Overview of collaborations
Educators in a variety of educational settings—from K12 to the university classroom— have long used collaborative approaches to teaching and assessing students. More recently, educators and policy makers have identified the ability to collaborate as an important outcome in its own right rather than merely a means to an end. For example, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified collaboration as one of several learning and innovation skills necessary for post-secondary education and workforce success. In addition, the newly-created Common Core State Standards reflect collaboration as a communication skill vital for college and employment. The purposes of this literature review are to (a) explore how researchers have defined collaboration; (b) investigate how collaboration skills develop; (c) learn how teachers can encourage development of collaboration skills in their students; and (d) review best practices in assessing collaboration skills.
Dillenbourg notes that nothing is inherently instructive about working with more than one person on a task; rather, interaction triggers learning processes. Collaborative learning situations require instructions, a physical setting, and other kinds of performance constraints. These elements do not guarantee collaboration; they only make it more likely. Roschelle (1992) frames collaboration as an exercise in convergence or construction of shared meanings and notes that research on conversational analysis has identified features of interactions that enable participants to reach convergence through the construction, monitoring, and repairing of shared knowledge. Convergence occurs gradually, but tends to include four elements: a) construction of an abstract understanding of the problem’s deep structure; b) the interplay of metaphors; c) an iterative cycle of displaying, confirming, and repairing conceptions; and d) application of progressively higher standards of evidence for convergence.
As Van Boxtel, et al. (2000) explain, collaborative learning activities allow students to provide explanations of their understanding, which can help students elaborate and reorganize their knowledge. Social interaction stimulates elaboration of conceptual knowledge as group mates attempt to make themselves understood, and research demonstrates that providing elaborated explanations improves student comprehension of concepts. Once conceptual understandings are made visible through verbal exchange, students can negotiate meaning to arrive at convergence, or shared understanding. Qualities of Collaborative Learning Collaboration is sometimes distinguished from cooperative learning in that cooperation is typically accomplished through the division of labor, with each person responsible for some portion of the problem solving. Collaboration, on the other hand, involves participants working together on the same task, rather than in parallel on separate portions of the task. However, Dillenbourg et al. (1996) note that some spontaneous division of labor may occur during collaboration. Thus, the distinction between the two is not necessarily clear-cut