Tribes or Nomads: A Comparative Study of Collaborative Learning Frameworks

  • Lauren Miller Griffith Central Michigan University
  • Cameron S. Griffith Central Michigan University
  • J. Hunter Peden Northern Arizona University
Keywords: collaborative learning, introductory courses, large courses



This paper explores the relative value of "permanent" working groups versus "ad hoc" groups in large introductory level anthropology courses. The aim is to manage tutor workload while simultaneously enhancing students’ attainment of the learning objectives. In addition, a main learning objective was for students to practice critical thinking and develop an understanding of cultural relativism. We argue that one effective experiential approach to teaching such concepts is collaborative learning with others in diverse learning groups. We explore the factors enhancing such learning experiences.


Based on our survey research we conclude that ad hoc groups are better for exposing students to diverse perspectives and permanent working groups are better for fostering an intimate learning experience within a large class. Although our original goals for using groups were mainly pragmatic, our research on teaching methods shows that it exposes students to diverse perspectives. We find this particularly appropriate for courses in anthropology aiming to teach the meaning of diversity and other related concepts. Therefore, we recommend that tutors/instructors choose their collaborative learning strategy based both on their intended learning outcomes and their learning environments.