As with many processes within the classroom, student collaboration becomes part of an ongoing cycle. Students may not feel comfortable participating in class, so they don’t get to know their classmates, so they don’t collaborate outside of the classroom, so they don’t form a community, and therefore don’t feel comfortable participating. It’s endless! But how to intervene? To learn more about the benefits of student collaboration, Cengage Learning recently surveyed thousands of college students and instructors to see what the top benefits of collaborating in and outside the classroom are.  

Collaboration inside the classroom

Creating a comfortable environment for learning and participation often begins inside the classroom. We asked students and instructors, “What benefits do students gain from collaborating with others in the classroom?” Many instructors responded that collaborating in the classroom “allows students to see other points of view and approaches.” Another popular response from instructors is that it improves “critical thinking and communication skills and active listening.” These are certainly skills that cannot be learned on one’s own.

However, some students prefer advice to come straight from their peers. One student shared that he or she enjoys collaborating in the classroom because “other classmates may have taken different notes or gotten different aspects of what the teacher may be saying than I.” Another keenly pointed out that an added bonus to working with classmates is “learning to navigate different personalities and work ethics, which is necessary in the workplace.”

Collaboration outside the classroom

When students feel connected inside the classroom, collaborating outside the classroom may come more naturally. We asked students and instructors, “What benefits do students gain from collaborating with others outside the classroom?” Of those instructors surveyed, one reported a variety of benefits that cropped up among many respondents. This instructor said that students stand to gain “networking, feeling of inclusion, positive feelings about themselves and the college, higher retention rates” — all from doing a little group work outside the classroom! Another instructor reminded us that “teaching another is the best way to learn. I try to promote this outside of class as well.”

Our student respondents explained that, for some, collaboration outside the classroom fits right into their learning preferences. One student shared that “verbally processing information helps me learn best.” We were also pleased to hear that other students feel collaborating outside the classroom “creates more comfort in the classroom to discuss material.” This creates a perfect opportunity to break the cycle of students’ lack of engagement in the classroom. Students who are comfortable collaborating outside the classroom may have an easier time during class discussions.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more insights from our student and instructor surveys that reveal how instructors around the country are boosting collaboration. We’ll also be sharing hints from the students themselves on how they engage with their classmates.

What are your suggestions for breaking the cycle? Do your students enjoy collaborating in and outside of the classroom, or could they use the above encouragement from their peers? Share your thoughts with us below.