Collaborative Problem Solving

Working together to collaboratively design solutions to problems.
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Graduate-level credit is available for this micro-credential. You can apply for credit through one of our university partners after successfully completing the micro-credential.
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

Good collaborative problem solving depends on both a clear, effective problem-solving method and a collaboration process, such as the four phases of collaborative problem solving, to craft an effective solution to a challenging problem.

Method Components

As students undertake an activity, the educator guides them through the four phases of collaborative problem solving. This can be done in small groups or in whole-group instruction. These strategies can be deployed as a stand-alone activity or as a part of a lesson.

Four phases of collaborative problem solving

  • Define: Explore, discuss, and build understanding of the problem.
    • Examples of defining activities include:
    • Capture what each team member already knows about the problem.
    • List similar problems previously encountered and what worked for those problems.
    • Discuss the context and knowledge areas involved in the problem.
    • Collectively identifythe 'Need To Learn' to solve the problem and where to research these (see the Productive Researching micro-credential).
    • Brainstorm some creative approaches to solving the problem (see the Idea Generating micro-credential).
  • Devise: Create a plan to solve the problem.
    • Examples of devising activities include:
    • Determine whether the problem can be divided into smaller problems that can be tackled by different team members.
    • If possible, distribute the 'Need To Learn' research tasks among team members.
    • If there is more than one possible solution, list the benefits and drawbacks of each one, then choose the most promising solution to work on.
    • List the key resources that would be helpful to solve the problem (experts, digital tools, etc.).
    • Clarify the roles of each team member, taking advantage of individual strengths.
    • Develop a timeline for the major tasks each team member is responsible for completing.
    • Decide how often to meet to share individual progress and to work together as a team.
    • Document all of the plans in one shared online document that everyone has access to.
  • Do: Execute the plan, modifying as needed.
    • Examples of doing activities include:
    • Make sure there are regular check-ins for team members to update each other on progress and setbacks.
    • Revise the plan as needed based on what is learned in carrying out the individual tasks in the plan.
  • Review: Reflect on the results and return to previous stages to further refine a solution to the problem as necessary (see related micro-credentials Managing Project Cycles, Productive Teamwork, Design Thinking & Doing, and Designing Effective Solutions).
    • Example of reviewing activities include:
    • Collaboratively decide whether the solution needs more work and repeat previous phases as needed.

Suggested preparation

  • Students recall a problem they successfully solved recently and list the things they did to solve the problem, then do the same for a problem they were not successful in solving.
  • Students discuss in small groups which problem-solving strategies were effective and which were not; each group presents its findings to the other groups.
  • Students choose a problem they care about to solve and move through the phases of collaborative problem solving.

Suggested review

  • Students discuss what they liked best about the collaborative process and what could be done differently next time.
  • Students present their solution to the other teams and celebrate the work of the problem solvers.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

Although problem-solving strategies differ depending on the type of problem (such as simple, well-structured problems vs. complex, messy problems) and the knowledge areas needed to solve it, having a general methodology, as well as some team-based problem-solving methods, is helpful in collaboratively devising effective solutions to problems.


Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

Following are the items you must submit to earn this micro-credential and the criteria by which they will be evaluated. To earn this micro-credential, you must receive a passing evaluation for Parts 1, 3, and 4 and a “Yes” for Part 2.

Part 1. Overview questions

(200-word limit for each response)

  • Activity Description: What kind of activities did you and your students engage in to become more proficient in collaborative problem solving? Please describe the learning activities and strategies you used.
  • Activity Evaluation: How do you know your students increased their proficiency by engaging in the collaborative problem solving activities, and what evidence did you collect that demonstrates these learning gains?

Part 2. Evidence/artifacts

Please submit work examples from two students (such as links to writing samples, audio, images, video, or other artifacts) that demonstrate progress toward the collaborative problem solving competency, including such items as “Need to Learns” lists, planning documents, check-in progress notes, presentations of results, or other examples.

Part 3. Student reflections

For the two students whose work examples are included above, submit student-created reflections on their experience of the collaborative problem solving activities. Use the following questions as a guide (200-word limit for each reflection):

  • How did the collaborative problem-solving activities help you and your team create more well-thought-out and creative solutions to the problem?
  • How did the collaborative problem-solving strategies change your view of the value of working together in a team to tackle problems versus working alone?

Part 4. Teacher reflection

Provide a reflection on what you learned, using the following questions as a guide (200-word limit):

  • What was the impact of engaging your students in the collaborative problem-solving activity?
  • How will experiencing these project activities shape your daily teaching practice in the future?

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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