Cooperative Learning: Improving University Instruction By .

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Johnson, Johnson, & SmithCooperative Learning: Improving UniversityInstruction By Basing Practice On Validated TheoryDavid W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, and Karl A. SmithUniversity of Minnesota60 Peik Hall159 Pillsbury Drive, S.E.Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455April, 2013Journal on Excellence in University Teaching1

Johnson, Johnson, & SmithCooperative Learning: Improving UniversityInstruction By Basing Practice On Validated TheoryDavid W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, and Karl SmithUniversity of MinnesotaIntroductionImagine that time travel is possible and we could place individuals from the middle ages intopresent day life (Spence, 2001). A middle ages farmer placed in a modern farm would recognizenothing but the livestock. A physician from the 13th Century would probably faint from shock in amodern operating room. Galileo would be mystified by a tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.Columbus would shake with fright in a nuclear submarine. But a 15th Century university professorwould feel right at home in any classroom. While agriculture, medicine, science, and transportation,as well as manufacturing and communication have all been transformed and improved, teachingrelatively has not. The same assumptions continue that teaching is telling, learning is absorbingwhat the instructor tells, and knowledge is subject matter content.It is not that these assumptions have never been challenged. Educational history is a record of asteady cycle of failed reforms that were demonstrated to improve learning, but after a few yearswere abandoned. While there are many reasons why teaching is so resistant to change, Ewell(2001) believes that one reason is that instructors fail to apply the same scientific rigor (i.e., needfor underlying theory and confirmatory evidence) to their teaching as they do to their research.When asked about their instructional methods, Ewell believes that university instructors respondmore on folklore and knee-jerk mythology than on scientific fact, arguing that everybody knowshow a class should be conducted or how material should be presented to students. Instead,university faculty should base their teaching practices directly on theory and research. Manyeducators, however, believe that after well over 100 years of theorizing and research psychologyhas not provided the guidance needed to teach effectively and efficiently (Blumenfeld & Anderson,1996). Recommendations to university instructors on how to teach seem more based on storiesand promising ideas rather than on conclusions from rigorous research. Given the importance ofimproving university teaching, educators should respond to issues of practice with theory andrigorous data. To do so, they have to ask the following questions:1. Is the instructional practice derived from a clearly formulated theory?2. Does the theory specify the conditions necessary to structure cooperation into existingsituations (i.e., have clear rules of correspondence)?3. Is the theory confirmed and validated by rigorous research that has high generalizability?4. Has the implementation of the practical procedures resulted in field research validating theeffectiveness of the procedures in ways that guide the refinement and modification of thetheory?2

Johnson, Johnson, & SmithThe power of cooperative learning lies in the interrelationship among social interdependencetheory, its validating research, and the practical procedures for educators derived from the theory.This chapter begins with a definition of cooperative learning and then a brief review of socialinterdependence theory (which focuses on cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts).Social interdependence theory illuminates the internal dynamics of cooperation so that they may beoperationalized into a set of practical procedures that university instructors can actually use. Next,a meta-analysis of the research conducted at the university level is presented, revealing how thetheory has been tested and validated. Finally, the instructional procedures of implementingcooperative learning are presented.Definition of Cooperative LearningStudents' learning goals may be structured to promote cooperative, competitive, or individualisticefforts. In every classroom, instructional activities are aimed at accomplishing goals and areconducted under a goal structure. A learning goal is a desired future state of demonstratingcompetence or mastery in the subject area being studied (Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 1999). Thegoal structure specifies the ways in which students will interact with each other and the instructorduring the instructional session. Each goal structure has its place (Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 1999).In the ideal classroom, all students would learn how to work cooperatively with others, compete forfun and enjoyment, and work autonomously on their own. The instructor decides which goalstructure to implement within each lesson. The most important goal structure, and the one thatshould be used the majority of the time in learning situations, is cooperation.Cooperation is working together to accomplish shared goals (Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 1999;Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2006). Within cooperative situations, individuals seek outcomes thatare beneficial to themselves and beneficial to all other group members. Cooperative learning isthe instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own andeach other's learning. It may be contrasted with competitive (students work against each other toachieve an academic goal such as a grade of "A" that only one or a few students can attain) andindividualistic (students work by themselves to accomplish learning goals unrelated to those ofthe other students) learning. In cooperative and individualistic learning, you evaluate studentefforts on a criteria-referenced basis while in competitive learning you grade students on a normreferenced basis. While there are limitations on when and where competitive and individualisticlearning may be used appropriately, any learning task in any subject area with any curriculum maybe structured cooperatively.Theoretical Roots Of Cooperative Learning: SocialInterdependence TheoryThe first question is whether cooperative learning is based on a clearly formulated theory. The useof cooperative learning in university classes has its roots in the creation of social interdependencetheory. Theorizing on social interdependence began in the early 1900s, when one of the foundersof the Gestalt School of Psychology, Kurt Koffka, proposed that groups were dynamic wholes inwhich the interdependence among members could vary. One of his colleagues, Kurt Lewin refined3

Johnson, Johnson, & SmithKoffka's notions in the 1920s and 1930s while stating that (a) the essence of a group is theinterdependence among members (created by common goals) which results in the group being a"dynamic whole" so that a change in the state of any member or subgroup changes the state of anyother member or subgroup, and (b) an intrinsic state of tension within group members motivatesmovement toward the accomplishment of the desired common goals. For interdependence to exist,there must be more than one person or entity involved, and the persons or entities must haveimpact on each other in that a change in the state of one causes a change in the state of the others.From the work of Lewin's students and colleagues, such as Ovisankian, Lissner, Mahler, and Lewis,it may be concluded that it is the drive for goal accomplishment that motivates cooperative andcompetitive behavior.In the late 1940s, one of Lewin's graduate students, Morton Deutsch, extended Lewin's reasoningabout social interdependence and formulated a theory of cooperation and competition (Deutsch,1949a, 1962). Deutsch conceptualized three types of social interdependence (see Figure 1).1. Positive interdependence (cooperation) results in promotive interaction as individualsencourage and facilitate each other’s efforts to learn. Positive interdependence(cooperation) exists when individuals' goal achievements are positively correlated;individuals perceive that they can reach their goals if and only if the others in the group alsoreach their goals.2. Negative interdependence (competition) typically results in oppositional interaction asindividuals discourage and obstruct each other’s efforts to achieve. Negativeinterdependence (competition) exists when individuals' goal achievements are negativelycorrelated; each individual perceives that when one person achieves his or her goal, allothers with whom he or she is competitively linked fail to achieve their goals.3. No interdependence (individualistic efforts) typically results in no interaction asindividuals work independently without any interchange with each other. When a situationis structured individualistically, there is no correlation among participants' goalattainments; each individual perceives that he or she can reach his or her goal regardless ofwhether other individuals attain or do not attain their goals.-----Insert Figure 1 About Here----The basic premise of social interdependence theory is that the type of interdependence structuredin a situation determines how individuals interact with each other that, in turn, largely determinesoutcomes (Deutsch, 1949a, 1962; Johnson, 1970; Watson & Johnson, 1972). Positiveinterdependence tends to result in promotive interaction, negative interdependence tends to resultin oppositional or contrient interaction, and no interdependence results in an absence ofinteraction. Depending on whether individuals promote or obstruct each other's goalaccomplishments, there is substitutability (i.e., the degree to which actions of one person substitutefor the actions of another person), cathexis (i.e., an investment of psychological energy in objectsoutside of oneself, such as friends, family, and work), and inducibility (i.e., the openness to beinginfluenced and to influencing others) (Deutsch, 1949). In cooperative situations, collaborators’actions tend to substitute for each other, collaborators invest positive emotions in each other, andcollaborators are open to being influenced by each other. In competitive situations, competitors’actions do not substitute for each other, competitors invest negative emotions in each other, andcompetitors are closed to being influenced by each other. In individualistic situations, there is no4

Johnson, Johnson, & Smithsubstitutability, cathexis, or inducibility. The relationship between the type of socialinterdependence and the interaction pattern it elicits is assumed to be bidirectional. Each maycause the other. Positive interdependence, for example, tends to result in collaborators engaging inpromotive interaction (i.e., helping, sharing, encouraging each other), but patterns of promotiveinteraction tend to result in cooperation. Social interdependence theory has served as a majorconceptual structure for this area of inquiry since 1949. It has generated hundreds of researchstudies.The Internal Dynamics That Make Cooperation WorkThe second question is whether social interdependence theory can generate the identification ofthe conditions necessary for structuring cooperation in actual situations. Not all group efforts arecooperative. Simply assigning students to groups and telling them to work together does not in andof itself result in cooperative efforts. There are many ways in which group efforts may go wrong.Seating students together can result in competition at close quarters (pseudo-groups) orindividualistic efforts with talking (traditional learning groups). Whenever two individualsinteract, however, the potential for cooperation exists. Cooperation, though, will only developunder a certain set of conditions. These conditions, which are identified by social interdependencetheory, are positive interdependence, individual accountability, promotive interaction, social skills,and group processing (Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 2005).The heart of cooperative efforts is positive interdependence, the perception that you are linkedwith others in a way so that you cannot succeed unless they do (and vice versa) and thatgroupmates’ work benefits you and your work benefits them (Johnson & Johnson, 1992). There arethree major categories of interdependence: outcome interdependence, means interdependence,and boundary interdependence (Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 1992). When persons are in acooperative or competitive situation, they are oriented toward a desired outcome, end state, goal,or reward. If there is no outcome interdependence (goal and reward interdependence), there is nocooperation or competition. In addition, the means through which the mutual goals or rewards areto be accomplish specify the actions required on the part of group members. Meansinterdependence includes resource, role, and task interdependence (which are overlapping and notindependent from each other). Finally, the boundaries existing among individuals and groups candefine who is interdependent with whom. Boundary interdependence consists of abruptdiscontinuities that separate and segregate groups from each other, as well as unify the members ofany one group. The discontinuity may be created by environmental factors (different parts of theroom or different rooms), similarity (all seated together or wearing the same color shirt), proximity(seated together), past history together, expectations of being grouped together, and differentiationfrom other competing groups. Boundary interdependence thus includes outside enemy (i.e.,negative interdependence with another group), identity (which binds group members together asan entity), and environmental (such as a specific work area) interdependence (which areoverlapping and not independent from each other).The second basic element is individual accountability, which exists when the performance of eachindividual student is assessed and the results given back to the group and the i

the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other's learning. It may be contrasted with competitive (students work against each other to achieve an academic goal such as a grade of "A" that only one or a few students can attain) and individualistic (students work by themselves to accomplish learning goals unrelated to those of the other .

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