The terms "collaborative learning" "cooperative learning" and "learning community" are used frequently but operational definitions are scarce. Joseph Cuseo's two monographs Igniting Student Involvement, Peer Interaction, and Teamwork and Organizing to Collaborate present taxonomies that synthesize postsecondary collaborative practices.
In Igniting Student Involvement, Peer Interaction, and Teamwork, Cuseo provides a taxonomy of structures for group learning in college settings. The monograph's two sections include a rationale for collaborative group learning and categorized descriptions of 90 group structures.
In Section I, Cuseo builds a rationale for his taxonomy by explaining the importance of collaboration among learners. First, Cuseo argues that cooperative learning structures actively involve students, even those who rarely make verbal contributions in large college classrooms. Second, group learning capitalizes on the power of the peer group to promote multiple and diverse peer-learning opportunities. And third, Cuseo cites research on brain functioning as he argues that group-learning structures infuse the learning process with variety, leading to increased motivation, interest, and retention.
In Section II, Cuseo presents a taxonomy of 90 participant structures, or patterns of interaction between the instructor and students. These structures are organized into seven categories based upon their most salient patterns or purposes. The first two categories--pairing structures and small group structures--describe patterns of classroom interaction that involve either pairs or small groups of students who work together on a particular task. The remaining five categories describe classroom structures aimed at a specific purpose: building positive interdependence, fostering individual accountability, creating cohesive teams, completing group projects outside the classroom, and balancing team interaction and whole class synergy. Under each of these seven categories, numbered subcategories further group the structures, followed by a title of a structure and a one-paragraph description. For example, under the category "pairing structures" and subcategory "lecture processing structures," Cuseo describes a structure called "closure note-taking pairs." At the end of a lecture, pairs of students work toward building a complete summary of the lecture. One student summarizes important points; the partner corrects and adds to the summary, and each student adds to his or her lecture notes (p. 13). Each structure identified in the taxonomy is presented in a "content-free" manner, to be used by educators across different disciplines.
The greatest strength of Cuseo's taxonomy is its organization. Organizing by function allows educators to choose structures that can simultaneously meet cognitive and social goals. For example, Cuseo describes structures that foster community and diverse thinking by helping different groups learn from their peers' projects. The structures presented by Cuseo encourage educators to choose collaborative pedagogy that places students and the classroom community at the center of the learning process.
This monograph would be of great value to educators already somewhat familiar with group processes. Cuseo notes that, like daily lectures, repeated use of a particular group work structure can become a "redundant and numbing experience for students" (p. 6). Experienced educators would likely find new structures that could help to "diversify the collaborative experiences" (p. 6) of their students.
Educators unfamiliar with collaborative learning methods would likely benefit from a more complete description of the group learning structures. For this reason, a valuable companion to this monograph might be an expanded version of the taxonomy, with a similarly organized but more complete description, written and visual, of taxonomy components.
Whereas Igniting Student Involvement focuses on collaborative practices within the classroom, Cuseo's related monograph, Organizing to Collaborate builds a taxonomy that synthesizes collaborative postsecondary educational practices within departments, the university, and beyond.
Section I provides a rationale for Cuseo's taxonomy of collaborative postsecondary practices. Cuseo identifies eight challenges currently facing institutions of higher education. Universities are challenged to promote students' active involvement, retain students, build a coherent curriculum, unify the curriculum and co-curriculum, promote and appreciate diversity, integrate college and the world of work, conduct comprehensive assessment, and maximize the impact of technology. According to Cuseo, all of these challenges can be met more effectively if universities are engaged in collaborative practices. Cuseo also cautions that the collaboration described in this monograph can only be created with support from educational leaders and state political officials.
To build the taxonomy outlined in Section II, Cuseo chose collaborative practices that include both interaction and interdependence--involved parties engage in coordinated efforts and achieve mutual benefits. The taxonomy differentiates categories based upon the people involved in the collaboration. The seven categories include a) students, b) faculty, c) faculty and students, d) cross-functional university teams, e) institutions, f) segments of the educational system and g) college and community. Each of these categories includes a research-based rationale as well as subcategories that describe how this collaboration occurs.
The taxonomy concisely describes 150 collaborative practices. For example, one type of inter-institutional collaboration between two- and four-year colleges is the "inverted degree model." In this model, technical or vocational programs at a two-year college are followed by general education courses and a baccalaureate degree at a four-year college (p. 55). One type of college-community collaboration is an "inter-organizational exchange" in which, for example, a faculty member and business executive change contexts (p. 72). Descriptions are brief and general, flexible enough to be useful in a variety of contexts.
Cuseo's monograph appeals to a wide audience--college faculty and administrators as well as K-12 educators and community members. Current educational challenges and calls for reform, coupled with a shortage of funds, have made collaborative approaches a wise choice for educators. Cuseo gives descriptions of actual practices that exemplify collaboration at multiple levels. This well-organized catalogue of ideas could spark new collaborative efforts.
At the university level in particular, the impact of Cuseo's work may be best summarized in his own words. These collaborative practices "model for students--in visible and multiple ways--how their college enacts its espoused ideal of community and puts it into actual practice" (p. 77). Currently, the implicit or informal curriculum (Astin, 1988) at many universities fosters competitiveness and individualism. Yet, at the same time, universities aim to prepare students to become successful citizens. In order to educate college students to be contributing members of the local, national, and global community, students need to experience interdependence and working toward common goals.
Like Cuseo's Igniting Student Interaction, Peer Involvement, and Teamwork, this monograph does not include the details and concrete examples necessary to put these ideas into practice. However, this taxonomy would be an excellent tool for organizing existing literature and case studies for use by institutions seeking to incorporate collaborative practices.
Posted April 22, 2003
Modified April 28, 2003
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