Preparing Students to Collaboratively Solve Community and Global Issues: Focusing on Low Progress Learners

Project Number
OER 06/15 RJL

Project Duration
May 2015 - September 2018


The research on collaborative learning has largely focused on academic and non-academic outcomes measured after students engage in collaboration, and the cognitive and/or social-emotional processes that occur during collaboration. Few studies have examined how the activities that students engage in before collaboration affect the process of collaborating and, consequently, influence outcomes. The PI has been involved in work that investigates how the benefits of collaborative learning can be maximized when students first cognitively engage in preparation tasks (Lam, 2013; Lam & Muldner, under review). Recent findings suggest that different instructional designs can invoke the learning mechanisms of preparation to varying extents which, in turn, affects the extent to which beneficial learning behaviors such as explaining, elaborating, questioning, or debating are used during collaboration (Lam & Kapur, in preparation). Further empirical study is needed to more thoroughly examine the relationship between the learning mechanisms of preparation and collaboration, and the generalizability of preparation-to-collaborate tasks across grade levels and subject areas. An ongoing synthesis of the literature focusing on how collaborative learning activities impact students who are low-ability or ''at-risk'' shows that collaborative activities can be particularly beneficial, when the instructional and classroom conditions are right (Lam, in preparation). The educational streaming system in Singapore presents a unique opportunity to further assess how preparation activities can be designed to effectively promote successful collaboration in classrooms among struggling learners. By targeting students in Singaporean government schools who are streamed into the Normal Technical stream at the Secondary level, the proposed project aims to address how differentially engaging preparatory activities affect both the process of collaboration and the cognitive and affective outcomes of low progress learners. The intent will be to provide highly effective collaborative learning activities to these students through an intervention study that involves implementing a program centered on collaboratively problem-solving community, national, and global issues. A better understanding of the relationship between the learning mechanisms of preparation and collaboration shall inform a framework for designing collaborative learning activities. This framework is grounded in the Preparation for Future Learning paradigm (PFL, Schwartz & colleagues, 1998-) and the Productive Failure learning design (PF, Kapur & colleagues, 2008-). The proposed project shall build upon the PFL and PF work towards developing a design framework for ''preparation for future collaboration.'' The practical implications would be to inform best practices for designing effective collaborative learning activities in the classroom, especially for students who are struggling.

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