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Anne-Marie Hoskinson

Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN

Assignment #1: Introductions

1) Describe your teaching responsibilities and the type of student you

Unlike the rest of you, I am in transition this summer. I’m finishing two years as a biology instructor at Georgia Tech and jumping on the tenure track at Minnesota State – Mankato starting in August. Today is my last day of classes ever at Tech. I’m one of those crazy quantitative biologists. At MNSU, I will teach biology to non-majors and lab experiences for elementary teachers (really jazzed about that!). More, certainly, to develop.

2) Describe what you would like to take home as a result of attending
the institute

I would like to take home two things from our working time this summer: the generalized principles that will allow me to design SoTL studies; and a re-invigoration of my passion for teaching biology. I’m specifically targeting design of a study that will define collaboration and measure its efficacy as a long-term teaching strategy and learning tool.

3) Tell us about your interests outside of the classroom and a book that
you've read recently

Outside the classroom I spend lots of time, umm, outside. I hike, bike, camp and fish with my two puppy-dog boys. They are better at fishing, and I am better at biking. I am also a photographer (of nature – what else!). I have been making my way through Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us since winter break. Gee, I sound really boring. Like a couple of you have mentioned, I like beer and gardening, too. Also beer gardens. I will be coming to DC a couple of days early to check out the Smithsonian(s) and a monument or two.

Assignment #2: Reflections

1) How would you describe your “research problem(s)” to the Research Scholars group?

The problems we face – as scholars, researchers, educators, and citizens – span such scales of time, space, and expertise to require intra- and inter-disciplinary collaboration. Yet this set of skills is not generally taught – in fact, many students find it difficult to reconcile the traditionally-competitive model of education with the collaboration that work and citizenship require. Our students aren’t (generally) learning how to form habits of asking questions and collaborating. Collaboration itself isn’t well-defined and is rarely distinguished from other cooperative teaching and learning practices. Without recognizing it, I demonstrated the very deficits I identified as my BRS research problems.

I hypothesize that the skills and processes of collaboration can be taught, that effective instruction methods correlate positively with long-term (≥ 12 mo) skill and practice retention, and that collaboration as an instructional and learning activity produces greater retention for longer durations than traditional teacher-based methods (lecture-then-exam cycles). (Null hypothesis = no effect of collaboration on any measured learning outcome.) My objectives are to develop and refine the most effective tools for teaching classroom and real-world collaboration to biology undergraduates, and to distribute the instructional tools to my colleagues within and among our disciplines. To accomplish these goals, I must design an experiment that will test whether, and to what extent, the methods I use are effective at generating collaboration in my students, whether that effect persists beyond the classroom experience for my students, and if it persists, for what duration.
I define a collaborative group as distinct from a cooperative group. While both require cooperation among group members working toward a common goal, I use the term “collaborative groups” to refer to higher-performing groups that solve more complex tasks. Unlike cooperative groups, collaborative group members understand that the common goal cannot be achieved by any one group member alone, nor by group members taking a “divide and conquer” approach. Because of their commitment foremost to a common goal, collaborative group members guide their learning responsibly. While this distinction is rare (absent) from the SoTL literature, I use it to distinguish my objectives, teaching philosophies, and my goals for this program from merely studying “group work.”

2)What theme(s) based on your readings, resonate with your “problem” and/or your proposed approach to address your problem?

As I read the articles by Bass, Benson, and Nelson, I was struck first by how manifest their theses were to me. In fact, I thought I was missing something. Of course we must consider problems in the scholarship of teaching and learning the same way we consider our ‘hard science’ problems, I thought. They are interesting questions, hypotheses waiting to be articulated and tested. What is the purpose of such obvious declarations? Was I missing something?

Well, yes. It didn’t occur to me that not everyone sees questions in the scholarship of teaching (and learning) as research problems best engaged with scientific inquiry. Biology is a quantitative, emergent science.

3) Which of the 12 properties of SoTL in microbiology education proposed by S. Benson’s article are particularly relevant to your project at this stage?

4) Do you have any questions/concerns/comments that have evolved from your reading?

5) What do you see as tangible products to be developed as a result of your Scholars experience within the next 12 months?

I anticipate the following products:

1.    An operational definition of collaboration as a skill and practice within life sciences teaching and learning;
2.    Data analysis of past collaborative-learning (CL) outcomes;
3.    Design of a new experiment to test my questions, above, and;
4.    Strategies and heuristics for turning traditional and/or lecture-based activities into problems that foster collaboration and concept development.

I currently have four data sets of student-reported outcomes from four semesters of a CL class in mathematical-biological modeling that I designed and taught at Georgia Tech. I need to analyze these data to determine whether there was a treatment effect (i.e. whether designing this course and its problems from the objectives backward had the intended outcome). Next, I will use meta-analyses of CL problems I’ve developed and compare them to existing best-practices to generate heuristics for designing CL problems.

6) What do you see yourself presenting at the follow-up session at ASMCUE 2009?

7) What will you need to develop these products?

Assignment #3: Annotations

My research asks how best to assess the short-term and long-term effectiveness of collaborative learning, and what instructional tools and methods best develop collaborative learning. In my research and teaching, I am making two key distinctions. The first is between more traditional, competitive learning and cooperative learning. Second, I distinguish between cooperative learning and collaborative learning. For brevity, you may think of collaborative learning as a specialized subset, an enhancement, of many of the practices of cooperative learning. Many SoTL journals, book chapters, proceedings, etc. don’t distinguish between these learning models, but it is non-trivial. This is partly what prompted my inquiry, but it is a little startling (as at least one other Scholar pointed out!) to search several databases without arriving at consensus of thought. I am surprised that there is so much variance among simple definitions such as cooperation, collaboration, and effect. My first challenge, then, is to clarify what collaborative learning is. I am also finding very few “hard results,” but am unsure yet whether this is because I’m not looking in fertile sources or because I don’t know where to look!

  1. Smith, K. A. (1995). Cooperative learning: Effective teamwork for engineering classrooms. ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education. B. Carlson. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. URL: Accessed 2 July 2008.

Smith defines cooperative learning along a hierarchy of results based on the degree of teamwork. Pseudo-learning groups are teams in name only – their learning model is still highly competitive. Cooperative learning groups, in contrast: a) work toward a common, shared purpose; b) are responsible and accountable for their work; c) learn from one another as they complete a substantial, common work product; and d) analyze their interactions and results. What Smith calls “high-functioning” cooperative groups include all those characteristics, but “outperforms all reasonable expectations.” This is a good beginning to distinguishing collaborative learning. Note than neither Smith nor I are making a value judgment about either learning model. Smith does not specify what this outperformance is.

  1. Gokhale, A. (1995). “Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking.” Journal of Technology Education 7(1): 22-30.

The author designed a simple experiment to test whether students in a circuit’s class performed better after completing a group synthesis exercise than students tested after individual study. However, based on the reported practices, the author’s model of a collaborative group is better characterized as a low-functioning cooperative group, because the instruction (the actual learning) is still based on the professor, not the students, and because the group learning process is entirely scripted. Student group members do little to define the process of neither their learning nor the “rules” for teamwork. None the less, Gokhale found that students who worked in small groups fared better on critical-thinking exam questions (based on Bloom’s [1956] taxonomy) than students who worked individually.

  1. Rockwood III, H. S. (1995). “Cooperative and collaborative learning.” The National Teaching and Learning Forum 4(6): 8-9.

  2. Rockwood III, H. S. (1995). “Cooperative and collaborative learning, part 2.” The National Teaching and Learning Forum 5(1): 8-10.

Rockwood answers the question, what’s the difference between cooperative and collaborative learning? He acknowledges the overlap between the two models – for example, both learning models are student-centered, success occurs when group members fulfill a common goal with complementary roles. However, Rockwood asserts that there are a few key differences, too. Cooperative learning groups are more structured; teamwork, cooperation, and group skills are often explicit curricular goals; and the instructor is still the center of authority and knowledge in the class. In collaborative learning, groups fulfill more complex tasks (corresponding to Bloom’s analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels). Structure arises from autonomous groups themselves, not the instructor, who helps students construct their knowledge bases. Rockwood asserts that the key difference between the two learning models comes down to knowledge and power. Rockwood does a great job of capturing the essential distinctions between two very similar models.

  1. Johnson, D. W., R. T. Johnson, et al. (1998). “Cooperative learning returns to college: What evidence is there that it works?” Change (July/August): 27-35.

The authors summarize results from a meta-analysis of academic success, relationship quality, and psychological adjustment of cooperative learners. They reported analyzing 168 studies comparing individual, competitive, and cooperative learning models, using a broad survey of measures – knowledge retention, accuracy, problem-solving, and meta-cognition among many other examples. Their reported effect size for cooperative vs. competitive learning was 0.49, an impressive value. Unfortunately they do not give any methodology, so it is impossible to know how they got there, or how to replicate (or not) their results.

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