Is there a recipe for making collaborative work a fruitful experience? The scenario for the third topic incited our group to embark on a journey where we explored this question. Being able to work well with others is commonly viewed as an important skill and while group work is by no means a novelty among learning modes, it would seem as if there has been a renewed focus on the importance of collaborative and soft skills within education in recent years. If prompted to promote collaborative skills, many teachers probably turn to group work – a mode of working which sadly does not inspire all students with enthusiasm, be that a consequence of bad experiences and/or negative anticipation. Added to that, group work also has a reputation for often failing to deliver a real collaborative experience. So, for starters, let us state that group work is not synonymous with collaboration, although it does offer an opportunity for collaboration.

Collaboration, as learning, require active engagement. One scenario where group work does not turn into collaboration, is the one where participants simply divide a task amongst themselves and then complete their own parts individually. In this scenario, the end product is a collage of the individual parts and the participants have only engaged with each other to a minimal extent. In an ideal collaboration, by contrast, there would be continuous interaction between the participants and the end product would be something that grew out of joint effort and dialogue. Some groups will work really well, by chance or because the members of the group already constitute a good team, and collaboration takes place without any specific teacher intervention. But for all those other groups, the teacher needs to provide support. For any teacher wishing to design the best circumstances for collaboration to take place, there are models and resources available. One common tip says to assess the group work and the assumption here is that assessment of group activity will increase group work engagement as the students are motivated by grades.

A study by Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009), however, suggests assessment of group work may not be an effective incentive for active participation while instructional strategies play a key role in successful group collaboration. The authors of the study propose that the following seven strategies are central: 1) facilitate learner readiness for group work and provide scaffolding to build skills; 2) establish a healthy balance between structure (clarity of task) and learner autonomy (flexibility of task); 3) Nurture the establishment of learner relationships and sense of community; 4) Monitor group activities actively and closely; 5) Make the group task relevant for the learner; 6) Choose tasks that are best performed by a group; 7) Provide sufficient time.

The strategies presented above correspond well to many of the findings and guidelines that we came across through the course of our work in the PBL group. There needs to be support for weaker or more inexperienced students and incorporating activities and ways of working that build a sense of community among the learners seems to be crucial. Even though assessment may not inspire more engagement, it is still important that the teacher plays an active role throughout the process and follows up on how it is going in the groups. Lastly, the teacher should provide clear guidelines while also allowing for some degree of choice and autonomy and the task itself should be engaging and well-tailored to group effort.


Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). [Accessed 10-05-2022]

Topic 3: Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning