In Japan, the growing awareness that collaborative learning
promotes critical thinking and helps students develop social
skills (Johnson & Johnson, 1986) plus the reduction in
class size due to Japan’s declining birth-rate have
spurred a handful of instructors at tertiary-level institutions
to use the collaborative approach to learning. What the instructors
are discovering, though, is that when students are required
to work independently in small groups, they are usually at
a loss as to how they should proceed. The reason is that most
students have had no prior opportunity to direct their own
learning, or even to work cooperatively. In the Foreign Language
(FL) classroom, there is an additional problem. Students with
limited conversational skills and/ or little confidence in
using the target language have difficulties expressing themselves
and organising their ideas in the FL. Therefore, in Japan
and perhaps other Asian countries, effective and successful
collaborative learning must initially include methods of helping
students organise themselves, communicate with each other
and (if desired) use the FL. The model presented in this paper
incorporates these instructional elements.
The terms cooperative learning and collaborative
learning are frequently used interchangeably. Indeed,
the approaches do overlap, but there is a fundamental difference
that is important to consider when identifying instructional
outcomes and designing lesson plans and instructional materials.
The collaborative approach is student-centred and the instructor
is a facilitator. According to Panitz (1997), “Collaborative
learning is a personal philosophy, not just a classroom technique.
In all situations where people come together in groups, it
suggests a way of dealing with people, which respects and
highlights individual group members’ abilities and contributions.
There is a sharing of authority and acceptance of responsibility
among group members for the group’s actions.”
The cooperative approach is a structured form of collaboration.
“Cooperative learning is defined by a set of processes
which help people interact together in order to accomplish
a specific goal or develop an end product which is usually
content specific. It is more directive than a collaborative
system of governance and is closely controlled by the teacher.”
A 6-week, out-of-class collaborative research project was
designed for second-year Japanese university Engineering students
studying English as a Foreign Language (EFL). They were required
to find, organise, and then display their data in a cohesive
group PowerPoint (PPT) presentation. As genuine collaboration
was an important aim of the assignment, the use of English
for group discussions was encouraged, but not required. However,
all presentations had to be given in English, without using
notes. This was the students’ first experience in both
independent research and collaborative learning, so they were
guided through both processes by using specific cooperative
activities prepared by the instructor and assignment deadlines.
Taking into consideration not only the foreign language
needs—EFL reading, writing, listening and speaking skills,
as well as technical vocabulary expansion—but also the
overall educational needs of second-year university Engineering
EFL students, a collaborative instructional model with the
principal goals of creating a practical language learning
environment that would be conducive to effective learning
and nurturing the development of essential academic, professional
and social skills was designed. Specifically, the goals were
for students to:
- Use English in an authentic activity,
- Develop their cognitive and creative thinking skills,
- Improve their social skills through collaboration,
- Develop their research skills,
- Improve their computer skills, and
- Gain experience of giving a (PPT) presentation.
- Select a research topic: 52 students were randomly
divided into groups of 4–5. Each group selected a
research topic related to science, technology and society.
Due to time constraints the instructor provided a selection
of research topics from which the groups could choose. Examples
- Economic Growth and Human Development
- Energy—Fuels for the Future
- NASA Landsat Satellites
- Technology for Human Development
- Learn basic facts: All group members were responsible
for acquiring fundamental knowledge about the research topic.
For example the ‘NASA Landsat Satellites’ group
members had to answer questions such as:
General Group Outline: Students discussed the project
and each person decided on a specific aspect of the topic
(all related to society) that they would research. They
then outlined the way they would organise the group presentation.
- What is NASA?
- What is Landsat?
- What is the main job of Landsat satellites?
- Describe two ways in which the data from Landsat would
be useful to Japan. (Approach: Cooperative)
Individual Outline: This second outline showed
in greater detail, how the individuals in a group planned
to organise his/her research data.
Detailed Group Outline: This outline contained
the main points of each group member’s talk.
10-Minute Group Presentation: While one group
was presenting, the rest of the students were taking notes,
using the detailed outlines the groups had prepared. This
made it easier for students to follow the presentations.
Review: After the presentations, students had
25 minutes to speak with each other in order to confirm
information, gather missing data and study their notes.
Assessment: In the first class, students were
given assessment guidelines for the oral presentation. The
instructor did the assessment while the students were speaking.
Students were not required to assess themselves. However,
they were asked to make a personal assessment of their own
performance and those of other groups. Shortly after the
presentations, students were given 20 minutes to review
their notes and exchange information with their classmates.
During this time (in the same classroom) the instructor
typed 20 test questions based on the contents of the presentations
onto a PPT slide, and then had the students do a written
test (answer the test questions on the PPT slide) without
referring to their notes.
At the end of the course, by means of a short questionnaire,
students were asked about what they had learned and liked
about the experience. The students’ responses were overwhelmingly
- “I used the software for the first time.”
- “It was the first time for me to make a presentation.”
- “I learned new information.”
- “Talking to everybody.”
- “I learned a method for researching a topic.”
- “I could use the computer.”
- “Useful to understand my friend’s research.”
- “I learned to use the Internet.”
- “I gained knowledge about the topic I researched.”
The few students who answered negatively said:
- “It’s my weak point.”
- “I didn’t know how to use the computer.”
- “I can’t use PPT.”
- “A presentation in English is difficult.”
- “I can’t understand.”
In addition to researching English resources on the Internet,
learning relevant information and giving an oral presentation
in English, students also acquired elementary skills in collaboration,
data organisation, computer usage and note taking.
Brinton, D.M.; Snow, M.A. & Wesche, M.B. (1989). Content-based
Second Language Instruction. New York: Newbury House.
Gokhale, Anuradha A. (1995). ‘Collaborative Learning
Enhances Critical Thinking’. Journal of Technology
Education. (Last accessed 18 November 2003).
Hutchinson, T. & Waters, Alan. (1987). English for
Specific Purposes, A Learning-centred Approach. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, J. (2002). ‘Using Interactive Software for
the Independent Study and The Need for Teacher Training’. Globalizing Yamaguchi University, First Steps: A Language
Center for Functional Integrated Language Education.
Yamaguchi University Language Center Group. Yamaguchi, Japan.
Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, D. W. (1986). ‘Action
Research: Cooperative Learning in the Science Classroom’. Science and Children. Vol. 24, pp. 31–32.
Kessler, Kessler (Ed.). (1992). Cooperative Language
Learning, A Teacher’s Resource Book. New Jersey:
Prentice Hall Regents.
Panitz, Theodore. (1996). A Definition of Collaborative
vs Cooperative Learning.
(Last accessed: 18 November 2003).
Panitz, Theodore. (1997). ‘Collaborative Versus Cooperative
Learning: Comparing the Two Definitions Helps Understand the
Nature of Interactive Learning’. (Last accessed: 18 November 2003).
Skehan, Peter. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language
Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Slavin, R.E. (1989). ‘Research on Cooperative Learning:
An International Perspective’. Scandinavian Journal
of Educational Research. Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 231–243.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development
of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge: Harvard