Undergraduate Students' Perceptions of Collaborative Learning in a Differential Equations Mathematics Course

By Hajra, Sayonita Ghosh; Das, Ujjaini | College Student Journal, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Undergraduate Students' Perceptions of Collaborative Learning in a Differential Equations Mathematics Course


Hajra, Sayonita Ghosh, Das, Ujjaini, College Student Journal


Abstract

This paper uses collaborative learning strategies to examine students' perceptions in a differential equations mathematics course. Students' perceptions were analyzed using three collaborative learning strategies including collaborative activity, group-quiz and online discussion. The study results show that students identified both strengths and weaknesses of the collaborative process which signals that in an upper-level mathematics course collaborative learning strategies pose both benefits and limitations.

Keywords: collaborative learning, group activities, classroom discussion, instruction

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Working with a group or with a neighbor is referred as collaborative learning (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005). In other words, "collaborative learning has come to mean students working in pairs or small groups to achieve shared learning goals" and it focuses on unstructured intentional design where the participants co-labor to achieve intended learning outcomes (Barkley et al., 2005, p. 4). Based on the philosophy of social constructivism, collaborative learning assumes knowledge to be socially co-constructed by the students and the teacher (Barkley et al., 2005). We agree with Barkley et al. (2005) that the purpose of collaborative learning is to ensure students learn through active engagement and by supporting their peers in the learning environment.

Collaborative learning methods have been used in the social sciences such as sociology (McKinney & Graham-Buxton, 1993; Rinehart, 1999) and Geography (Hardwick, 2000) and the natural sciences such as engineering (Prince, 2004), biology (Anderson, 1998), physics (Reiner, 1998) and mathematics (Corte, Verschaffel, Lowyck, Dhert, & Vandeput, 2002). In the discipline of mathematics, some elementary and middle school mathematics studies (Kamuran & Fikri, 2008; Leikin & Zaslavsky, 1999) are examined in cooperative contexts in place of collaborative learning settings. Many authors consider cooperative learning to be similar to collaborative learning (Barkley et al., 2005); however Millis & Cottell (1998) makes a slight distinction between collaborative and cooperative learning. According to them, cooperative learning is more structured than collaborative learning. Whereas, other scholars (Barkley et al., 2005; Gokhale, 1995; Prince, 2004; Rau and Heyl, 1990) argue that collaborative process has helped to attain higher level learning in terms of the learners' ability to reason, solve problems, think critically and creatively, synthesize ideas, and relate knowledge acquired in one environment to another. The focus of majority of the studies on collaborative learning has been to highlight its positive aspects on students' learning. Some scholars (Rinehart, 1999) also highlight the negative impacts, but those effects tend to remain in the background.

In this paper we examine both the positive and negative aspects of collaborative learning in a differential equations mathematics course and analyze the perceptions of the students regarding both aspects of collaborative learning. Thus far, students' perceptions have not been analyzed in a differential equations course when taught using collaborative strategies. The significance of our study is that it suggests possible future activities involving collaborative learning methods in an upper level mathematics course. Our study design is developed based on the guidelines for collaborative learning techniques outlined by Barkley et al. (2005). We modified and implemented three of the techniques--collaborative activity, group-quiz, and online discussion (discussed later) in the classroom. Collaborative activity and group-quiz involved forming small groups where students in a small group shared the same learning goal. On the other hand, online discussion involved the entire class with the same learning goal. Our study highlights students perceived these three activities differently. …

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