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Quiet Students' Experiences with Collaborative Learning at the Postsecondary Level
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Collaborative learning, in which small groups of two or more students are used to achieve common learning outcomes, has become an increasingly popular pedagogical strategy in postsecondary classes in the United States. Despite numerous studies reporting the benefits of collaboration for learning, many students have reported difficulties with it. At the same time, students who have quiet personalities are sometimes misunderstood in the college classroom, with their quietness often interpreted as a lack of engagement in their courses. This phenomenological study sought to understand the collaborative learning experiences of self-identified quiet undergraduate college students through an analysis of their first-hand accounts of their experiences, in which they described their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions regarding their own learning. This study followed 10 upper-division college students over the course of a single semester, collecting data about their experiences through the use of three interview sessions and brief written reflections. Analysis revealed that quiet students' experiences of collaborative learning were greatly influenced by the larger academic context in which these interactions occurred, demonstrating four themes regarding their overall participation in classes: (a) quiet students made distinct choices about how to navigate through a social academic environment, (b) they experienced difficulties in meeting their instructors' expectations for speaking aloud in classes, (c) they struggled with tensions between perceptions of unengagement and feelings of engagement, and (d) their learning experiences exhibited particular characteristics. This academic context consequently influenced how they participated in collaborations with other students. Four themes regarding their experiences of collaborative learning were revealed: (a) quiet students often engaged in a performance of sociality that could be anxiety inducing, (b) they experienced tensions between speaking and silence when communicating in groups, (c) they experienced negative emotions in groups that often interfered with their learning, and (d) they learned with others in specific types of collaborative scenarios. Quiet students' experiences indicated that they valued preparation, reflection, control, and independent thought and discovery, and they perceived that these values often were not reinforced in their learning environments and in collaborative learning situations. Quiet students' experiences also suggest ways that classroom participation in general and collaborative learning situations in particular can be reconsidered and redesigned to enhance the learning experiences for these students.