Benefits & Challenges of Collaboration in College

Collaborative learning, working together with other students to answer a problem or complete a task, is something that almost every student has taken part in. It includes team projects, group assignments, and study sessions, and even in-class collaboration like discussions or debates. Many professors like to incorporate this type of learning along with the more classic disseminated style of teaching. With traditional learning, a professor lectures directly to a class as they listen and take notes. But with collaborative learning, students become a part of the teaching and learning process themselves.

With collaboration, professors can incorporate more hands-on learning for their students that often help them to develop a deeper understanding of concepts. Research, such as this study done at Cornell University, has consistently shown that more interactive learning environments mean more engaged students.

Through working in groups, students develop essential skills they need for their future careers such as critical thinking, public speaking, and teamwork. These are skills that aren’t easily picked up through just listening to lectures; they require actual practice.

In addition, students who are exposed to collaborative learning environments often have a better understanding of diverse opinions and thought-processes. By combining a group of students with one goal, students learn that others may have different ways of thinking and doing things and how to embrace these differences.

Despite all of the research and proven benefits, not all students prefer collaborative learning over traditional lectures. Because the fact of the matter is sometimes working with other people can be frustrating. But regardless of your personal learning preference, there are benefits to collaborative learning just as there are drawbacks.

Benefits of Collaboration

Shared Workload

One of the biggest perks of collaboration in college, whether you’re talking about group projects or just in-class teamwork, is the shared workload. Instead of taking on a whole assignment on your own, you can split it up and delegate tasks between team members. This takes the full pressure off of one individual and allows each part of the project to be done to a better extent.

Group projects are typically large assignments that incorporate a lot of things learned throughout a class. Imagine having to apply all of that information on your own! With group collaboration, each member can take on a different subject, concept, or idea that will be incorporated into the final project.

Collaborative work allows each person to know what specific thing they should focus on It also helps you to really focus in and become a master of a certain topic. Additionally, this gives students an opportunity to shine in an area that they excel in, or even volunteer to work on a part of the project where they know they need to improve their skills.

Diverse Thinking

One of the greatest benefits of collaboration in college, specifically when working on a project or assignment, is the combination of diverse ideas. When working towards a goal of a final project, multiple opinions and approaches to a solution can be beneficial in creating a greater end-project. One person’s great ideas may be something another group member never even thought of. It is a great opportunity to be exposed to a diverse set of ideas and the different ways people think and learn.

And by being exposed to diverse ideas, students are able to enhance their critical thinking skills. This is important not only because it helps students in class, but it helps to enhance their ability to think about things from all different perspectives and make new connections. By seeing how others process different ideas, students can learn new ways to strengthen their own learning and productivity.

Diverse thinking brings together many different directions when brainstorming project ideas, which is just another benefit of this collaboration. With multiple brains thinking about one goal, a group of students can come up with a multitude of topics or ideas. Through this collaboration, students can learn to better understand how others think and become empathetic to their thoughts and opinions.

Skill Building

With any sort of collaboration in college, you come out on the end with more experience on how to work as a team. This is beneficial not only in group projects, study groups, or in class but beyond school as well. The ability to work well with others is something important that will carry over into the majority of career fields. In a collaborative environment, you’ll gain team building skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to communicate with others.

Team building skills are important, especially in a workplace, because many things are going to require combining ideas with others- not everything is going to be your decision alone.

The ability to take ideas of many people to form a solution is very valuable. Problem-solving skills tie into this, and the ability to take on any task at hand confidently to find a solution is going to be vital to any career.

The ability to communicate with others, however, may be the most important, as it is incorporated into both of these skills as well as almost any professional industry. Getting your ideas across clearly and thoughtfully, as well as understanding the ideas of others, is an irreplaceable skill when working with others.

Challenges of Collaboration 

Team Dissent

With collaboration, of course, comes the combination of ideas. Or so you would hope. However, there are always going to be disagreements when working with a group. And when groups have poor conflict resolution skills, these disagreements can turn ugly and unproductive. Unfortunately, there will always be people that believe things need to be done their way. It’s just not something that can be avoided. But it is something that can be managed by learning to resolve conflicts effectively.

Additionally, groups can often be unskilled in communication. Often times, it’s not the ideas themselves people don’t agree with. Instead, it turns out they just don’t fully understand what they idea is. If you are unable to get your thoughts across clearly, other students may not understand what you’re trying to convey to them and shut it down without attempting to understand more fully. This lack of communication leads to a cycle of frustration and discouragement.

The Group Slacker

We all know this person very, very well. The one member of the team, that one person in your study group, that just doesn’t bring anything to the table and doesn’t care much to do so either. Yet they float alongside with the group, reaping the benefits without putting in the work.

This person comes in the form of a group member that coincidentally can’t make it to any of the planned meeting times, declines responsibilities because “you would be able to do that part so much better”, and yet in the end still writes their name on the finished project. No thanks, bud.

This person may be slacking off for many different reasons. Sure, they could just be lazy and want to reap the benefits. But there could also be some group organizational issues. One big issue in this type of situation is the lack of division of labor. Students are unclear how the project is being broken up and who’s handling what. Another issue could be a lack of set goals and deadlines. Students in the group may not be sure when things are due or what is expected of them in their part of the project.

Risk of “Plagiarism”

This is more of a technical drawback, but definitely, one that most people have either had encounters with or at least have been warned about. Plagiarism is a big issue in this day and age, especially with so much information available on the Internet. Both intentional and unintentional plagiarism become a risk in collaborative group work.

This can arise as an issue without the students even realizing they are doing anything wrong. I have witnessed this myself in an online class I took. A group of students compiled a Google Doc of their lecture and textbook notes and then used the document as their notes on the open-note test. However, the students using the same notes lead to similar essay responses on the test. The professor and teaching assistants flagged these students’ tests as possibly plagiarized. In the end, they all had to go in for a hearing and were even docked test points.

Additionally, in situations such as this, students run the risk of copying and pasting the wrong information from one another, accidentally taking “notes” from another plagiarized source. Collaboration always has a chance of leading to unintended issues like this.

Despite the drawbacks of the risk of conflict involved and the possibility of difficult group members, collaboration can be very beneficial when executed well. The meshing of ideas, a shared workload, and improvement of teamwork skills can all be bonus outcomes of collaborating with other students.

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