Collaborative Learning and Group Work

Collaboration is beneficial for learning and an important workplace skill.

However, to avoid instances of unauthorized collaboration, it is important for instructors and students to have clarity on the exact nature of collaboration that is permitted for each assignment.

The nature of collaboration permitted will vary amongst courses, so instructors need to make it clear whether behaviours such as working together on homework, providing peer feedback on essays, working together on a lab report or coding assignment are permitted. As students, you need to understand what types of collaboration are permitted in each course and ask if they do not understand. On this page, learn about the key considerations and challenges to keep in mind to make the most out of your collaborative work without breaching academic integrity. 

Important considerations

There can be a lot of complexities about individual work and group work. Sometimes discussing broad themes with others may be ok, but sharing answers is not. Sometimes, you might run into group members who do not contribute as much as others. Sometimes others may not submit their assignment/data/chart and you might be tempted to use it. Sometimes your group member may not cite their sources. Sometimes you just might be trying to help a friend out. 

While it is essential to collaborate, there is an important distinction between inappropriate collaboration and group work. If work is intended to be independent, complete your work individually unless your instructor has told you explicitly it is ok to work in groups. Working together may also increase the chances of the submission being too similar and potentially suspected for academic misconduct. 

It is also the responsibility of the group to ensure that academic integrity is upheld in the group. Make sure you ask your instructor or teaching assistant for guidance if any members of the group are unclear about what constitutes appropriate collaboration.  

Make it meaningful

Collaboration via group work is beneficial when tasks are challenging enough that they require input from more than one person to carry out well. Tasks that are authentic and promote meaningful engagement with the course content are motivational and inspire learning with integrity.

Make it clear

Both instructors and students have a responsibility to ensure expectations and objectives for collaborative learning are clearly communicated and understood. Clarity will help students avoid collusion, which is when a student helps another engage in academic misconduct. Depending on the assignment, collusion may involve using another student’s work as a guide or submitting another students’ work as your own.

public art on UBCO campus

Make it reciprocal

Acknowledge what everyone brings to the collaborative learning setting and share knowledge in a respectful way.

Learning collaboratively with integrity means doing one’s part and acknowledging the contributions of others.


Unequal contributions

Peer evaluation at the mid-point and the end of the project is helpful both for accountability and learning from feedback. Documenting everyone’s contributions is important. Group agreements make expectations clear.

Start by agreeing as a group that everyone’s expectations are clear. Assign roles and responsibilities so that everybody can contribute. Finally, use compassion and care and accept that everyone is doing their best in the circumstances they have.

Communication tools

Effective groups communicate effectively. Ensure everyone knows how and when communication is expected. Reach out to group members who seem to be disengaged and invite them in.

Working collaboratively is a learned skill

Working effectively in a team is a skill you will develop over time when instructors provide opportunities for them to practice and overcome challenges.

This development can be supported by offering feedback and encouraging reflection (PDF). For example, instructors could ask students to submit a reflection about how their group worked together and what they learned from working together.