Beginning collaborative learning: student and staff perspectives on its value and challenges

Jackie Cawkwell, Adam Talbot, Mark Boylan

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Collaborative learning in higher education is important to student engagement and experience but it is relatively under researched and there is much that is not yet understood. Further, methodological approaches and tools to research collaborative learning need developing. We explore issues related to assessed group work experienced by a first year cohort on a large Business Studies module, by examining views of both staff and students. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, we trialled an innovative approach to focus groups using an adapted business tool (Process Value Mapping) and a theoretically informed questionnaire. The particular foci were organisation of collaborative learning, support for collaboration, group formation, and the benefits and difficulties experienced. Overall both students and staff were positive about the experience. Students experienced challenges including finding time to meet and how groups were composed. Staff in the focus group raised organisational issues about the process of supporting collaborative learning. This study confirms the value of collaborative learning and its challenges. We argue that the data from both groups highlights the importance of how collaborative learning begins. We also argue that for collaborative learning to be enhanced, and to be a positive experience on large modules such as this, attention should be paid to how groups are formed, how they are supported and how collaborative skills develop. We propose systemic and organisational changes that can help ensure collaborative learning is successful. This requires institutional innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalStudent Engagement and Experience Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Assessment
  • Collaborative learning
  • Group work
  • Process value mapping


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