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Collaborative Learning Techniques:  A Handbook for College Faculty

by Elizabeth F. Barkley, K. Patricia Cross and Claire Howell Major


Review by Elizabeth Richardson Viti

In the ongoing quest to improve teaching and learning, collaborative learning continues to attract interest.  One reason is that decades of research have shown that teachers can't simply impose knowledge, but instead, meaningful learning depends on the active engagement of students.  A more practical reason for its use is that employers frequently find willingness and readiness to engage in productive teamwork essential for success, and thus for many, it is a requirement for employment.  Furthermore, an increasingly diverse society demands that citizens appreciate and benefit from a variety of perspectives.  Finally, collaborative learning allows colleges and universities to provide more opportunities for learning and to a wider audience of students.


Collaborative Learning Techniques:  A Handbook for College Faculty is divided into three parts.  The first explains why one should use collaborative learning; the second discusses how to use collaborative learning effectively; and the third gives detailed descriptions of thirty techniques for creating worthwhile group assignments.  Indeed, this is a very practical volume that lists collaborative learning techniques for discussion, reciprocal teaching, problem solving, information organizers, and writing.  


What is particularly helpful in that the authors supply discipline specific examples for the various techniques.  For example, calculus is used to illustrate the Talking Chips technique, which requires students to surrender a chip each time they speak during a group discussion.  Professor Ana Log (Yes, the names may remind you of those that the Car Guys give at the end of their weekly radio program.) formed groups to work together the entire semester.  Most groups were working well but a few were not because of a dominant voice or an adversarial dynamic between two group members.  She structured the next discussion using Talking Chips, giving each student one chip that he or she would turn in after having spoken.  No one received a second chip until all group members had spoken.  Professor Log found that students quickly became accustomed to the tokens and that students were participating more equitably in all of the groups.


The examples for the various techniques encompass a wide variety of disciplines, everything from Physics to French, from Art to English Composition, and from Statistics to Plant Biology.  In addition, each technique is followed by  an explanation of online implementation, variations and extensions, observations and advice as well as key resources.  In short, it is a most practical pedagogical support!