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What is Collaboration?

By: Melissa Keith and Joy Palmer

The term “collaboration” is often misunderstood because of the lack of a clear, agreed-upon meaning. The basic definition of collaboration is any method or theory of instruction that utilizes group learning (Smit 45). This could also be viewed as any pedagogy that “values talk and activity as learning tools” (Roskelly 141). Essentially, collaboration is any social activity in the classroom that gets students away from writing by themselves and interacting with other students. David Yamane adds to this definition: by using collaborative learning techniques, students will learn actively and cooperatively. He also points out that this method of learning and instruction exemplifies a value system that teaches teamwork, cooperation, and community as benefits that are just as important as other academic accomplishments (378).

Collaboration is hard to define because the term encompasses a variety of activities:

  • Peer response groups
  • Peer tutoring
  • Peer workshops
  • Group research projects
  • Classroom group discussions
  • Learning communities
  • Writers’ groups

The question becomes, “Which of these activities is collaboration?” Peter Elbow breaks collaboration into two categories: weak and strong. Weak collaboration involves students reading their writing to one another, such as in peer response groups, which inevitably leads to the students influencing one another’s writing. Strong collaboration differs from weak collaboration because it requires some amount of consensus among group members, such as in a group research project (253). Donald Stewart points out that there is a “lack of a clear distinction between influence and collaboration” (66). A peer response group, where students respond to one another’s writing is a weaker collaborative effort since it is about influencing one another’s writing; whereas a group research project where each student has a well-defined set of tasks is a much stronger form of collaboration.

When looking at the issues that may arise during collaborative efforts, it is important to determine the level of collaboration. This wiki page focuses primarily on the “strong” forms of collaboration like group research projects as opposed to “weak” or influential forms of collaboration like peer response, peer tutoring, or learning communities. Again, we issue an open invitation to other scholars to expand this conversation by addressing the weaker forms of collaboration.

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Page last modified on April 14, 2015, at 10:29 AM