Peer co-operation, as a facet of leaner engagement, is about how students work together, formally and informally. This is not just about group work, though group work is one way of fostering a wider awareness and appreciation of each other.
Students can be encouraged to support each other and there are obvious benefits to this.
This may seem obvious, but some students are uncomfortable about this. Therefore, tutors need to actively encourage co-operation. At the same time it is useful to talk about the difference between collaboration and collusion, for example.
In formal teaching and assessment situations, techniques like peer assessment can be used. To varying degrees other approaches can be embedded, for example, peer mentoring or buddying schemes can be introduced to offer practical help and to send signals that help to foster learning communities. Attention needs to be paid to students who don’t find it easy to interact with their peers. This may involve course leaders, tutors and students taking part in induction or transition activities, including working together to arrange informal trips, for example.
Chickering and Gamson (1987) say,
Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race.” They make the point that in the real world we work together and depend on each other and so a competitive ethos is unhelpful because it can result in student isolation, disconnection and disengagement. In contrast, if we work together we continually challenge and validate each other and our differences.
Being co-operative in this context describes a learning environment that is not designed around competition. As with communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), learning is social in nature and based on the principles of mutual benefits, joint enterprise and the open sharing of knowledge and expertise.
Cooperative learning can be also understood as a teaching method in which students work together in small, heterogeneous groups to complete a problem, project, or other instructional goal, while teachers act as guides or facilitators. This is commonly described as group work.
Collaborative learning describes another way of fostering peer co-operation. This is often used to describe project work in which group members have complementary roles or bring complementary skills to an activity.
Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Online at:http://www.uis.edu/liberalstudies/students/documents/sevenprinciples.pdf
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press.