Women negotiating collaborative learning: an exploratory study of undergraduate students in a select university setting



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Texas A&M University


The purpose of the study is to explore women's experiences as they negotiate collaborative group projects in a college course. This qualitative study extends the existing literature by providing depth to the research on women's learning through observation of women in group activities, surveys about college students' attitudes toward collaborative learning, and in-depth interviews with university women. The study isolates four ways women negotiate collaborative learning in a college course. (1) Women take group work seriously and consider it to be very important. (2) Women are often leaders in group work. Sixty-four percent of the women and only two percent of the men said they are usually the leader in collaborative learning situations. (3) Women end up doing more than their share of the work, although they may have won the leadership roles. (4) Earning good grades is very important to the women studied, and they are willing to work harder than anyone else in a group to earn them. The theories of how women learn include the debate over whether women are relational or task-oriented. The conclusion of this study is that in the university classes studied, women are both. However, textbooks on collaborative learning may contain passages that indicate that in mixed-sex groups males will emerge as leaders. In addition, some textbooks suggest that women might lead when groups are primarily dealing with relationship issues, and men will lead when groups are primarily task-oriented or where a democratic rather than a participatory style is preferred. Discussions of collaborative learning often include the goal of helping counterweigh the hidden curriculum that diminishes women. Although collaborative learning can be an important classroom technique, this study points out that it is important that collaborative learning and feminist pedagogy not be conflated. Some collaborative learning groups are a site of discrimination and power difference for women.