GP 1 Encourage contact, cooperation and reciprocity between students, staff and industry

In essence

No matter what setting, learning is most effective when it is social and collaborative. Sharing and responding to others ideas can sharpen students thinking and deepen their understanding. Having frequent contact with teaching staff is important for inspiring student motivation and involvement. Knowing at least one lecturer or teacher well can also help students engage and maintain their commitment and focus over time.

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What you can do

You can foster closer relationships between staff and students by being welcoming and warm, ensuring a sense of sharing and respect and creating a setting where students have a sense of belonging.

Get to know your students by name and seek out informal contact with them.

Create opportunities for students to interact and learn from each other. Use strategies such as cooperative assessment, small group work in large lectures, peer assessment and peer tutoring.

You can set up three types of group work: informal learning groups during a single class session, formal learning groups established to complete specific tasks extending for several weeks or study groups with stable membership who provide support, encouragement and assistance in completing course requirements..

Facilitate group work so that students can effectively develop abilities to work in groups and teams. Stay involved with the process. Give guidelines for acquiring skills in communicating effectively, developing group cohesion and working effectively as a group. These skills will be invaluable for ensuring successful group work as well as students’ individual development as team members. (See TRACE Tips for more)

Make use of or develop peer support learning programs, such as Peer Assisted Study Session Program.

Ensure that staff teaching first year courses are well trained to use strategies that enhance interaction and personal connection, particularly in tutorial settings, and can effectively facilitate group work.

Provide links and opportunities for students to engage with industry using strategies that involve professional representatives such as real world problems, practicum, guest lectures and mentors.

What it looks like

High levels of contact with staff and their peers assists students to better integrate into the learning community as well as locate resources for support (van der Meer, 2009). Contact with staff can help with the orienting students to academic standards, expectations, culture and conventions of academic discourse (van der Meer, 2009).

Successful interaction with students requires teaching staff to treat students with respect as individuals and help them to develop their social potential. It also involves creating safe and approving environments, being sensitive and considerate to their needs and motivations and defining formal and informal boundaries (Lahtinen, 2008).

Students who work in small groups tend to learn more and demonstrate higher retention than students taught by other methods. They also tend to be more satisfied with their classes and feel excited and motivated (Davis, 2009).

Since group work and collaborative work give students opportunities to engage with others from different backgrounds, students can develop deeper understandings of diversity as well as improved problem solving and decision making abilities (Davis, 2009).

How it is applied in teaching contexts

Group work assignments: intervention of the teacher or academic is a common dilemma, particularly if or when any involvement should occur. Even though one aspect of learning in groups is about working with others, problems can arise where students need to be supported by staff to sort difficulties. Ten academics were interviewed to determine how they intervened when facilitating group work assignments. Different degrees and approaches for intervention were revealed. Read more Burdett (2007).

What should you think about when encouraging contact, cooperation and reciprocity in your teaching

Answer Yes to these

Teaching philosophy: I believe in student-centred learning. I think about the contribution I am making to the development of students skills and capabilities for their future professional lives.

Pedagogies: Approaches for encouraging contact, cooperation and reciprocity which characteristically emphasize constructivist learning suit my teaching.

Curriculum: There are specific learning outcomes I wish my students to have in my course.

Tools for learning: I can motivate my students to adopt contact, cooperation and reciprocity strategies. I can incorporate strategies that encourage contact, cooperation and reciprocity into my course.

Commitment: I can identify a ‘contact, cooperation and reciprocity’ champion who will support innovative practice.

Why is it important?

Encouraging contact between students and with academic staff can help students develop a sense of belonging and inspire personal motivation to study as well as enhance their learning (Bryson & Hand, 2007; van der Meer, 2009). First year students in particular need to be supported as they become familiar with their new learning and teaching environment if they are to be engaged and stick with the their studies (van der Meer, 2009). Student engagement at university is not just about high quality learning but also involves socio-cultural aspects of belonging and contact with peers and staff (Bryson & Hand, 2007; Krause & Coates, 2008). Students say they particularly value personal contact from teaching staff which is probably even more crucial to practice in the current situation of massification in higher education (Slate, LaPrairie, Schulte & Onwuegbuzie, 2009; van der Meer, 2009).

What is it and how does it support learning? What does recent research say?

Recent research found that attending to the socio-cultural aspects of students’ experiences at university is more likely to enhance their engagement (Bryson & Hand, 2007). Going to university involves more than just engaging in deep learning and meeting learning objectives. It is about belonging to a learning community and developing a sense of identity which can be enhanced through contact with other students and teaching staff (Krause & Coates, 2008). Feeling connected and belonging to a learning community contributes to students having high degrees of engagement and commitment to their learning (Krause & Coates, 2008).

Collaborative learning or active learning in groups can benefit students’ individual learning for many reasons. Most importantly perhaps, they are challenged to consider differences, learn from each other and construct new knowledge (van der Meer, 2009). Cooperative learning can also contribute to enhanced academic performance. In a recent small scale study, thoughtfully established small groups where students worked with each other in and out of class on problem solving activities had a positive effect on overall learning and performance (Yamarik, 2007).

Myths busted

Even though students may cover fewer topics in class when group work is used when compared to lectures, they tend to demonstrate greater conceptual understanding, more complex critical thinking abilities, more independence and higher self confidence (Cooper, MacGregor, Smith & Robinson, 2000).

Exceptional teachers were praised for their personal qualities as well their teaching abilities. Attributes in lecturers such as helping, being fun, building relationships, caring and being respectful were considered by students to be as equally important as being good teachers (Slate, LaPrairie, Schulte & Onwuegbuzie, 2009).


Bryson, C., & Hand, L. (2007). The Role of Engagement in Inspiring Teaching and Learning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44(4), 349-362.

Burdett, J. (2007). Degrees of Separation--Balancing Intervention and Independence in Group Work Assignments. Australian Educational Researcher, 34(1), 55-71.

Cooper, J. L., MacGregor, J., Smith, K. A., & Robinson, P. (2000). Implementing Small-Group Instruction: Insights from Successful Practitioners. New directions for teaching and learning, 81, 63-76.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Desrochers, Fink, Thomas, Kimmerling & Tung, 2007)

Krause, K.-L., & Coates, H. (2008). Students' Engagement in First-Year University. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(5), 493-505.

Lahtinen, A.-M. (2008). University Teachers' Views on the Distressing Elements of Pedagogical Interaction. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(5), 481-493.

Slate, J. R., LaPrairie, K., Schulte, D. P., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2009). A mixed analysis of college students' best and poorest college professors. Issues in Educational Research, 19(1), 61-78.

Topping, K. J. (2009). Peer assessment. Theory into Practice, 48(1), 20-27.

Topping, K. J. (2005). Trends in peer learning. Educational Psychology, 25(6), 631-645.

TRACE Tips: Teamwork skills: Being an effective group member. The Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.

van der Meer, J. (2009). 'I don't even know what her name is' : considering the challenge of interaction during the first year. Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development, 6(1), 112-123.

Yamarik, S. (2007). Does Cooperative Learning Improve Student Learning Outcomes? Journal of Economic Education, 38(3), 259-277.

Yazedjian, A., & Kolkhorst, B. B. (2007). Implementing Small-Group Activities in Large Lecture Classes. College Teaching, 55(4), 164-169.)