In collaborative learning (CL) the teacher plays a critical role in contributing to students’ engagement and the success of the group task as a whole (Johnson et al, 2000). Teachers introduce students to the processes of CL by making explicit how to work in groups, express ideas, and seek help from each other, in order to help students to create new ways of thinking and doing (Gillies, 2006).
According to Blatchford et al., (2003:167-168), there are four ways in which teachers can make group work effective. Firstly, teachers may need to consider the content of group tasks and ensure that at least some of the content is fun. In doing so, students’ involvement can be increased.
Secondly, there is the need for ‘scaffolding’ to be put in place. The term was first used by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), within the context of teacher-student interactions, and has a central place in the Vygotskian account of CL. ‘Scaffolding’ may involve, for example, structuring the group work context and the task in hand.
Thirdly, for CL to be able to transfer control of learning more to the students, teachers may need to play the role of guides rather than directors. This is a very important shift in role that will enable teachers to find much more time for observing, exploring, questioning and reflecting.
Finally, the teacher needs to structure lessons carefully to facilitate learning in groups. Group tasks should include briefing and debriefing in order to make sure all students understand the tasks. Above all, however, and implicit in all these points, is the conception that teachers should be enthusiastic about the exercise and benefits of group working.
In terms of organising international students of Asian countries to work effectively in groups, further considerations are needed. Their prior educational experiences influence the learning, thinking and speaking styles of international students. When forming the kind of groups needed for successful CL, cultural issues must be recognised from the outset. The issues may include cultural background, ability of students, work attitude, ethnicity, personality, social class, gender and special needs (Moore, 2005). It is important to improve teachers’ cultural awareness (Eilisha, 2007). Further, inadequate language skills are often understood as one of the difficulties for international students. So teachers may need to avoid using unknown concepts, acronyms and anecdotes, when asking international students to work cooperatively (Bulut, 2010).
Lei, B. (2010) An investigation of East-Asian international students’ perception of collaborative learning within social sciences departments in England. Dissertation for MA International Education, University of Leicester Express.