Student Collaboration in IT and Engineering Education

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Universities are locations of knowledge gathering and creation. Within teaching approaches, collaborative learning is a practice whereby students work together through participation and interaction to synthesise knowledge together (Paulus 2005). Whilst group work is quite popular in technical fields true collaborative learning, as opposed to cooperation, has traditionally been considered easier to implement in fields like the arts rather than in the technical fields due in part to a greater focus on group synthesis tasks in the former and application tasks in the latter. Further, the collaborative tools used in online education environments are touted as the cure-all for implementing collaborative learning, however, collaboration is often not experienced to the fullest extent in these environments and does not happen automatically (e.g. Hathorn & Ingram 2002; Kim 2013). Previous studies in engineering have shown positive relationships between students’ reporting of their own informal collaboration with their confidence in their learning of course material, knowledge building behaviours, and their course grade (Stump et al 2013). Also gender differences have been found in use of collaborative learning activities (Stump et al 2013) which suggests its use may benefit some underrepresented students. However to do this, learning design, scaffolding and assessment frameworks amongst other factors must be considered by educators for effective collaboration (e.g. Kim 2013; Kurnaz, Erg ̈un, & Ilgaz 2018). Various works (e.g. Göl & Nafalski 2007; Finger et al 2005) highlight the integration of collaboration in studio and project-based learning, but it can also be integrated into more conventional lab-experiment type subjects (Schaf et al 2009). This work examines the psychological underpinnings, benefits, problems, and practice of collaborative learning with a particular focus on its potential for IT and engineering education at a technical University moving to studio-based learning. The research focus is how collaborative learning is being implemented in IT and engineering and how its use can be improved given the industrial, academic and learning context in the case study University. With the growing push to incorporate these approaches into engineering and IT, it is important that the instructors and students have the tools to best engage in effective collaboration. Selecting these tools may depend on the learning context, the content type and the lecturer’s style.
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