Bring it forward: a collaborative learning activity
Dr Anastasia Logotheti
What is the idea?
‘Bring It Forward’ is an activity which promotes collaborative learning by combining debate and storytelling traits to engage students in the review of course material during synchronous, in-class instruction. During the activity students are required to respond to a prompt or a question in approximately one minute; the rest of the participants pay attention to each of the mini-presentations to discover omissions or controversies which they then ‘bring forward’ in their own mini-presentations. In more advanced courses the activity can also serve the flipped-class paradigm with students co-presenting new material rather than reviewing content.
Students may participate in ‘Bring It Forward’ as individuals or as team members depending on the size and level of the course. When the activity is run with the students in teams, gaming and competition possibilities emerge.
Why this idea?
It is well established in the literature that collaborative learning methods not only allow students to be more active in the classroom but also that peer-to-peer collaboration increases motivation and promotes long-term learning (Barkley et al., 2014; Olaussen et al., 2016; Svinicki & McKeachie, 2011). The activity ‘Bring It Forward’ was developed to substitute more traditional approaches to review material and to check for understanding. What students are ‘bringing forward’ through this activity is knowledge and understanding which is shared with their peers so as to teach each other in a more engaged and less teacher-guiding manner.
Review sessions, brief or extended, are a routine part of teaching content. Most instructors use a combination of well-tried methods (such as, Q & A, quizzes, mini-lectures) to ensure that learners can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of content. Established methods are less student-centred and may engage only some of the learners. Like any student-centred activity, ‘Bring It Forward’ will be most rewarding when collaborative learning has been presented as an instructional strategy so that learners are clear that competitive aspects of the activity aim at engagement, not antagonism. The activity will also be more effective when learners are explicitly informed that participation and contribution are not only encouraged but rewarded. As not all students in a class are eager to contribute or to speak out, this activity benefits from rehearsal and trial runs. Initially, it can be deployed quite informally so learners grow more confident; eventually, through practice and familiarity, there will be enough willing participants to try the activity.
How could others implement this idea?
I. Before the ‘Bring It Forward’ Activity (one or two class sessions prior):
- Students are informed about the purpose (to review or to introduce content) and the process of the activity so they can prepare relevant content for their participation.
- Students are encouraged to view the activity as peer interaction for the purpose of collaborative learning and they are free to use storytelling and debate processes to enrich the activity with creativity.
- Content to be reviewed or introduced (e.g., a theory, a historical event, a character in a novel, etc.) will have been determined before the class and prompts provided in advance.
- The duration of the activity is also announced (ideally no more than 15-20 mins).
- The order according to which students will participate is decided (students can be consulted and propose their preference or even volunteer).
- Depending on the material to be reviewed, the gaming potential of the activity may be developed (especially if students work in pairs or small teams of 3-4 participants).
II. Using the ‘Bring It Forward’ Activity to review material or to introduce new material:
- A question is asked or a prompt provided related to the content to be reviewed or introduced (from the questions or prompts already distributed).
- The first student responds in max 60 seconds (up to 2 mins if introducing new material).
- The next student ‘brings forward’ an omission or a new detail or a debate so as to make the first response more complete. Max 60 seconds (up to 2 mins if introducing new material).
- The third participant ‘brings forward’ something that enriches the first and second responses. Max 60 seconds (up to 2 mins if introducing new material). The fourth participant ‘brings forward’ something more and so on.
- Depending on the question or prompt, the round typically has 4-5 participants.
- Agreement and disagreement between mini-presentations are allowed (but without dialogue until the end of the presentations).
- The instructor does not intervene during participant contributions but determines silently when the collaborative responses have sufficiently aided in reviewing the material or presenting the new material.
- The round can be followed by more discussion or the information provided may be deemed complete (other students can participate at the end of a round as required).
- If one round has 4 participants and lasts 5 mins max, another round with another Q or prompt may start. If introducing new material, the round may last 8-10 mins.
- Other students will participate in a new round.
- The more effective use of the activity is when no more than two rounds are used (10-15 mins) so the excitement does not wane and the attention of the learners does not begin to drift.
- In the flipped-class model, students may be asked to study material before class and present it to other students (this may work better at senior or postgraduate level). If the activity is used in a flipped-class model, new content can then be enriched through other active-learning activities.
III. Before, during and after the activity instructors plan carefully and keep notes not only on the knowledge and understanding presented and gained by learners but also on who has participated so that on subsequent occasions when the activity is used again, other learners can participate and contribute. Proper preparation and monitoring of the activity may seem time-consuming but the benefits of student engagement are apparent at assessment time.
Transferability to different contexts
The activity is not discipline specific and can be utilized in any course where peer-to-peer instruction applies. The activity has been designed for synchronous instruction and has been tried in f2f literature classes. Although it has not been tried in online sessions, it may work in virtual settings as well. While there are some similarities between this activity and a more comprehensive teaching strategy known as ‘Fishbowl’, this activity is more focused on comprehension through revision than on generating new ideas or engaging in debate.
Links to tools and resources
- Explore the Fishbowl teaching strategy at https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/teaching-strategies/fishbowl
- Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation offers well-known examples of collaborative learning activities: https://teaching.cornell.edu/resource/examples-collaborative-learning-or-group-work-activities
- Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning provides theoretical context and suggestions for collaborative learning which relate to an online environment as well: https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/teaching-with-technology/teaching-online/collaborative-learning-online/
Barkley, E. F., Howell Major, C., & Cross, K. P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Olaussen, A., Reddy, P., Irvine, S., & Williams, B. (2016). Peer-assisted learning: time for nomenclature clarification. Media Education Online, 21(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.3402/meo.v21.30974
Svinicki, M. D., & McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie’s teaching tips: strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed.). Wadsworth.