Increasing Teaching Effectiveness through Collaborative Learning Activities

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  • 1 Pennsylvania State University, Horticulture, University Park, PA, 16802

The Plant Systematics course at Penn State University was reformatted in 1995 based on a three-dimensional model. It now includes several collaborative learning activities: a learning fair hosted by the enrolled students for elementary school students; applied laboratory exercises; and applied laboratory examinations. Each activity has a specific objective and was constructed to strengthen teaching effectiveness and to aid students in developing useful skills for future employment. A survey was administered to students enrolled in the course from 2003 through 2005 in part to assess the collaborative learning activities. Most students “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they liked working in collaborative groups and learned from other group members. Students preferred working in groups for laboratory examinations more than for the Asteraceae Fair and learned more from their peers while completing the laboratory exercises than in laboratory examinations. Student participation in the lecture portion of the course increased as collaborative learning activities were completed. Camaraderie with peers through group work may have created an atmosphere conducive to participation and/or involvement during lectures. Organization and planning were vital to the success of these activities, as were using small groups and providing adequate incentives for completing activities. These activities engaged students to become active participants in the teaching and learning process.

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