There’s a hip teaching strategy called jigsaw learning that has apparently taken over the community college where I’m enrolled for prerequisites. In jigsaw learning, you are assigned to different groups, and each group is assigned part of a subject to confer on so that they can teach it to the class. The group comes back together, and one representative of the group teaches their part, then the next, and so on. This method is supposed to be brilliant because it requires students to collaborate and learn the material well enough to teach it.
This method has flaws. Giant, gaping flaws that I believe should have it taken out of general teaching practice. First of all, if you are focused on one tiny part of a larger whole, then you will learn one tiny part really well. But what about the rest of it? Well, in my experience today, I struggled to take notes as my classmates mumbled and fumbled their way through the rest of the material. They skipped over vital information, misinterpreted other parts, and had I not already read the chapter, I would have been horribly confused. In this way, it’s more damaging than not teaching the material at all. At least in a typical lecture, students have a clear, coherent lecturer with prepared information. My professor is a licensed clinical psychologist–I’m very interested in hearing what she has to say. I’m not terribly interested in hearing an 18-year-old who hasn’t even read the chapter before class trying to explain ancient philosophies of mental illness. I had questions about the text that weren’t able to be answered because in this format, the students were the experts, not the teacher, and the students had access to exactly the same material I had in front of me.
I believe that collaborative learning has a time and a place in the classroom. The jigsaw method would be ideal if each group were only interested in learning their part, and were not going to be accountable for the rest of the material. However, this is not the case in undergraduate courses. I found a fantastic review of learning methods, which shows that there are better collaborative learning methods out there, if you’re in education and interested.