Collaborative (Group) Learning, Example Uses and Supporting Technologies

Last revised: 05/12/2021 by JP


Collaborative learning, also known as group learning, is an opportunity for students to develop higher-order cognitive skills; promote connection and community; innovate; and engage with different perspectives. There are a handful of UConn supported technologies that enable student collaboration in online courses. Beyond those, there are many applications that faculty can use for free or purchase a single-use educational license and integrate with their HuskyCT site via Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI). This article shares examples of both.

Planning Online Collaborative (Group) Learning

Before incorporating collaborative (group) learning activities and selecting technologies, answer the following questions:

  1. What are your course’s learning objectives?
  2. How will collaborative learning help your students meet one or more of your learning objectives? (This is the principle of alignment. Also see Quality Matters HE Rubric.)
  3. How will you configure your groups? Should you use group contracts? (See example group contract template.)
  4. How does collaborative learning connect to your discipline and the work performed by professionals in it? In other words, how will it benefit your students?
  5. Should collaborative learning be asynchronous, synchronous or a combination? Consider if there are any synchronous limitations for your students, such as working adults, or University Mode of Instruction designation (Online, Distance Learning, Hybrid/Blended etc.) restrictions.

Using the answers to your questions, consider which of the following technologies align best with your course and student needs.

Technologies for Collaboration with Example Uses

The following is not an exhaustive list; however it includes common online collaborative applications used in UConn courses, as well some unique uses and examples.

Synchronous Tools
Blackboard Collaborate*   • Peer review of writing

  • Group presentation planning and presenting

  • Conversation skills practice (German, Spanish, French, etc.) 

  • Group project planning and creation

  • Problem solving (math, engineering, etc.)

  • Case study or scenario analysis

  • Two-staged Exams (second stage)

Microsoft Teams* – video conferencing
Google Hangouts*
Zoom  Not supported by UConn ITS or EdTech
Asynchronous Tools
HuskyCT Discussion Board*   • Content engagement and critical thinking driven by a prompt, question, problem, or case study

  • Student driven questions and responses


Resource: Developing Engaging Online Discussions

HuskyCT Groups*
Groups can be used in two ways:  (1) Create a Group Work Area and select tools for collaboration and submission.  (2) Assign a Group to a specific assignment or discussion forum.
  • Group response, presentation or project planning and creation using a group work area (1)

  • Groups + Discussion Forum can be used for small group content engagement and critical thinking driven by a prompt, question, problem, or case study or peer reviews (2)

  • Groups + Assignment submission can be used to submit a small group collaborative response, paper or project; where the collaboration usually occurs in another medium, such as web conferencing or file sharing (2)

Microsoft Teams* – Messaging and file sharing   • Group response, presentation or project planning and creation or peer reviews using messaging and file sharing tools

  • Microsoft School Stories

UConn G Suite* – Cloud-hosted productivity and collaboration applications including: Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drawing, Maps, Sites and more   • UConn students use Google Slides for group presentations and projects

  • UConn History Department uses Google Maps to track trade routes and migration patterns 

  • UConn Writing courses use Google Docs for peer reviews of writing

Flipgrid* – Video based discussion    • UConn Genetics students report genomic conditions in online discussions

  • Flipgrid Help Center, including getting started and best practices

VoiceThread (VT) – Group text, audio, or video based discussion around audio, video and visual elements – LTI   • UConn Puppetry Arts graduate students use VT to present and critique puppet creations and productions

  • VoiceThread Digital Library – includes many examples (ESOL, foreign language, visual arts, etc.)

Perusall – Group annotating and text discussion within/around digital texts and media – LTI   • UConn Art History department uses the annotating discussion tool within/around digital texts and video

  • Perusall Instructor Stories


Resource: An Overview of Perusall and how to get started

Piazza – Wiki style, LaTex supported discussion tool – LTI   • UConn Mathematics and Engineering departments use the LaTeX based tool for its ease of typing formulas and equations in discussions

  • Piazza’s Professor Success Stories

*Indicates technologies supported by UConn ITS and/or Educational Technologies as of November 2020, where Educational Technologies’ main support focus is helping faculty with HuskyCT, Collaborate and Webex.  For technologies not identified with an asterisk, please use the vendor’s main help/support resources.

Facilitating Effective Online Collaborative Activities

  1. Explain to students why (benefits) and how (procedures and group formation) collaborative learning will be used in the course. Introduce it on the syllabus and within your course orientation.
  2. Break down the collaborative process into easy to understand steps and provide instructional guidance about working in groups. Consider using group contracts for larger collaborative projects.
  3. Build in required technology practice at the beginning of the course. Be careful not to cognitively overload students with too many different technologies. Also, inform students about all used technologies’ privacy policies on your syllabus.  (For example, HuskyCT/ Blackboard Privacy Policy; Microsoft Privacy Statement, etc.)
  4. Integrate incremental instructor check-ins to provide formative feedback to groups and create a contingency plan for potential group issues, such as student add/drops, complaints, etc.
  5. Explain how group work will be assessed/graded.
  6. Evaluate the collaborative activities from both the student and instructor perspectives.  Consider including anonymous student surveys.

Other Collaborative Technologies

A few other technologies used by UConn faculty include, Discord and Slack.  These technologies are geared towards social/community building, but with intentional design, they could also be used for collaborative learning.  Note: UConn does not currently offer technical support for faculty and students using these applications.


  1. Barshay, J. (2020, September 28). Improving college exams during remote learning: A bicoastal experiment in administering collaborative two-stage exams via Zoom shows promiseHechinger Report.
  2. Brame, C.J. and Biel, R. (2015). Setting up and facilitating group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Retrieved [October 22, 2020] from
  3. Chapter 2 – Concepts of Online Collaborative Learning in Chih-Hsiun Tu. (2004). Online Collaborative Learning Communities: Twenty-One Designs to Building an Online Collaborative Learning Community.
  4. Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation. Collaborative Learning.
  5. Hesterman, S. (2016).  The Digital Handshake: A Group Contract for Authentic eLearning in Higher Education, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(3).
  6. Liberman, M. (2018, April 25). Online Students Don’t Have to Work Solo. Inside Higher Ed.
  7. Morrison, D. (2012, March 24). Why we need group work in Online LearningOnline Learning Insights.
  8. Romaniuk, S. (2018, March 24). Collaborative and Active Learning In Higher Education Classrooms. eLearning Industry.
  9. Smith Budhai, Stephanie. (Jan. 29, 2016).  Designing Effective Team Projects in Online Courses.
  10. UNSW’s Teaching and Learning. Group Work.

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