cooperative learning

Cooperative Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Situated Cognition and Cognitive Apprenticeships, and Guided Design Process

1. Similarities or differences between the theories/models? Do they share common foundations or principles?
The four models we have studied this week share many similarities and differences, but they are all grounded in the idea of collaboration, group work, and social constructivist ideals.  During my undergraduate work, I took a class that required us to research social constructivism and my findings really resonated with me.  I saw a lot of value in many of the social constructivist principles that could really benefit a lot of students.  All four of these theories have tenets of social constructivism that require collaboration, discussion, creation, etc. among students, small groups, and teachers.  Although not necessarily direct components of Cooperate Learning, all four theories can be based on problem solving and generating possible solutions from research and many other ways to gather information to solve the problem.

Likewise, all four models value group work and collaboration, which aligns very well with the shift to common core standards. Developing online modules based around these models and standards would pose some challenges when working in group work, collaboration, etc., but the modules are much better off if they are developed with student collaboration in mind.  Also, Guided Design, Situated Cognition, and PBL are better off if the objectives/problem/task are embedded with context to real-life situations.  While Cooperative Learning did not directly mention embedding the content with context, all four of these strategies are greatly enhanced when they utilize meaningful context and make the learning for students more personal and realistic.

Even with all of those similarities and common principles, there are some differences between the four models.  As stated previously, even though Cooperative Learning would benefit from problem solving ideas and meaningful context, it does not require either to be successful.  In addition, all four models vary regarding the types and amount of feedback, the amount of solutions needed for problems, and the types of problems (ill-structured and well-defined) presented at the beginning.

2. Initial reactions to learning theories/models? Barriers to their use? Benefits to overcoming the barriers?

After I read through all of the learning theories/models, my initial thoughts were that these models would be very hard to implement in online modules due mainly to the time constraints associated with creating a model based on one of these theories.  Not that any of them would be impossible, they just require a lot of upfront planning and preparation — way more than the other modules from the previous weeks.  Each of these theories, if implemented online, require the teachers to allow for collaborative environments like Blackboard Collaborate, Skype, Google Docs, etc.  Likewise, students need places to put their thoughts and share planning guides, research materials, and final products.  While Google Docs seems like the obvious choice, it’s not always the best option for the class or the most convenient.  Overcoming the collaboration barrier for planning, creating, and finalizing would allow these theories to be successfully applied in online environments, which would make those online classes more meaningful for students.

Another initial reaction…How do you create authentic discussion based learning using the discussion tools available in an online environment?  While the small groups in each of these models would be learning within their groups, I think it’s important to bring the entire class together at some points throughout the class to discuss what they are learning so other groups can benefit from all the lessons learned throughout the course.  However, from first hand experience, generating discussions in online environments, while essential, can seem forced thus rendering the discussion pointless because students are only sharing what they think they need to share or what the teacher is looking for.  Overcoming the authentic discussion barrier is very possible if the teacher works carefully to craft questions that require meaningful answers and higher level thinking.  Likewise, the teachers in these online modules have to monitor and contribute to the discussions to guide their students’ thought processes and challenge their students’ thinking.  If one is able to overcome discussion barriers, all of the students would greatly benefit from enhanced discussions because now they are able to not only learn from themselves and their group but also from the experiences of the entire class.

3. Would you attempt to use any of these theories/models with the students you are currently teaching or hope to teach in the future? Why or why not? Could elements of the theories/models be modified so that they would work with your current/future students?

I think everyone uses Collaborative Learning on a regular basis in most classrooms.  Many of the strategies listed in the powerpoint such as Think-Pair-Share and Jigsaw are staples within many classrooms.  They are great strategies when trying to cover a large topic in a short amount of time and also when you really want students to take responsibility for their own learning.  However, and this could have been discussed in the previous section, Cooperative Learning scares me a little bit in the classroom.  If I design Cooperative Learning units and projects, it’s difficult to grade students fairly because I work hard to assess my students only on the mastery of the content and not their work ethic.  While their work ethic is valuable to me and to them, my job is to assess students ability to succeed within my classroom using the content and the level at which they achieve and nothing more.  I think Cooperative Learning has a place in the classroom in many formative instances, but I find it difficult to work in all facets of Cooperative Learning in most summative instances.

Unfortunately, I do not utilize PBL enough in my classroom, and I wish included more PBL projects and units. As an 8th grade SS teacher, I could create many authentic problems that our nation has faced, is facing, or will face throughout my class.  While some of the initial problems would only have one solution that we as a nation chose, the students could easily offer up alternative solutions that could have worked in addition to researching the chosen solutions from the past.  Obviously, I could front-load prior knowledge using my flip videos, and then my students would actively work in groups to solve the problem I created for them.  With all of the primary documents available for U.S. history, providing resources for the PBL project or unit would be easy.  Students could use those documents to research solutions used in the past by our nation to solve problems and compare them with the problem our nation is facing today and their potential solutions.

4. Since we’re taking learning theories/models that were not necessarily created with the Web in mind & turning them into Web modules, what Web-based tools/resources could be leveraged to carry out these learning theories/models online? Please spend some time identifying tools and resources for this last point, as this background research should help you complete your projects more efficiently.

I know there are many web 2.0 tools out there that could be used to support the collaborative piece in these theories/models.  I am also fully aware of Google Docs, Blackboard Collaborate, DimDim, Skype, etc.  However, I have used in my class for the past couple of years a technology called etherpad.  The idea behind etherpad is that users are provided a blank word document that they can write on individually or as a group.  The document is stored at a unique URL that students make up or can be randomly generated.  As long as the students know the URL, they can access the document any time.

It’s a great tool for collaborative lessons, projects, or units.  Students can share their thoughts, resources, and conclusions all on one or multiple documents and they never have to worry about saving.  The document saves automatically, and you can manipulate it very similar to a wiki in that you can move back drafts or see who is editing.  However, you don’t have to worry about multiple users editing the document at once as you do with wikis.  Some of the etherpad websites even have built in chatrooms as well.  I have used this in class to write collaborative essays or just simply as a planning guide for students doing collaborative projects.

Below is a list of possible options: