learning requires intentionality when structuring teams and grouping students. Below are insights from faculty who have taught courses on computation and modeling that incorporate cooperative learning.
Students work collaboratively to develop strategies and perform analyses.
- Students can work in groups to complete tasks such as writing pseudocode, writing full code, debugging, and troubleshooting.
- Create assignments, projects, and other assessments that encourage or require collaborative problem-solving.
- Techniques to facilitate group problem-solving:
- Send-a-problem: Students participate in a series of problem-solving rounds. Each student contributes their independently generated solution to those that have been developed by other students. After a number of rounds, students are asked to review the solutions developed by their peers, evaluate the answers and develop a final solution.
- Three stay, one stray: During group work, students periodically take a break from their work (often at key decision making points) and send one group member (the "stray") to another group to describe their progress. The role of the "stray" is to gain information and alternative perspectives by listening and sharing. The number of times the group sends a representative to another group depends on the level of complexity of the problem.
- Example: The introductory activity If You Build It... by Thomas Kelley (Northeastern University) resembles a send-a-problem assignment: a small group of students writes instructions and then gives those instructions to a second group. The second group must follow the instructions and come up with a solution.
Students provide their peers with feedback, explanations, or alternative perspectives.
- Use undergraduate students as peer assistants to guide other students and groups.
- Have students peer-review each other's code.
- Techniques to facilitate reciprocal teaching:
- Note-taking pairs: Pairs of students summarize their understanding of a concept based on notes taken (using directed questions such as what is the definition of a concept, how is it used, what are the three most important characteristics of a topic) and receive reflective feedback from their partner. This activity provides students with the opportunity to find critical gaps in their written records.
- Jigsaw: For more complex problems, this structure provides students the opportunity to develop expertise in one of many components of a problem by first participating in a group solely focused on a single component. In the second stage of the exercise, groups are reformed with a representative from each expert group who together now have sufficient expertise to tackle the whole problem.
- Example: Charly Bank's (University of Toronto) activity, Volume of oceans, and sea-level variations, takes a similar approach to the jigsaw technique.
Students communicate in pairs, as small groups, or as a class.
- Orient students so that they are facing one another (rather than the instructor) to facilitate discussion and peer-support.
- Techniques to facilitate group discussion:
- Think-pair-share: The think-pair-share structure provides students with the opportunity to reflect on a question posed by the instructor and then practice sharing and receiving potential solutions.
- Three-step interview: Students are first paired and take turns interviewing each other using a series of questions provided by the instructor. Pairs then match up and students introduce their original partner. At the end of the exercise, all four students have had their position or viewpoints on an issue heard, digested, and described by their peers.
- Example: In his activity on Principal Component Analysis, Daniel Zysman (MIT) uses a think-pair-share-like approach where students work in small groups and then come back together as a class to discuss their strategies and solutions.
There are numerous pitfalls to using random or student-organized teams for group work. Varied student backgrounds, abilities, and leadership identities have the potential to result in groups that aren't effective or don't function at all. Being intentional about structuring teams is important for effective cooperative learning.At the 2017 workshop, Princess Imoukhuede (University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign) described how she structures teams and uses collaborative projects to develop computational and leadership skills in her course, BIOE 201: Conservation Principles in Bioengineering.
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Tips for structuring groups:
- Build groups around student educational backgrounds, experiences, and motivations (Layton et al., 2010; Tonso, 2006).
- Teams made up of members with different levels of practice or commitment can result in disproportionate workloads and learning outcomes.
- Grouping students who are similar in terms of experience, commitment, and ability can make tracking and assessment easier and reduce the potential for uneven work or learning.
- Consider racial and gender dynamics (van Dijk et al., 2017; Natishan, Schmidt, and Mead, 2000; Rosser, 1998).
- Teams with a single member of a particular race or gender (particularly a single woman on a team otherwise composed of men) can contribute to marginalization of that person and often result in a disproportionately high workload for that team member.
- Keep in mind different "environmental" factors (Layton et al., 2010).
- Do students live on campus or commute? Do team members have compatible schedules that allow for group meetings? These factors can determine whether or not a team is able to work together regardless of the effort they put in.
- Create roles and structures within groups.
- Roles such as "spokesperson" and "scribe" build leadership skills and give team members explicit responsibilities.
- Rotating these roles among team members can ensure engagement of each member.
- Use tools such as CATME and StrengthsQuest to enhance team-building and leadership assessment (Rosch & Imoukhuede, 2016; Loughry et al., 2014).
- Comprehensive Assessment for Team-Member Effectiveness (CATME)
- CATME is a system for creating and evaluating student groups. CATME allows instructors to use parameters such as GPA, commute, schedule, leadership role, and skills to build compatible teams. It also provides spaces for student self and peer evaluation, and can identify red flags or unusual ratings.
- StrengthsQuest uses personality assessment to build self-knowledge. It helps students identify their leadership strengths, areas to improve, and areas of weakness that they can delegate to team members. By building student self-knowledge, students can improve their leadership identity and motivation to lead.
- These tools can be highly effective when used together.
- Layton, R. A., Loughry, M. L., Ohland, M. W., & Ricco, G. D. (2010). Design and Validation of a Web-Based System for Assigning Members to Teams Using Instructor-Specified Criteria. Advances in Engineering Education, 2(1), n1.
- Loughry, M. L., Ohland, M. W., & Woehr, D. J. (2014). Assessing Teamwork Skills for Assurance of Learning Using CATME Team Tools. Journal of Marketing Education, 36(1), 5-19.
- Natishan, M. E., Schmidt, L. C., & Mead, P. (2000). Student Focus Group Results on Student Team Performance Issues. Journal of Engineering Education, 89(3), 269-272.
- Rosch, D. M., & Imoukhuede, P. I. (2016). Improving Bioengineering Student Leadership Identity Via Training and Practice within the Core-Course. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 44(12), 3606-3618.
- Rosser, S. V. (1998). Group Work in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics: Consequences of Ignoring Gender and Race. College Teaching, 46(3), 82-88.
- Shenk, J. W. (2014). Powers of two: Finding the essence of innovation in creative pairs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Tonso, K. L. (2006). Teams that Work: Campus Culture, Engineer Identity, and Social Interactions. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(1), 25-37.
- van Dijk, H., Meyer, B., van Engen, M., & Loyd, D. L. (2017). Microdynamics in Diverse Teams: A Review and Integration of the Diversity and Stereotyping Literatures. Academy of Management Annals, 11(1), 517-557.
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