Three might be a crowd, but research reveals the benefits of cooperative learning

Student disengagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects is known to impede learning. It is believed this is, at least in part, due to the traditional teaching styles employed in STEM subjects.

Group cooperative learning, where students work in small groups to explore and freely discuss problems, is a relatively new strategy with promise. It is believed that the peer interactions and group engagement processes add value to the learning experience and appear well-suited to the problem-based setting of STEM subjects.

SLRC researchers, led by Professors Robyn Gillies and Ross Cunnington from The University of Queensland, are undertaking research to find evidence for the effectiveness of group cooperative learning approaches in STEM subjects at the secondary school level.

The SLRC research is being carried out in schools, with behavioural information collected via video recording, physiological data collected through participants wearing wireless wristbands and data on student interactions collected via participants wearing sociometric badges.

This combination of behavioural observation with collection of physiological and interaction data is only possible through the unique breadth of SLRC expertise. To date, the SLRC has collected data from over 600 student participants in more than 20 classrooms in eight Queensland schools.

This project was featured in a report on the ABC’s 7.30 program aired in April 2016. Watch here

SLRC’s preliminary research findings indicate that group cooperative learning is an effective learning approach for STEM subjects. The data show that when group cooperative learning is implemented fully, students develop more sophisticated scientific language and understanding than those taught using other approaches.

Even at the preliminary findings stage, this research has directly benefited over 20 teachers who, as part of the study, have undertaken training in the implementation of a group cooperative learning approach.

Schools which have participated in the program are already seeing the benefits. Karen Spiller Principal at St. Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School, in Brisbane, has said “The sharing of knowledge and ideas seems to create a momentum in learning that can often lead to quite unexpected insights … (and) encourages students to be more self-reliant as learners rather than always depending on the teacher.” Corrine McMillan, Principal at Cavendish Road State High School said “We have enjoyed working with the Science of Learning Research Centre as we can see the enormous benefits to schools that this type of research generates.”

In order to confirm these preliminary findings, SLRC would, pending future funding, track participants into the future to look at long-term benefits. If this learning approach was confirmed to be effective, SLRC would work with policy makers within State Education Departments to inform implementation. Additionally, SLRC would provide resources and professional development directly to schools/teachers on effective use of group cooperative learning for STEM subjects.