We take the broader definition of collaborative learning as “a situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together” (Dillenbourg, 1999, p. 1). In this definition, there are two important aspects of collaborative learning. First, it is about the learning that occurs through interactions between two or more people. As Dillenbourg argued, true collaboration includes both interactivity and negotiability.

Interactivity refers to the impact of interactions on group members’ thinking and learning.

Negotiability refers to the important role of negotiation among group members in order to reach convergent or shared understanding. In other words, instead of a student imposing knowledge on other group members, new knowledge is built upon individual group members’ contributions and further modified through negotiation.

Second, collaborative learning is about learning together as a group with a shared learning goal. In this sense, collaborative learning is different from cooperative learning.

In cooperative learning, students work in structured groups to complete a task by breaking it apart into different pieces and assigning these different pieces to individuals within groups.

However, in collaborative learning, students work together to achieve a common group goal. Individual group members contribute to the group task, and each contribution is considered and discussed by all group members for agreement or disagreement.

Collaboration and communication have been emphasized in the 21st Century Skills framework (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007) because it is important for scientists, engineers, and technology professionals (as well as citizens working in the global workplace) to be able to articulate and listen to others’ thoughts and ideas effectively and to collaborate with diverse teams. Effective collaboration involves sharing responsibility for work and valuing the individual contributions made by other team members. Thus, it is not surprising that the National Research Council (NRC) Framework for K-12 Science Education has identified communication as one of the eight central practices of science and engineering (NRC, 2012).

In general, it is quite challenging to address the issue of assessing collaboration and communication, since collaborative learning includes complex interactions among multiple participants and can involve a diversity of learning goals. It is important for us to understand these challenges and think about possible solutions. One major challenge to assessing collaboration and communication is that there are different kinds of collaborative activities. For example, collaboration may take place when groups of students investigate a scientific phenomenon, when students engage in game-like tasks or simulations, or when students participate in discussion groups with a goal of constructing a shared knowledge base. All these learning activities can be assessed at individual and group levels (D. W. Johnson & Johnson, 1992).

Back to Science Practices

Home | About CBAL | Acknowledgments | Contact Us

© Copyright 2014 Educational Testing Service. All rights reserved.

ETS and the ETS logo are registered trademarks of Educational Testing Service (ETS). CBAL is a trademark of ETS.
All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.