Collaborative Learning

What is collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. Collaborative activities are most often based on four principles:

  • The learner or student is the primary focus of instruction.
  • Interaction and “doing” are of primary importance.
  • Working in groups is an important mode of learning.
  • Structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning. View source.

Guiding Questions When Planning a Course in a CLC

  • Have I built in CLC-related learning objectives into my syllabus?
  • Have I embedded explanation about the CLC into my course syllabus?
  • Have I attended a technology training session in the room?
  • Do I feel comfortable using all of the technological features of the CLC?
  • Have I designed an orientation for my students to the room?
  • Have I designed group projects that will best utilize the space?
  • Have I created support resources to ensure effective group work and collaboration during in-class time?
  • Have I designed activities for the space that will encourage students to utilize technology for the purpose of enhancing their learning?
  • Have I considered how best to collect feedback throughout the course about how the CLC space is contributing to student learning?
  • What kind of group work will best help my students learn the course materials and meet my objectives?
  • Are cooperative, collaborative, team-based, or problem-based learning strategies appropriate for my course?
  • What can I do to ensure that I will be using the space as effectively as possible to aid student learning?
  • What kinds of activities can I build into the course in terms of assignments or in-class work that will best utilize the unique aspects of the classroom space?
  • Have I considered how best to collect feedback throughout the course about how the CLC space is contributing to student learning?

Guiding Questions PDF

7 Things You Should Know About Collaborative Learning Spaces (an article from Educause)

Alternative classroom designs have emerged that support collaborative learning and shift the focus away from lecture-based formats. Collaborative learning spaces generally involve new construction or the wholesale renovation of existing rooms, and they typically feature the ability to reconfigure seating to accommodate a variety of teaching methods. Such spaces enable alternative pedagogies that allow for more inquiry and investigative work, and they empower students to explore course content and ideas in an environment that has multiple points from which learning may emerge. See more [PDF].


SCALE-UP stands for “Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies.” (The name was originally “Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Physics” but since then many different institutions are teaching a variety of courses of various sizes. The "upside-down" part is explained below.) The basic idea is that you give students something interesting to investigate. While they work in teams, the instructor is free to roam around the classroom--asking questions, sending one team to help another, or asking why someone else got a different answer. There is no separate lab class and most of the "lectures" are actually class-wide discussions. We carefully structure the groups and give them many opportunities to interact. Three teams (named a, b, and c) sit at a round table and have white boards nearby. Each team has a laptop in case they need web access. At NC State (the original site) classes usually have 11 tables of nine students, but many schools have smaller classes while a few have even larger ones. See more.

Assessment of Collaborative Learning

An important component of collaborative learning is formative and summative assessment; that is, providing a variety of feedback opportunities during and at the end of the group project. “Individual and collective assessments are complimentary and allow instructors to encourage individual achievement while promoting a culture of shared purpose and learning” (Educause Learning Initiative. Unit 4: Assessment of Collaborative Learning Project Outcomes. Available: Assessment of Collaborative Learning [PDF]

Assessment Components

Student reporting is an integral part of the feedback process both during the project and at the end of the project. Working with your students to create a reporting timeline and checklist shares the reporting responsibility and, at the same time, gives students a voice and ownership in the process.

Students will benefit from different types of assessment. Providing learning objectives for individual learning as well as for group learning help students understand their responsibilities as learners and as members of a group.

Collective Assessment

Team assessment is focused on collaboration among team members and requires participation of each individual to meet the learning objective(s) for the team. Assessments may include presentations or other types of final projects.

Peer review

Researchers suggest that peer review is another good way to further involve students in active learning. The University of Colorado Boulder offers a research-based description of peer review, some strategies for implementing peer review, and some challenges: Assessing Group Work Using Peer Evaluation.

Tools for Peer Review

CATME, Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness, offers a Self and Peer Evaluation Tool. 

Individual Assessment

Faculty can provide or facilitate the creation of tools that are designed to help the student see the value of their contribution to the group. These tools may include self-assessments, instructor assessments, or, in some cases, external assessments (alumni, internship supervisors, etc.).

Three Collaborative Learning Classrooms located in Suffolk’s 20 Somerset building, (rooms 114, 214, 314) have been designed to provide a student-centered technology-rich learning space. Each CLC offers round tables with seating for six students, a seating style that promotes discussions, peer/instructor review and coaching, multiple projection systems to allow students to see and showcase their group work, and a teaching station that allows for control of all student projection systems from one location.

Features of the Collaborative Learning Classrooms at 20 Somerset:

  • Classroom 114 has 10 student tables with 6 seats per table and 7 high-definition projectors
  • Classroom 214 has 7 student tables with 6 seats per table and 6 high-definition projectors
  • Classroom 314 has 7 student tables with 6 seats per table and 6 high-definition projectors

All of these rooms include:

  • Each table is equipped with electrical, data and video projection connectivity for one student laptop allowing one computer per table to be projected on any one, all or a combination of the projectors
  • A teaching station with a simple, intuitive, touch-panel based control of all classroom technology including all of the projector systems
  • A desktop computer at the teaching station
  • A connection to the projection system for the faculty member's own laptop computer
  • A Blu-Ray player
  • Sound reinforcement for both the media sources as well as the faculty member's voice via a wireless lavaliere (clip-on) microphone allowing hands-free, amplified speech

Faculty are invited to participate in the Collaborative Learning Faculty Community. Contact the CTSE to enroll in the group site, where participants can access collaborative learning classroom activities, resources and discussion groups.

For support with technology training in CLCs, contact Media Services.

For support with classroom pedagogy, contact CTSE.