Madhu Neupani
Collaborative Learning
-Madhu Neupane (madhukneupane@gmail.com)

The role of education is enabling learners to develop creative thinking which, in turn, leads to the creation of new knowledge and serves the society. This role of education is not fulfilled if the system of education emphasizes the transmission model by considering learners to be the blank vessels. Collaborative learning based on constructivism is believed to empower learners by developing critical thinking in them. However, in the context of Nepal transmission model of education rather than constructivism seems to have been emphasized thereby raising question to the main aim of education that is fostering inner potentiality of learners.

The distinction between collaborative and cooperative learning made by Kozar (2010) is really convincing.  According to Smith (1995 as cited in Kozar 2010, p.16), cooperative learning can be defined as “working together to accomplish shared goals”. Since this is a shared goal, work can be divided in parts and learners can carry out the parts independently without consulting others. Nelson agrees with Smith (2008 as cited in Kozar 2010, p. 17) when he says, “A cooperative enterprise could in some way be done, as long as you have enough time and other resources, by a single person”. It just may be a matter of time and resources required to fulfill the task. Since individual learners are likely to work on their own they are less likely to learn from each other. I sometimes use this type of work in my class especially while dealing with reading comprehension exercises. Such comprehension questions based on the reading texts are important for learners because they help the learners understand a given text better. Better comprehension is prerequisite to other higher order skills. With the texts with many such questions, I assign different questions to different learners in pair or individual basis and ask them to find the answers to the questions. They find the answers, underline it in the text and report it to the whole class. All the other students get benefits from that. I have found it effective and time saving. At the same time students do like it, too.

A similar activity is assigning different paragraphs to different learners for identifying main ideas. When different learners have main ideas for different paragraphs, the whole text can be summarized. In my opinion, the cooperative learning is something like the sum of its parts.  The educational value of such exercises can never be minimized for it contributes to learning in some way and there is a sense of working together as well.

Collaborative learning, on the other hand, is more than sum of its parts. When different parts are combined a unique thing, which is not in any part, develops. It is something like human body. If we divide a human body into parts, we cannot find humanness in any part.  However, when all the parts function together there is something unique that is humanness. In this regard, it would be relevant to quote McInerney and Robert (2004,p. 205 as cited in Kozar 2010,p.16) who say, “Collaborative learning is a method that implies working in a group of two or more to achieve a common goal while respecting each individual’s contribution to the whole”. Here the difference between cooperative learning and collaborative learning lies in “shared goal” and “common goal”. While a shared goal can be accomplished by working in isolation, working together is imperative to achieve a common goal. The strength of collaborative learning lies in the principle that “two heads are better than one” or by the same token “more heads are better than one”. While working together, different people come up with different ideas and the synthesis of the ideas leads to something new which, otherwise, would not have been possible.

I have used this activity successfully in my class. Once I took my students out of class in the sun for it was winter season and sat them in a circle. The task was writing a one sentence story. I made the rule or the nature of work clear before they started to work. One student was supposed to write one sentence at a time and next student had to add a sentence related to the first one. Similarly the third student had to add a sentence by reading the two preceding sentences. Then the process continued until all the students got chance. (Depending on the availability of time there can be second or third round as well.) At the end the students read their stories from beginning to end, edited it in the group and produced the final story. I was really amazed by their product. They would not have written a story if they were asked to do so in isolation but while they were doing the same thing in group they did not realize it. I was so happy to see the sense of satisfaction in their faces.

Constructivism and social constructivism both give priority to meaningful learning that is making learning applicable in real life. Both of these theories seem to be better than the instructivst theory which gives priority to transmission of knowledge by considering it to be an end in itself. According to Schcolnic, Kol and Abarbanel (2006, p. 13), constructivism, a theory of learning propounded by Piaget posits out, “students learn by actively constructing their own knowledge” rather than just getting knowledge. Social constructivism, a theory propounded by Vygotsky, emphasizes the role of society in the construction of knowledge. Both the theories underscore the learner centered approaches to learning. I do agree with Schcolnick et al. (2006, p. 14) when they say, “Construction of knowledge leads to authentic authorship and ownership. The knowledge becomes part of the learner, and the learner emerges empowered”. This proposition highlights the fact that when learners are involved in the creation of knowledge, they get a sense of achievement and feel empowered because they are in the position to contribute something new for the society. This type of critical thinking challenges status quo there by leading society in the path of progress.

However, language classes in Nepal can be considered to be closer to instructivist classes for reading materials are usually prescribed, questions are prepared by teachers, emphasis is given on right answers, and assessment is usually straightforward and quick. We, teachers, are more concerned with the completion of course and administration is also concerned with the same. Since the questions are straightforward, students can do better even without their ability to construct any knowledge. I think, because of this system of education, in most of the cases, learners’ creativity has been killed.

In conclusion, we can say that collaborative work is in line with constructivism which leads to creation of new knowledge thereby providing the learners with the great sense of achievement and empowerment. Therefore, the importance of constructivism as well as collaborative learning in language class cannot be overemphasized.

References

Kozar, O. (2006). Towards better group work: Seeing the difference between cooperation and collaboration.  English Teaching Forum, 48( 2), 12-21.

Schcolnik, M., Kol, S., & Abarbanel, J. (2006). Constructivism in theory and in practice. English Teaching Forum, 44 (4), 16-23.

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