Collaboration and its Learning Benefits in a Community College STEM Education Classroom

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Significant importance has been placed on STEM education to encourage students to enter into careers related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. United States education system is looking ways to provide a positive student-learning environment to improve student achievement, critical and rational thinking, analysis, and synthesis of information.

In higher education, the role of community colleges is undergoing a major transformation in the United States education system. Researchers place community colleges as one of the most important innovations for higher education in the 20th century. Community colleges not only provide affordable education, but also offer a wide variety of programs ranging from vocational to transfer. With the growing number of adult/ nontraditional learners across higher education, it has now become an utmost national priority to engage and retain this student population. As per the 2011 data by National Center for Education Statistics, the adult population in undergraduate courses is growing steadily over the last many years to the extent that it could overtake the numbers of the traditional students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities.

The AACC (American Association of Community Colleges) released Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future, A report from the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges in 2012 during the 21st Century Initiative to offer recommendations and ideas to promote skills that are needed for students to be successful in college, careers, and life. Later, in 2014, they released Empowering community colleges to build the nation's future to help community colleges build a stronger community of students. P21's Framework for 21st Century Learning offers 4Cs, of which collaboration is mentioned as an important pedagogical technique, an educational outcome, and a key skill in various levels of education. This guide suggests that students learn best when they are provided collaborative learning environments; student achievements are higher when they are engaged with others in their learning environments. Students collaborate by working in teams; learn content by identifying problems and finding solutions. This can not only help build content knowledge, but can also develop critical thinking and creativity. Collaboration can actually help develop the other 4Cs. By implementing this unique pedagogical mode of instruction, in the form of collaboration in biology classrooms, improved student content achievement could be seen, thus improving STEM literacy across the nation.

The purpose of this study was to explore the learning benefits of collaboration in a community college STEM classroom. The participants in this study consisted of students (n= 155) enrolled in Biology 101 or Biology 141 at Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC). A descriptive analysis of the students' assessment scores (pretest and posttest), science vocabulary familiarity scale (SVFS), and demographic surveys were conducted. Results revealed that collaborative learning approach in the community-college classroom results in changes to students' biology science content knowledge.

The results of this study have direct implications for the STEM educator within biological sciences, and in future for not only other fields of integrative STEM education, but for non-STEM courses in higher education. Collaboration enables STEM disciplines to increase opportunities for knowledge sharing and exchange, thereby increasing knowledge and competence. In other studies, researchers have found that students who worked in collaborative environments retained information much longer and deeper as compared to students who worked individually in traditional classrooms. In addition, students who studied in an active and collaborative environment scored better in cognition and psychological activities as compared to students taught in traditional classrooms. The results of this study supported that collaboration was an effective means to improve students' learning outcomes in a biology-based classroom at the community college level.



Collaboration, community colleges, biology classroom