09 November 2008

Collaborative Groups Useful for Individual Student’s Problem-Solving Abilities?

Do you wish that your students have better problem solving strategies and abilities to tackle those tricky questions that you give in assignments or exams, or be able to think “outside the box”? Well, apparently this can be a reality, at least according to a research project conducted in the Chemistry department at Clemson University. Students who were given the opportunity to work collaboratively in small groups are found to have better problem solving skills on their own afterwards. The effect of problem solving abilities extends beyond the group work afterwards when they are given problems to be solved on their own.

In computer science education, group work is quite common for programming assignments and projects. However, one key ingredient in improving student problem solving skills is not just to divide the tasks among them (i.e. simply project management), but to have each member discuss, analyze, debate, and articulate how to solve the problem. Especially when there is a mix of students with different problem solving abilities, the result of improving individual problem solving abilities can be significant.

What are your experiences of collaborative work in computer science education? Have you noticed similar improvement in individual problem solving abilities after a team works on a problem together? What kind of collaborative projects have been most useful in computer science education?


Cooper, M., Cox. C., Nammouz, M., Case, E., Stevens, R. (June 6, 2008). An Assessment of the Effect of Collaborative Groups on Students’ Problem-Solving Strategies and Abilities. Journal of Chemical Education 85(6). Pages 866-872.

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