24 Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is learning that involves groups of students working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. Educators have long known that learning is a social process. Even when you think you’re learning on your own, like when you’re reading this book, you are engaged in a relationship with the person who wrote these sentences. Because we know the benefits of learning in groups, we have developed collaborative learning activities to encourage the development of the skills needed to engage in group work.

There are several principles underlying the use of collaborative learning activities in a classroom, particularly in the First Year Seminar. As Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence web site explains,

  • The learner or student is the primary focus of instruction.
  • Interaction and “doing” are of primary importance.
  • Working in groups is an important mode of learning.
  • Structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning.

These principles are the reasons that the First Year Seminar is focused on a wicked problem that you will work on with a group of your peers.

In addition, the wicked problem that your section of First Year Seminar is focused on can’t be solved by individuals working on their own. In order to even begin to understand a wicked problem, we have to approach it from multiple perspectives. This requires us to talk to and collaborate with other people about their understanding of the problem. So not only will you work with a group of your peers on your wicked problem, you will actively seek out the perspectives of people outside of your class regarding the wicked problem.
The collaboration skills that you will develop by working with a group in First Year Seminar are also highly valued by employers.


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First Year Seminar Readings by Cathie LeBlanc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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