Collaborative Projects and Assignments: Learn More Effectively in a Collaborative Classroom

Tyson Schritter / Join the Community »

In the working world, jobs are becoming more interactive and team-based.

The goal of collaborative class projects is to help college students learn how to function in these modern work environments. In many of these courses, students perform research or solve problems as a team, allowing them to learn the skills necessary to work together in an efficient and productive manner. Through these assignments, students learn project management skills, how to share tasks, engage with each other, and benefit from listening to others’ viewpoints and backgrounds.

These programs may include learning groups, team assignments, and structured group projects that span entire college semesters.

Teamwork is so important that it is virtually impossible for you to reach the heights of your capabilities or make the money that you want without becoming very good at it.
— Author, Speaker, CEO Brian Tracy International

Examples of Collaborative Projects and Assignments

  • Organized Study Groups: Faculty may assign students to study groups at the beginning of the semester, requiring these smaller groups to get together to work through broad questions and report back to the class, as well as collaborate on exam preparation. Cooperative learning strategies have been shown to help students find material engaging, make better grades, and work and solve problems with others of both similar and different backgrounds. By setting aside designated times for studying, organized study groups can help students develop time management strategies early on in college.
  • Team-Based Research Projects: In these team-based assignments, students work together as a team to devise a research question and then conduct experiments or collect data, compile their results, and give presentations.
  • Service-Learning Assignments: In these outside projects, students work together in a volunteer capacity to provide a service to the community. Some of these projects may be academic in nature, such as assisting a nonprofit with content for a website or researching for a community-based program.
  • Research with Shared Data Sets: In methodology classes and other research courses, faculty may provide a dataset or other existing large body of research and have students work together to formulate questions and test hypotheses.

What Can Students Expect?

For a college student used to solo academic work, collaborative projects pose new challenges. Working together on a project, students will get to know their peers, develop leadership and communication strategies, and learn how to work on a team. They may experience issues that come from lack of organization and leadership, and must learn to overcome these challenges as they complete the project. The hands-on, real-life aspect of the work involved makes collaborative projects invaluable experiences. Furthermore, by sharing the workload, students often can achieve far more meaningful research results and gain more insights into the material than they could have done alone.

Some of the best colleges offer team-building activities within course offerings to improve the quality of team collaboration and reduce tension between group members when strict task management is required.

How Does Collaboration Improve Student Outcomes?

Collaborative teaching helps students develop strong communication and leadership skills and learn how to listen and work together effectively. They also sharpen their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Appreciation for diversity is heightened as students work together with people of different college majors, ages, cultures, and academic ability. When successful, students discover ways to identify each of their skills and how to best benefit from what each person brings to the team. Understanding the value of human differences and how perspectives differ based on life experiences is a skill they can carry with them into life-long learning opportunities long after they’ve earned their degree. 

Ultimately, by working cooperatively on projects, students get to know each other, learn how to communicate and hold each other accountable, and become more invested in the outcomes of their education. Because many collaborative academic projects require more in-depth investigation of an issue, students may also develop a greater mastery of the subject and retain that information long after the course itself has concluded.

How Schools Implement Collaborative Assignments

Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO

The Missouri University of Science and Technology requires courses to follow the Learning Enhancement Across All Disciplines (LEAD) model, a student-centered learning strategy which promotes collaborative learning, group work, student-faculty interaction, active learning, team-building and communication, respect for diversity, and timeliness for producing quality work.