Cooperative Learning through Collaborative Faculty-Student Research Teams*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

A structured research team experience can add a great deal to a graduate student's academic and professional training, and it also can support a positive research culture within a department. In this study, we discuss how one department developed and implemented collaborative learning research teams to enhance students' research experiences. We discuss the advantages of cooperative learning and share student and faculty reflections that further support the use of collaborative learning research teams.

Key Words: cooperative learning, graduate education, professional development, research teams, teaching methods.

Future family scholars should be well versed in theory, research, and best practices and have the skills necessary to conduct the research independently (Monroe, 1995). Yet, there are a number of challenges associated with the education of family scholars at all academic levels (i.e., Cianciolo & Henderson, 2003; Cianciolo, Henderson, Kretzer, & Mendes, 2001; Piercy et al., 2005; Sprenkle, 2002). Such challenges include integrating knowledge across multiple fields (Piercy et al.), ensuring that one is using the best pedagogical approaches to teach today's college students (Henderson & McWey, in press), and identifying the necessary skills and knowledge for students in today's information and technologically based economy (e.g., Buono, 1996; U.S. Department of Labor, 2000).

On the one hand, graduate students themselves express ambivalence when it comes to research. For example, in one study, for every positive adjective students used to describe research, such as "rewarding" or "helpful," students also used words like "boring," "confusing," "difficult," and "frustrating" (Piercy et al., 2005). On the other hand, one goal of most family science departments is to increase the number of graduate students who are prepared to teach, conduct research, and provide leadership and professional services.

Traditional approaches to teaching both undergraduate and graduate students include students attending classes, listening to lectures, and reading textbooks and articles. Although these methods may be good at imparting knowledge, students may not see the immediate relevance of the content they are learning (Cianciolo & Henderson, 2003). Thus, many have advocated for more innovative teaching strategies at the undergraduate and graduate levels (Cianciolo & Henderson; Cianciolo et al., 2001; Fontes & Piercy, 2000; McWey et al., 2002; Sprenkle & Piercy, 1984). Specifically, scholars assert that meaningful research training in undergraduate and graduate programs involves more than requiring students to take research methods and statistics classes and to complete a dissertation or thesis, but involves pedagogical approaches that connect course content to research practices (Anderson, 2003; Crane, Wampler, Sprenkle, Sandberg, & Hovestadt, 2002; Henderson & Martin, 2002; Piercy et al., 2005; Sprenkle, 2002).

Cooperative learning (CL) has been identified as an effective pedagogical strategy that promotes a variety of positive cognitive, affective, and social outcomes (Cabrera et al., 2002; Nolinske & Millis, 1999; Slavin, 1995a). Specifically, CL strategies have been shown to improve the retention rates of students (Kluge, 1990; Totten, Sills, & Digby, 1991); provide students with increased opportunities for discussion, shared learning, and self-management (Slavin & Cooper, 1999); and enhance students' academic performance (Cianciolo et al., 2001; Nolinske & Millis, 1999; Walker, 1996). Despite the positive aspects of CL, many assert that more needs to be done in developing and evaluating CL pedagogical practices (i.e., Cabrera et al.; Slavin, 1995a, 1995b).

The purpose of this study is to present a case study (Jarrett, 1992; Yin, 1984), reflecting the various CL processes and how one family studies department formalized CL research teams as an effort to enhance graduate student education. …