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The Journal of Higher Education
ISSN: 0022-1546 (Print) 1538-4640 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/uhej20
How Collaborative Learning Enhances Students’
Openness to Diversity
Chad N. Loes, K. C. Culver & Teniell L. Trolian
To cite this article: Chad N. Loes, K. C. Culver & Teniell L. Trolian (2018): How Collaborative
Learning Enhances Students’ Openness to Diversity, The Journal of Higher Education, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2018.1442638
Published online: 12 Apr 2018.
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How Collaborative Learning Enhances Students’Openness
Chad N. Loes
, K. C. Culver
, and Teniell L. Trolian
Department of History, Politics, and Justice, Mount Mercy University, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA;
Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA;
Department of Educational Policy and Leadership, University at Albany State University of New York,
Albany, New York, USA
We investigated the influence of collaborative learning on
students’openness to diversity in the 1st year of college.
Even in the presence of a host of potential confounders, we
found that exposure to collaborative learning activities posi-
tively influenced students’openness to diversity, regardless of
their individual background characteristics. Further, this rela-
tion was mediated through students’interactional diversity
experiences. That is, exposure to collaborative learning led to
a greater frequency of students interacting with others who
were different from themselves, which in turn led to greater
openness to diversity.
Received 25 July 2017
Accepted 15 February 2018
openness to diversity
An impressive body of evidence exists on collaborative learning at the primary and
secondary levels of education. This vast literature accompanies a nascent research
base on the use of collaborative learning activities in higher education settings (cf.
Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2014; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991). Despite the
extensive number of investigations on collaborative learning, however, only a
modicum of research has explored the influence of this important instructional
activity on the development of college students’openness to diversity in their 1st
year of college. The lack of attention to this subject is rather curious given the
importance placed on enhancing college students’receptiveness to difference—
especially in light of the substantial demographic changes among college students
in the United States in the 21st century (An & Chen, 2014; Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, &
Collaborative learning is described as a joint effort by students—guided by
instructors—to achieve shared learning goals (Goodsell, Maher, & Tinto,
1988). Learning collaboratively is especially noteworthy in education and is
often singled out as the most important instructional approach in college
teaching (Cockrell, Caplow, & Donaldson, 2000). At its core, collaborative
learning shifts away from an instructor-centered classroom to an educational
environment that emphasizes students teaching one another under the
CONTACT Chad N. Loes firstname.lastname@example.org
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION
© The Ohio State University
guidance of an instructor who provides materials and ideas in an effort to
facilitate learning. Although lecturing remains the dominant pedagogical
delivery method in higher education (Raver & Maydosz, 2010), abundant
evidence suggests “active”forms of instruction are more effective in promot-
ing student achievement than “passive”approaches to teaching and learning
(see Prince, 2004). Accordingly, an increasing number of empirical investiga-
tions have explored more active forms of teaching and learning—including
collaborative learning—at the collegiate level (see Rocca, 2010).
Collaborative and cooperative learning
Collaborative learning is thought to influence intellectual growth by requir-
ing students to assume individual responsibility though interdependent work
with others in achieving shared educational goals. The change that happens
as a result of learning collaboratively occurs as a consequence of the socio-
cognitive conflict and attendant cognitive disequilibrium that arise in group
work. Disequilibrium occurs when group members are confronted with the
diversity of others’perspectives in the group (Davidson & Worsham, 1992;
Piaget, 1950; Vygotsky, 1978). As group members experience with these new
perspectives, they “rehearse and restructure information to retain it in mem-
ory and incorporate it into existing cognitive structures”(Johnson &
Johnson, 2002, p. 120). Nelson (1994) added that student misunderstandings
of new ideas and concepts may inhibit their ability to learn effectively. The
diversity in perspectives associated with collaborative learning, however,
allows students to identify and correct those misunderstandings, thereby
enhancing the potential for student achievement.
It is important to note that substantial overlap exists between the terms
“cooperative learning”and “collaborative learning”in the teaching and
learning literature. Although both approaches involve students cocreating
knowledge together (vs. passively absorbing information from an instructor),
important differences distinguish these concepts. First, cooperative learning
is typically used in K–12 classrooms, whereas collaborative learning generally
applies to higher education settings (Barkley et al., 2014). Next, compared
with collaborative learning, cooperative learning is a more structured method
of teaching that requires a greater degree of intervention and direction from
the instructor, as is commonly employed in primary and secondary educa-
tion classrooms. Lastly, the definition of “cooperative learning”includes five
required components: positive interdependence, face-to-face promotive
interaction, individual accountability, development of social skills, and
group processing (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1990). As such, and despite
some similarities, cooperative learning and collaborative learning are indeed
2C. N. LOES ET AL.
distinct instructional approaches (Bruffee, 1993,1995; McInnerney & Robert,
2004; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Given our focus on the effects of peer
learning at the collegiate level and the variables in our data set, we explored
the effects of collaborative learning in this study.
Collaborative learning techniques can be used for discussion, for problem
solving, and for engaging students with writing. Common examples include
think-pair-share activities, small-group discussions, and group-based case
studies. Successful groups usually contain two to six students to maximize
student interaction and involvement (Barkley et al., 2014). Additionally,
effective group composition comes from instructor assignment, random
assignment, or content-based interests; student-chosen groups tend to be
homogenous and fail to achieve many of the goals of collaborative learning
(Fiechtner & Davis, 2016).
Outcomes associated with collaborative learning
Compared with learning individually or competitively, students who learn colla-
boratively accrue a wide range of educational benefits. For example, research has
linked learning collaboratively to outcomes such as better communication and
groupwork skills (Terenzini, Cabrera, Colbeck, Bjorklund, & Parente, 2001),
critical thinking skills (Gokhale, 1995;Schamber&Mahoney,2006), a need for
cognition (Castle, 2014),studentengagement(Bruffee,2003), academic achieve-
ment (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998; Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999),
appreciation for fine arts and increased understanding of science and technology
(Cabrera, Nora, Bernal, Terenzini, & Pascarella, 1998), and better psychological
adjustment (Johnson & Johnson, 1989), among others (see Johnson et al., 1991,
and Barkley et al., 2014, for extensive reviews of this literature).
In addition to the main effects uncovered in the aforementioned studies, a
number of investigations have revealed that race, sex, and academic ability
moderate the effects of collaborative learning. Although much of this
research has examined the effects of collaborative learning on elementary
and high school students, the evidence—taken as a whole—suggests that
compared with their counterparts, students with relatively low levels of
academic ability, racial/ethnic minorities, and women tend to derive greater
benefits from exposure to this effective educational approach (Belenky,
Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Hooper & Hannafin, 1988; Huynh,
Jacho-Chávez, & Self, 2015; Loes & Pascarella, 2017 Lucker, Rosenfield, Sikes,
& Aronson, 1976; Slavin, 1978; Slavin & Oickle, 1981; Swing & Peterson,
1982; Treisman, 1985).
Along with the benefits associated with collaborative learning already
mentioned, previous research has suggested that students who work colla-
boratively with one another on course-related tasks benefit in terms of
diversity outcomes. This research is particularly important now, given the
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 3
pronounced demographic changes predicted among students in colleges and
universities throughout the United States (Hussar & Bailey, 2013). Although
many higher education studies have narrowly defined diversity in terms of
race or ethnicity (Antonio & Clark, 2011), ample evidence suggests “diver-
sity”is a more complex construct (Haring-Smith, 2012; McLaughlin,
McLaughlin, & McLaughlin, 2015) encompassing a variety of background
characteristics, including culture (Otten, 2003), gender (Herring, background
characteristics), and socioeconomic status (Mattanah et al., 2010), for
Much of the research connecting collaborative learning activities to diversity
outcomes has focused on the primary and secondary levels of education. This
literature generally suggests that students exposed to collaborative learning activ-
ities profit in terms of greater diverse friendships (e.g., Hansell & Slavin, 1981;
Slavin, 1995) and better attitudes among students who differ in terms of race,
gender, religion, culture, and overall background (e.g., Sherif & Sherif, 1969;
Watson, 1947;Williams,1977). The interaction among those from different
backgrounds has led to lower levels of bias, which intergroup friendships
enhanced (Dovidio, Gaertner, & Kawakami, 2003; Herek & Capitanio, 1996;
Pettigrew, 1997). Allport’s(1954) contact theory has guided most of the studies
that demonstrated a positive relation between collaborative learning activities and
diversity outcomes (e.g., Cabrera et al., 2002;DeVries,Edwards,&Slavin,1978).
According to contact theory, the reduction in bias among members from
different groups occurs through interpersonal contact. For this reduction to
occur, however, at least some of the following prerequisites must be present:
(a) equal status within the contact situation, (b) intergroup cooperation, (c)
common goals, and (d) support of authorities, law, or custom (Pettigrew,
1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Pettigrew (1998) argued that one additional
prerequisite needs to be present for contact among individuals to reduce bias
toward one another. Specifically, the contact situation must provide oppor-
tunities that allow for individuals to form friendships, even outside of the
original situation that created the initial contact. Collaborative learning
activities, which purposefully expose students to others with diverse view-
points and backgrounds, clearly meet some of these requirements.
Underscoring this point, Cabrera et al. (2002) noted in their study on
collaborative learning and openness to diversity, “[I]ndividuals collaborate
rather than compete, equal status among participants is promoted, and the
focus of the group effort is directed at solving projects”(p. 22).
Purpose of the study
Despite the remarkable number of studies documenting the benefits of
students learning collaboratively at the primary and secondary levels of
education, the body of literature that has identified the relation between
4C. N. LOES ET AL.
collaborative learning activities and college student outcomes is not quite as
developed. Further, the evidence specifically linking collaborative learning
strategies to college students’openness to diversity is exceedingly small. In
our review of the literature, we uncovered only one study that spoke directly
to the potential influence of collaborative learning on students’openness to
diversity during college. Using data collected from multiple institutions,
Cabrera et al. (2002) found that even in the presence of a host of potential
confounding influences, exposure to collaborative learning practices among
college sophomores enhanced their overall openness to diversity by the end
of their 2nd year of college.
Although the work by Cabrera et al. (2002) was innovative, the present
investigation added to the literature in at least three ways. First, Cabrera and
his colleagues used data collected from students more than 20 years ago.
Considering the dynamic nature of college students, it may be that the influence
of an intervention on student outcomes may not hold for subsequent genera-
tions of college students (Loes, Salisbury, & Pascarella, 2014). With respect to the
current topic being investigated, it appears that the influence of collaborative
learning on students’openness to diversity has yet to be empirically reexamined.
Second, Cabrera and his colleagues (2002) did not control for the clustered
nature of their multi-institutional data. Failure to account for this issue may
have led to artificially reduced standard errors and increased the chance of
Type I error. Accordingly, as our Methods section details, we employed
measures to address this issue. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we
also considered the potential indirect effect of interactional diversity experi-
ences on students’openness to diversity. Evidence has suggested that colla-
borative learning enhances the degree to which students interact with diverse
others (e.g., Slavin, 1995) and that interactional diversity leads to a greater
degree of openness to diversity (Barkley, Boone, & Holloway, 2005;
Pascarella, Edison, Nora, Hagedorn, & Terenzini, 1996). Considering the
evidence reviewed here suggesting that collaborative learning activities
expose students to diverse others and diverse ideas, as well as the research
linking those diverse interactions to a greater openness to diversity, it may be
that the influence of collaborative learning on openness to diversity operates
indirectly through interactional diversity experiences. In our review of the
literature, however, it appeared that this hypothesis has not been explored.
Although it is possible that students’diversity experiences may influence
their engagement in collaborative learning activities, the literature has pro-
vided guidance regarding the temporal order of these constructs. Specifically,
students who learned collaboratively were more likely to interact with and
have better attitudes toward diverse others, even outside classroom settings
(e.g., Hansell & Slavin, 1981; Sherif & Sherif, 1969; Slavin, 1995; Watson,
1947; Williams, 1977). These findings support the theoretical foundations set
forth by diversity scholars (e.g., Allport, 1954; Cook, 1969; Pettigrew, 1998;
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 5
Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006) suggesting the relations among racial groups, for
example, are likely to improve under conditions that require cooperation
among students—such as those present in collaborative learning activities—
that encourage them to work together to accomplish course-related tasks.
Moreover, part of the collaborative learning measure used in this study
clearly captured instructor-driven activities that required students to work
together to achieve shared learning goals, thus reducing or removing choice
in terms of interaction with others. Therefore, based on previous collabora-
tive learning research and theory and the nature of the measures used in this
study, we hypothesized that engaging in collaborative learning activities
would enhance the frequency of interactional diversity experiences.
Also plausible, instead of one’s interactional diversity influencing an indi-
vidual’s openness to diversity, the opposite causal order could be true.
Consistent with the literature suggesting interactional diversity influences
openness to diversity (e.g., Hurtado, Alvarez, Guillermo-Wann, Cuellar, &
Arellano, 2012; Jayakumar, 2008), Pettigrew (1998) pointed out that such a
causal direction is unlikely in a situation where there is limited choice to
participate in the (contact) group (as is common in collaborative learning
groups [Barkley et al., 2014]). Lastly, Pettigrew (1996,1998) noted that
although it is rarely used in intergroup research, one of the best methods
to address this potential issue is to use a longitudinal design.
Given the literature and theory reviewed heretofore, we offered the following
hypotheses: First, even in the presence of a host of potential confounds, collabora-
tive learning will have a statistically significant, positive influence on students’
openness to diversity after the 1st year of college. Second, students with relatively
low levels of academic ability, racial and ethnic minorities, and women will derive
greater benefit in terms of openness to diversity from their exposure to collabora-
tive learning. Last, we expected interactional diversity experiences to mediate the
relation between collaborative learning and openness to diversity. In other words,
exposure to collaborative learning will lead to increased interactional diversity
experiences, which will, in turn, lead to a greater level of openness to diversity.
Data in this study were from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts
Education (WNS), a longitudinal, multi-institutional study of college experi-
ences and outcomes. Three cohorts of institutions comprise the WNS, and
data in this study were from the first cohort (2006–2007) of the WNS, which
included first-time, full-time undergraduate students at 19 institutions.
Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education institutions were selected
to participate in the study to reflect the diverse characteristics of colleges and
6C. N. LOES ET AL.
universities in the United States, including institutional size, geographic
location, patterns of student residence, and selectivity. The first cohort of
the WNS included 11 liberal arts colleges, 2 community colleges, 3 research
universities, and 3 regional universities. Liberal arts colleges were purpose-
fully overrepresented by the WNS researchers due to their interest in liberal
arts college experiences and outcomes.
Data collection for the WNS took place in two stages during students’1st
year of college. In the first 2 weeks of the 1st year, participants completed a
questionnaire that asked them about their background characteristics and
experiences in high school. Additionally, participants completed a series of
outcome assessments that would serve as a precollege pretest and measured
outcomes associated with a liberal arts education such as critical thinking,
moral reasoning, openness to diversity, psychological well-being, and leader-
ship skills. At the end of students’1st year of college, participants again
completed the series of outcome assessments as an end-of-1st-year posttest.
Additionally, students completed the WNS Student Experiences Survey and
the National Survey of Student Engagement in which they were asked about
their experiences in their freshman year. At both assessment points, partici-
pants were paid $50 for their participation.
The initial data collection occurred early in the fall 2006 term. A total of
4,501 students completed surveys during this phase of the data collection,
and 3,081 returned to complete follow-up surveys at the end of the spring
2007 term, for a response rate of 68.5%. We employed a weighting algorithm
to provide some adjustment for any potential bias based on sex, race, and
academic ability. This procedure allowed us to take the information provided
by each participating institution on student sex, race, and ACT (or equiva-
lent) scores and apply weights to make the respondents in our sample better
reflect each institution’s incoming freshman class. Specifically, each of the
3,081 students in our sample was weighted up to the incoming freshman
class at each institution in terms of sex (male or female), race (White, Black,
Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or Other), and ACT (or equivalent score)
quartile. Lastly, it is important to note that although this approach made our
sample more representative of the population from which it was drawn, it did
not completely adjust for nonresponse bias.
We analyzed our data to determine whether any missingness existed
among the variables in our models. Our analysis revealed that using listwise
deletion would result in a loss of approximately 2% of the entire sample.
Consistent with the recommended approaches to handling missing data (see
Cox, McIntosh, Reason, & Terenzini, 2014), we used multiple imputation to
create 10 replicated data sets (Rubin, 1987).
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 7
The dependent variable of interest in this study was students’openness to
diversity and challenge (ODC) at the end of their 1st year of college. Openness
to diversity and challenge was measured using an established mean-based scale
that assessed students’openness to cultural and racial diversity, as well as the
extent to which they enjoyed being challenged by different perspectives, values,
and ideas (Bowman, 2014; Pascarella et al., 1996). This scale included students’
agreement with the following statements: (a) I believe contact with individuals
whose backgrounds (race, national origin, sexual orientation) differ from my
own is an essential part of my college education; (b) I enjoy taking courses that
challenge my beliefs and values; (c) I most enjoy the courses that make me
think about things from a different perspective; (d) I believe that learning
about people from different cultures is a very important part of my college
education; (e) I enjoy having discussions with people whose ideas and values
are different from my own; (f) I enjoy talking with people who have values
different from mine because it helps me better understand myself and values;
and (g) I agree that the real value of a college education lies in being
introduced to different values. Response items ranged from 5 = strongly
agree to 1 = strongly disagree. This scale, which had a slight positively skewed
distribution, has an alpha internal consistency reliability of .87.
The ODC measure differs from other college diversity outcomes, such as
intercultural competence for example, which is typically measured with the
Miville-Guzman Universality Diversity Scale (Miville et al., 1999).
Specifically, the ODC measure used in this study does not focus specifically
on one’s understanding and appreciation of different cultures. Instead, the
ODC scale assesses, more generally, one’s openness to diverse others, view-
points, and varied college experiences. Moreover, this measure is considered
a precursor to social tolerance—a highly desired outcome of the college
experience (An & Chen, 2015; Taylor, 1998; Vogt, 1997).
The independent variable of interest in this study was exposure to collabora-
tive learning during students’1st year of college. Exposure to collaborative
learning was measured using a mean-based scale that assessed the frequency
of students’collaborative and peer learning in and outside the college class-
room. This scale included students’frequency of participation in the follow-
ing experiences during the 1st year of college: (a) whether students taught
each other in addition to faculty teaching in the respondent’s classes; (b)
whether faculty encouraged the respondent to participate in study groups
outside of class; (c) whether the respondent participated in one or more
study group(s) outside of class; and (d) the extent to which the respondent
worked with other students on projects outside of class. Response items
8C. N. LOES ET AL.
ranged from 5 = very often to 1 = never. This scale, which was normally
distributed, had an alpha internal consistency reliability of .70.
It is important to note that our measure of collaborative learning included
student activities that occurred both inside and outside the college classroom.
This conceptualization comported with theoretical college impact frame-
works (e.g., Astin,1984), which suggest that student growth is the result of
not only the involvement and energy invested in classroom activities, but also
the effort devoted to academic experiences outside the classroom. Next, there
was considerable variation in the way collaborative learning was operationa-
lized in higher education research (Barkley et al., 2014). Our measure of
collaborative learning, which was grounded in early higher education
research (Cabrera, Colbeck, & Terenzini, 2001; Terenzini et al., 2001), was
the same scale used in more recent research exploring the influence of this
important instructional approach on an array of important college student
outcomes (e.g., Castle, 2014; Loes, An, Saichaie, & Pascarella, 2017; Loes &
Pascarella, 2017; Seifert et al., 2008).
The mediating variable examined in this study was the frequency of interac-
tional diversity in the 1st year of college. This scale was measured using a
mean-based scale that assessed the frequency of students’interactions with
diverse peers and engagement in diversity programs or workshops during
college. This scale included students’frequency of participation in the follow-
ing activities during the 1st year of college: (a) how often the respondent
attended a debate or lecture on a current political/social issue during the
academic year; (b) how often the respondent had serious discussions with
staff whose political, social, or religious opinions were different from their
own; (c) the extent to which the respondent’s institution emphasized
encouraging contact among students from different economic, social, and
racial or ethnic backgrounds; (d) during the current school year, how often
the respondent had serious conversations with students of a different race or
ethnicity than their own; (e) during the current school year, how often the
respondent had serious conversations with students who were very different
from the respondent in terms of their religious beliefs, political opinions, or
personal values; (f) how often the respondent participated in a racial or
cultural awareness workshop during the academic year; (g) how often the
respondent had discussions regarding intergroup relations with diverse stu-
dents while attending the college; (h) how often the respondent had mean-
ingful and honest discussions about issues related to social justice with
diverse students while attending the college; and (i) how often the respon-
dent shared personal feelings and problems with diverse students while
attending the college. Response options ranged from 4 = very often/much
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 9
to 1 = never/very little. This scale, which had a slight positively skewed
distribution, had an alpha internal consistency reliability of .80.
The construction of this scale was based on the concept of “informal
interactional diversity”outlined by Gurin et al. (2002). Our outcome mea-
sure, which was employed in other studies on college diversity experiences
(e.g., Parker & Pascarella, 2013; Pascarella et al., 2014; Seifert, Gillig, Hanson,
Pascarella, & Blaich, 2014), encompassed a range of diverse collegiate experi-
ences, which include activities that might be viewed as more formal (e.g.,
workshop attendance). However, the measure of “interactional diversity”
used in this study and other research on diversity embodied a more holistic
conception of exposure to difference—within what might be construed as
both formal and informal settings, to which students are commonly exposed
during the college experience.
Conceptual framework/control variables
The conceptual models guiding our investigation are illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.
Our models were based on a number of studies and frameworks that guide higher
education researchers in evaluating the unique influence of college experiences
(such as collaborative learning) on student outcomes, including the mediating role
of exposure to diversity experiences in openness to diversity (e.g., Astin, 1993;
Chickering, 1969; Chickering & Reisser, 1993;Dovidioetal.,2004;Engberg&
Hurtado, 2011;Hurtadoetal.,2012; Jayakumar, 2008; Pascarella & Terenzini,
2005;Pike,2002; Spanierman, Neville, Liao, Hammer, & Wang, 2008). These
models suggest that at least four sources of influence must be considered when
estimating the net influence of a particular intervention on student outcomes: (a)
students’background characteristics, (b) institutional characteristics, (c) students’
academic experiences, and (d) students’nonacademic or social experiences.
Openness to Diversity)
Openness to Diversity
Figure 1. Total-effects model.
10 C. N. LOES ET AL.
Student background characteristics controlled for in this study included
sex, race, precollege academic ability, and precollege academic motivation.
Institutional characteristics included whether a student attended a liberal arts
college (vs. a regional or research university) and whether a student attended
a community college (vs. a regional or research university), as well as the
structural diversity (measured as the percentage of racial/ethnic minorities at
each institution) of the college or university attended by each student.
Academic and nonacademic experiences included exposure to collabora-
tive learning, course-taking patterns (the number of courses taken in each
student’s 1st year of college in the areas of the social sciences, education,
mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, and humanities), on-campus
residence during the 1st year of college (vs. living off-campus), the number
of hours spent involved in cocurricular activities in the 1st year of college,
and the frequency of interactional diversity experiences. Additionally, a
pretest measure of students’ODC, measured at the beginning of students’
1st year of college, was included in all models to isolate the change in the 1st
year associated with exposure to collaborative learning.
The first stage of data analysis involved estimating the total effect of exposure to
collaborative learning on students’ODC. To estimate this effect, we used reduced-
form regression procedures (Alwin & Hauser, 1975). Specifically, we regressed
end-of-1st-year ODC on collaborative learning and all the control measures
described earlier (see Figure 1). The second stage of analysis estimated direct
and indirect (i.e., mediated) effects of collaborative learning on ODC. In this part
of the analysis, we added the interactional diversity measure to the reduced-form
(total-effects) model (see Figure 2). We hypothesized that the addition of the
interactional diversity measure would exert a positive influence on the posttest
Figure 2. Direct- and indirect-effects model.
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 11
ODC measure. Moreover, we expected the addition of interactional diversity to
themodelwouldreducetheinfluenceofcollaborative learning on end-of-1st-year
ODC to nonsignificance. If this occurred, it would suggest that the increase in
exposure to interactional diversity mediated the influence of collaborative learning
The third stage of analysis included a test for the presence of interaction
effects. Given the evidence reviewed earlier suggesting the influence of
collaborative learning varies by academic ability, race, and sex, we employed
tests to determine whether collaborative learning varied by these background
characteristics. To do so, we individually added each cross-product term (i.e.,
Collaborative Learning × Academic Ability, Race, and Sex, respectively) to
the main-effects model. If the addition of the cross-product term resulted in
a statistically significant increase in R
, it would indicate the presence of an
interaction effect, which could then be examined further by disaggregating
individuals in their respective groups (e.g., for sex, we could drop all women
from the sample and rerun the equation for men, and vice versa; Paternoster,
Brame, Mazerolle, & Piquero, 1998; Pedhazur, 1982).
Although hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) is often used when analyz-
ing clustered data, we decided against using this technique for two reasons.
First, we were principally interested in individual (not institutional) effects.
Second, we had only 19 institutions in our sample, which is far less than what
is recommended to obtain adequate Level 2 statistical power (Ethington,
1997; Raudenbush & Bryk, 2001). To control for the clustered nature of
our data (i.e., students were sampled within individual clusters—in this case,
institutions), we used the (svy) regression option in Stata. This option
allowed us to adjust for potentially inflated standard errors that may lead
to increased chances of Type I errors. The adjustment to the standard errors
in this manner generated point estimates that were virtually identical to those
produced by HLM analysis.
Lastly, to investigate any potential issues of multicollinearity, we con-
ducted a variance inflation test. The variance inflation factor ranged from
1.09 to 1.65 with an average of 1.32, thus suggesting multicollinearity of the
variables was well within an acceptable range (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken,
2003). We also included a correlation matrix of all variables in the Appendix.
Scores on the ODC measure declined slightly from the beginning of the 1st
year of college (3.92) to the end of that year (3.78), t(6,160) = 8.78, p< .001.
Among our sample, 34% identified as male and 81% identified as White
(means, standard deviations, ranges, and definitions for all variables are
noted in Table 1). Column 1 of Table 2 illustrates the regression coefficients
from the total-effect analysis. As expected, the ODC pretest exerted the
12 C. N. LOES ET AL.
Table 1. Variable definitions and descriptive statistics.
Variables Description Mean SD Min. Max.
Openness to Diversity
A seven-item scale representing students’openness to diversity at the end of the 1st year of college (spring 2007).
This scale included students’agreement with the following statements: (a) I believe contact with individuals whose
backgrounds (race, national origin, sexual orientation) differ from my own is an essential part of my college education.
(b) I enjoy taking courses that challenge my beliefs and values. (c) I most enjoy the courses that make me think about
things from a different perspective. (d) I believe that learning about people from different cultures is a very important
part of my college education. (e) I enjoy having discussions with people whose ideas and values are different from my
own. (f) I enjoy talking with people who have values different from mine because it helps me better understand
myself and values. (g) I agree that the real value of a college education lies in being introduced to different values.
Response items ranged from 5 = strongly agree to 1 = strongly disagree (α= .87).
3.78 0.70 1 5
Collaborative learning A four-item standardized scale (α= .70) of collaborative learning based on the following items: (a) whether students
taught each other in addition to faculty teaching in the respondent’s classes, (b) whether faculty encouraged the
respondent to participate in study groups outside of class, (c) whether the respondent participated in one or more
study group(s) outside of class, and (d) the extent to which the respondent worked with other students on projects
outside class. Response items ranged from 5 = very often to 1 = never (α= .70).
−0.04 0.72 −1.95 1.63
A nine-item standardized scale representing students’frequency of participation in the following activities during the
1st year of college: (a) how often the respondent attended a debate or lecture on a current political/social issue during
the academic year; (b) how often the respondent had serious discussions with staff whose political, social, or religious
opinions were different from their own; (c) the extent to which the respondent’s institution emphasized encouraging
contact among students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds; (d) during current school
year, how often the respondent had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity than the
respondent’s own; (e) during current school year, how often the respondent had serious conversations with students
who were very different from the respondent in terms of their religious beliefs, political opinions, or personal values;
(f) how often the respondent participated in a racial or cultural awareness workshop during the academic year; (g)
how often the respondent had discussions regarding intergroup relations with diverse students while attending the
college; (h) how often the respondent had meaningful and honest discussions about issues related to social justice
with diverse students while attending the college; and (i) how often the respondent shared personal feelings and
problems with diverse students while attending the college. Response options ranged from 4 = very often/much to
1 = never/very little (α= .80).
0.01 0.62 −1.38 1.97
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 13
Table 1. (Continued).
Variables Description Mean SD Min. Max.
Openness to Diversity
Student’s score on the openness to diversity pretest (fall 2006) 3.92 0.62 1.00 5.00
Male Male student (female student was omitted category) 0.34 0.48 0.00 1.00
White White student (Non-White student was omitted category) 0.81 0.40 0.00 1.00
Precollege academic ability ACT (or equivalent) composite score 26.64 4.44 13.00 36.00
Eight-item scale (α= .74) of initial academic motivation based on the following items: (a) a willingness to work hard to
learn course material even if it will not lead to a higher grade; (b) test performance based on how the student
prepared and not on test difficulty; (c) whether the student read more than required in a class because of interest; (d)
whether the respondent talked to teachers outside of class about ideas presented during class; (e) importance of
receiving the best grades respondent can (reverse-coded); (f) whether the student enjoyed the challenge of learning
complicated new material; (g) whether the respondent believed academic experiences are an important part of
college; and (h) whether the respondent believed academic experiences are the most enjoyable part of college
(1 = low motivation to 5 = high motivation).
3.60 0.55 1.00 5.00
Community college Respondent attends a community college. 0.04 0.20 0.00 1.00
Regional university Respondent attends a regional university. 0.17 0.37 0.00 1.00
Research university Respondent attends a research university. 0.26 0.44 0.00 1.00
Structural diversity Percentage of racial/ethnic minorities at each school in the WNS sample (N= 19) 16.64 13.68 5.00 58.00
Courses in social sciences Number of courses taken/taking in social sciences in the present year 1.50 1.19 0.00 5.00
Courses in math Number of courses taken/taking in math in the present year 1.03 0.90 0.00 5.00
Courses in natural sciences Number of courses taken/taking in natural sciences in the present year 1.20 1.31 0.00 5.00
Courses in engineering Number of courses taken/taking in engineering in the present year 0.06 0.34 0.00 5.00
Courses in humanities Number of courses taken/taking in humanities in the present year 2.81 1.58 0.00 5.00
On-campus residence Respondent lives in on-campus housing (Yes = 1). 0.88 0.32 0.00 1.00
Cocurricular activities Hours/week the respondent spends participating in cocurricular activities 2.54 1.49 1.00 8.00
Note. WNS = Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. Sample size was 3,081 respondents. The collaborative learning and interactional diversity means are standardized.
14 C. N. LOES ET AL.
largest effect on the ODC posttest (β= .59, p< .001). More importantly,
however, exposure to collaborative learning had a net positive influence on
the ODC posttest (β= .13, p= .014). It is important to note that in light of
the change in ODC scores from the beginning to the end of the 1st year of
college, our results suggested that exposure to collaborative learning was
associated with gains in ODC, despite the overall drop in scores for respon-
dents in the sample (Pascarella, Wolniak, & Pierson, 2003).
The direct-effect analysis results included in Column 3 of Table 2 show
that the interactional diversity measure had a relatively large, positive effect
on end-of-1st-year ODC (β= .27, p< .001). As hypothesized, when the
interactional diversity measure was added to the total-effects equation, the
influence of collaborative learning on end-of-1st-year ODC decreased by
approximately 70% (from .13 to .04). Further, the collaborative learning
measure became nonsignificant in the direct-effects model, suggesting a
substantial portion of the effect of collaborative learning on end-of-1st-year
ODC was mediated by one’s exposure to interactional diversity. Next, we
used the Sobel-Goodman Mediation Test (the sgmediation command in
Stata) to more closely examine the indirect effect of interactional diversity.
Table 2. Estimated total and direct effects of exposure to collaborative learning on openness to
diversity and challenge (ODC; unstandardized coefficients, unless noted otherwise).
Total Effect Direct Effect
.59*** .03 .53*** .04
Male −.02 .04 −.02 .04
White −.08 .04 −.02 .03
Precollege academic ability .00 .00 .00 .00
Precollege academic motivation
−.02 .02 −.02 .02
Community college .10 .12 .10 .12
Regional university −.01 .07 .00 .05
Research university −.05 .03 −.03 .03
Structural diversity .00 .00 −.00 .00
Courses in social sciences .01 .01 .00 .02
Courses in math −.02 .02 −.02 .01
Courses in natural sciences −.01 .01 −.01 .01
Courses in engineering −.08* .03 −.06 .03
Courses in humanities .04** .01 .02 .01
On-campus residence −.09 .13 −.15 .11
Cocurricular activities −.01 .01 −.02 .01
.13* .05 .04 .04
Constant .01 .19 .17 .15
Standardized prior to regression analysis.
*p< .05. ** p< .01. *** p< .001.
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 15
The indirect effect of end-of-1st-year ODC through interactional diversity
was .09 and was statistically significant (z = 13.23, p< .001).
All our tests to determine whether the influence of collaborative learning
on ODC varied by academic ability, race, and sex were nonsignificant. When
the cross-products were added to the main-effects equation, none of the
values among any of these terms approached statistical significance. The
absence of statistical significance in these tests suggested that the influence
of collaborative learning on ODC affected students similarly, regardless of
one’s background in terms of academic ability, race, or sex.
Limitations and discussion
Although our study adds to what is known about the relation between
collaborative learning and openness to diversity among students during
their 1st year of college, it was not without limitations. First, the participants
in our study came from a purposeful sample of college students throughout
the United States, and although we would prefer to use data from a random
sample of all U.S. college students, we were limited by the data at our
disposal. With that said, our data were especially rich in the sense that we
were able to follow students from the beginning to the end of their 1st year of
college and used a pretest measure of the outcome variable—a particularly
effective way to adjust for selection bias, an especially persistent problem in
research exploring how college affects students (Astin & Lee, 2003).
Additionally, it may have been informative to include other institutional
measures (e.g., size and geographic location). Unfortunately, however, we were
limited by the variables in our data set. It would also have been ideal to more
closely examine potential differences between various racial and ethnic groups
(e.g., Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander), but given that our sample included
such a small overall percentage of racial and ethnic minorities, we simply were not
able to do so. Future research on collaborative learning should more closely
examine any potential differences in this area.
Next, our measure of collaborative learning only assessed students’expo-
sure to this educational approach. We do not know, for example, what
exactly occurred in these collaborative learning groups. With respect to our
investigation, it would be especially useful to know the diversity of students’
collaborative learning groups (e.g., differences by socioeconomic status, poli-
tical preference, race, and religious background). This point notwithstanding,
our research is similar in this regard to other studies that have explored the
influence of collaborative learning on a variety of college student outcomes
(e.g., Cabrera et al., 2002; Castle, 2014).
A number of interesting findings emerged from our analyses. Initially, while
controlling for a number of background characteristics and college experi-
ences, collaborative learning was shown to have a statistically significant
16 C. N. LOES ET AL.
positive effect on students’ODC after the 1st year of college. Collaborative
learning therefore is a potentially powerful pedagogic tool that provides wide-
spread benefits not only for students’communication skills (Terenzini et al.,
2001) and achievement (Prince, 2004) but also for their attitudes and values by
encouraging students to explore different cultures, perspectives, and ideas.
Further, our findings extend the findings of Cabrera et al. (2002) and suggest
that collaborative learning continues to positively influence students’openness
to diversity in the 1st year of college.
By also examining the direct effect of interactional diversity, this study identi-
fied one likely mechanism of collaborative learning in increasing students’ODC.
Interactional diversity—frequency and engagement with diverse peers and diver-
sity education programs—has been linked to students’knowledge of and compat-
ibility with diverse others (Denson & Chang, 2009), diversity competence (Hu &
Kuh, 2003), and openness to diversity (Chang, Denson, Saenz, & Misa, 2006).
Similarly, examining students in their senior year of college, Salisbury, An, and
Pascarella (2013) found that interactional diversity positively influenced all three
of the Miville-Guzman Universality-Diversity Scale subscales: Diversity of
Contact, Relativistic Appreciation, and Comfort With Differences.
The results of the present investigation suggest that collaborative learning
exposed students to differences, which in turn led to a greater degree of ODC at
the end of the 1st year of college. Collaborative learning activities extended beyond
the classroom, thus encouraging students to increase interactions and develop
relationships with diverse others (Slavin, 1995); in turn, these diverse relationships
reduced students’prejudices (Dovidio et al., 2003; Herek & Capitanio, 1996;
Pettigrew, 1997). This effect may occur as a result of cross-racial emotional
connections, which Bowman and Denson (2011) found mediated interactional
diversity on a number of outcomes related to diverse intergroup attitudes.
Considering these findings in the context of Allport’s(1954) contact
theory emphasizes the benefits of academically focused collaborative learning
activities compared with the mostly informal interactions that occur in on-
campus housing, for example. On one hand, residential interactions may lack
the equality of status necessary to reduce bias; further, despite some level of
communal living, students may not feel a sense of cooperation among peers
or feel that they share common goals with the other students with whom they
live. Collaborative learning experiences, on the other hand, assign equality to
students as group members, make explicit the necessity for cooperation in
the pursuit of shared academic goals, and may include the guidance provided
by an instructor, which could help students to reconsider preconceived
notions of diverse others (Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006).
Previous research has also suggested that increased structural diversity pro-
vides students withan increased opportunity for interactions with diverse others,
thereby leading to increases in understanding diverse others (Pike, Kuh, &
Gonyea, 2007). However, in the present study, structural diversity failed to
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 17
have more than chance influence on ODC for freshmen when considered along-
side the other variables in our models. Several potential explanations for this
difference exist. Because diversity encompasses more than just racial and ethnic
backgrounds (Haring-Smith, 2012; McLaughlin et al., 2015), students likely have
frequent opportunities to interact with peers whose gender, social class, religious
backgrounds, and cultural beliefs and practices differ from their own, in addition
to interacting with peers of a different race/ethnicity. As such, interactional
diversity may not rely on the structural racial diversity of the institution. In
addition, it is possible that the nature of our data accounted for students’like-
lihood of participating in diverse interactions. In other words, students’prefer-
ences for attending a structurally diverse institution may have been reflected in
their scores on the ODC pretest. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this
finding suggests that collaborative learning plays a crucial role in presenting
students with opportunities for diverse interactions regardless of the structural
diversity of the institution. In fact, collaborative learning appeared similar to
structural diversity on the classroom level and provided local agency to educators
interested in encouraging students’ODC.
Our analyses did reveal some significant differences according to the
disciplines in which students took courses during their 1st year of college.
We were particularly interested in the way that interactional diversity slightly
changed the negative relation between taking courses in engineering and
ODC. While taking courses in engineering continued to negatively predict
ODC, this relation was attenuated by increased interactional diversity. This
finding suggests that increased interactional diversity may help to increase
students’ODC, particularly for those students in major fields of study that
have been shown to be less structurally diverse. Instructors, student affairs
staff, and administrators should work to find ways not only to increase
collaborative learning in engineering and other science, technology, engi-
neering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, but also to provide better
opportunities for interactional diversity through programming and through
improving the structural diversity of the student body generally and the
structural diversity of students in STEM disciplines. Additionally, instructors,
staff, and administrators should consider ways to provide students with
opportunities to engage in diversity-related programming and to discuss
issues related to diversity both in and outside the classroom. By providing
students with opportunities to engage with diversity and interact collabora-
tively with diverse others, students (particularly in STEM fields) have the
potential to become more open to diversity and challenge during college.
Although collaborative learning benefitted students by providing a struc-
tured environment for interactional diversity, students’predispositions
remained the strongest predictor of end-of-freshman-year ODC. In fact,
the effect of the pretest administered when students entered college was
double the effect of interactional diversity. This finding suggests that
18 C. N. LOES ET AL.
although collaborative learning and diverse interactions during the 1st year
of college may influence students’values and beliefs, students’previous
experiences more strongly influenced their ODC. Considering that research
at the primary and secondary levels suggests that collaborative learning
benefits younger students in their development of more open attitudes
toward diverse others (Sherif & Sherif, 1969; Watson, 1947; Williams,
1977), an opportunity exists for educators to provide sustained exposure to
collaborative learning throughout all levels of education. The more that
students participate in collaborative learning activities, the more likely they
are to interact with peers whose gender, racial and ethnic backgrounds,
cultural practices, and religious beliefs differ from their own. Such increased
and sustained exposure may amplify students’ability and willingness to be
open to diverse others.
Given the literature suggesting that certain students (e.g., those with
relatively low academic ability, racial and ethnic minorities, and women)
may benefit more than their counterparts from collaborative learning, we did
not expect our interaction tests to be nonsignificant. Although this finding
was inconsistent with most of the literature on collaborative learning, some
recent work has suggested that there are instances in which collaborative
learning affects students similarly, regardless of differences in individual
background characteristics (e.g., Loes & Pascarella, 2017). This finding is
especially encouraging in that all students—regardless of academic ability,
race, or sex—appeared to benefit equally in terms of openness to diversity
from exposure to this effective instructional approach.
Finally, although we were somewhat puzzled by the decrease in the scores on
the ODC measure from the beginning to the end of the 1st year of college, this
finding echoed previous research that suggests students typically decline in their
ODC during college (e.g., Ismail, Morgan, & Hayes, 2006), including students in
the WNS sample overall (Blaich & Wise, 2011). Some scholars have suggested
this change may be attributable to students’varied experiences with both formal
and informal diversity experiences (Rude, Wolniak, & Pascarella, 2012). Most
importantly, however, our findings suggest that one particularly salient instruc-
tional approach—collaborative learning—is associated with gains in this impor-
tant student outcome despite the overall declines in ODC among the entire
sample from the beginning to the end of their freshman year.
Collaborative learning is a powerful learner-centered tool both in and outside
the classroom. Previous studies have shown that collaborative learning benefits
students academically and cognitively. Our results suggest that engagement in
collaborative learning increases students’ODC after the 1st year of college,
regardless of students’individual background characteristics. In addition, most
of this effect occurred as a result of interactional diversity, as collaborative
learning activities encouraged students to work with others whose backgrounds,
perspectives, and skills were different from their own.
THE JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 19
Collaborative learning is a flexible pedagogic technique that can be implemen-
ted in courses across the disciplines, in student affairs programming, and at every
educational level. Collaborative learning can take many forms and can be used to
facilitate discussion, to engage students in problem solving, and to help students
improve communication skills. For example, collaborative approaches might
engage students in working in pairs or small groups to discuss or deepen learning
of course reading materials or to apply learning to problems or issues. Also,
residence life staff can facilitate student participation in study groups. Given the
increasingly diverse profile of students enrolled in the postsecondary system,
instructors should also consider ways to engage students with diversity through
practices like collaborative learning—classroom experiences that lead not only to
academic achievement, but also to students’openness to diverse perspectives and
The authors thank Brian An, Nick Bowman, and two anonymous reviewers.
This research was supported by a grant from the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at
Wabash College to the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at The University of
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1. ODC Posttest 1.00
2. ODC Pretest .63 1.00
3. Male −.11 −.12 1.00
4. White −.12 −.12 .04 1.00
5. Precollege academic ability .05 .08 .10 .22 1.00
6. Precollege academic motivation .22 .30 −.11 −.08 .04 1.00
7. Community college −.07 −.10 −.02 .07 −.29 −.01 1.00
8. Regional university −.06 −.05 −.07 −.05 −.18 −.04 −.09 1.00
9. Research university −.02 −.02 .03 −.02 .37 −.02 −.12 −.26 1.00
10. Structural diversity .08 .07 −.07 −.37 −.14 .02 −.12 .19 .12 1.00
11. Courses in social sciences .08 .10 .00 .01 .10 −.01 −.06 −.15 .06 −.04 1.00
12. Courses in math −.11 −.13 .12 −.03 .00 .00 .09 .04 .17 .02 −.16 1.00
13. Courses in natural sciences −.09 −.08 .01 .04 .22 .10 −.10 .01 .26 −.07 −.18 .08 1.00
14. Courses in engineering −.06 −.03 .18 −.01 .13 .01 −.02 −.02 .15 .02 −.13 .22 .15 1.00
15. Courses in humanities .16 .17 −.05 .09 .29 .01 −.18 −.11 .00 −.05 −.06 −.22 −.20 −.09 1.00
16. On-campus residence .05 .07 −.08 .05 .28 −.03 −.53 −.05 .12 −.09 .05 −.07 .08 .01 .16 1.00
17. Cocurricular activities .02 .00 .15 .09 .07 .01 −.16 −.05 .00 −.11 .05 .01 .02 −.01 .03 .11 1.00
18. Collaborative learning .19 .11 .02 −.01 .06 .20 −.12 −.09 .07 −.01 −.03 .12 .20 .12 −.03 .07 .13 1.00
19. Interactional diversity .49 .36 .01 −.20 .06 .19 −.13 −.10 .03 .13 .11 −.05 −.05 −.02 .14 .08 .09 .34 1.00
Note. ODC = openness to diversity and challenge.
26 C. N. LOES ET AL.