Source: Teaching Education, 31:2, 127-143
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The present study was designed to investigate which variables influence student teachers’ willingness to use collaborative learning in their own teaching.
It examined student teachers’ personal characteristics, their experience with collaborative learning, their skills at using collaborative learning, and their attitudes and knowledge of this methodology.
The study examines a variety of factors (knowledge, attitudes, skills and experience) that may influence student teachers’ willingness to use collaborative methods in their instruction.
All of these factors are potentially relevant when planning teacher education programs geared toward preparing teachers to cope with the challenges of future generations.
The study utilized both quantitative and qualitative methods, based on a questionnaire that included closed and open-ended questions.
The use of the open questions enabled the researchers to understand the meanings ascribed to collaborative learning by the participants in the study.
In addition, the comparison between the qualitative and the quantitative data strengthened the interpretation of the results.
This study took place at a teachers’ college in Israel that grants a B.Ed., M.Ed. and teaching certificates for academics.
The administrative staff of the Faculty of Education distributed a questionnaire to 500 students of different departments.
The students were pre-service teachers from the undergraduate programs and in-service teachers from the graduate programs. Of these, a total of 305 responded.
The analysis of the demographic questions in the questionnaire provided a characterization of the sample that included three variables: Gender, Age, and Degree.
The data were collected at the end of the school year by means of a Students’ questionnaire.
The questionnaire was based on the ‘collaborative learning’ questionnaire for instructors, which had been administered in a previous study and revealed the difference in the use of collaborative learning between women and men, lecturers and pedagogical advisors, and lecturers in the undergraduate and the graduate programs (Shonfeld & Weinberger, in press).
The questionnaire included one multiple-choice question about the respondent’s experience in collaborative learning, three open-ended questions, and 20 statements to be rated on a five-point Likert scale.
It consisted of five parts, according to the themes of the study:
(1) knowledge about collaborative learning,
(2) attitudes towards collaborative learning,
(3) previous experience with collaborative learning,
(4) skills required to practice collaborative learning, and
(5) willingness to implement it. Knowledge of the characteristics of collaborative learning was addressed with an open question and 13 statements about its advantages and disadvantages.
The fifth part had one question that dealt with students’ willingness to integrate collaborative learning in their teaching (Willingness).
This was the dependent variable.
Findings and discussion
The factors found to be most influential toward student teachers’ willingness to use collaborative practices are their attitudes and their feelings of being skilled in this approach.
Attitudes were found to be mainly affected by students’ knowledge of collaborative learning’s advantages and disadvantages, as well as by their former experience.
Student teachers’ sense of being skilled was found to be affected by their knowledge of the disadvantages of collaborative learning and by their experience.
Although the student teachers’ prior experience was relatively high, it was not found to greatly influence their knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of collaborative learning.
These were found to be important factors in shaping the student teachers’ attitudes and their feeling of competence in using collaborative learning practices.
One possible explanation for this finding is that students experienced collaborative learning as learners but were not exposed directly and systematically to the philosophical knowledge and the principles of the collaborative learning (CL) pedagogy as a whole.
Students’ perceptions of collaborative learning, as shown in the qualitative analysis, contained references to both its advantages and disadvantages, with emphasis on its social benefits.
The quantitative findings support this conclusion, as the highest scores in students’ responses about the characteristics of collaborative learning referred to its advantages in fostering the exchange of knowledge and experience, enhancing communication skills, and making new friends.
The students’ perception of collaborative learning reflects the active involvement that social interactions and dialogical processes enable in the construction of knowledge and the production of meaning.
This perspective, rooted in social constructivism, is reinforced by the findings of a study carried out with in-service teachers in Ireland, which highlighted the centrality of the pupils in creating cognitive and affective knowledge during collaborative instruction (Austin, Smyth, Rickard, QuirkBolt & Metcalfe, 2010).
The teacher’s role, therefore, is to guide and direct students through the process of constructing knowledge by means of dialog and discourse (Libman, 2014).
The authors’ findings also indicate that there is no difference based on gender, age and degree in respondents’ willingness to integrate collaborative learning.
In this, they correspond to the findings of De Hei et al. (2015), who investigated lecturers’ beliefs about collaborative learning and did not find any gender differences.
However, the undergraduate respondents reported experiencing more collaborative learning in their courses than the graduate students did.
This may be due to the extended practical part of their training program (field practice), which prepares them to teach and includes opportunities for the actual implementation of various teaching methods in the educational field.
Indeed, in a previous study it was found that the pedagogical advisors, who are in charge of practical training, integrate collaborative learning into their lessons far more frequently than other faculty members (Shonfeld & Weinberger, in press).
It is important to note that those pedagogical advisors teach only undergraduate students, and that they promote the practice of CL in teaching.
The undergraduates, who had more practice in collaborative learning in their college classes, rated the disadvantages of collaborative learning more prominently than their colleagues in the graduate programs. There may be several reasons for their more negative impression of collaborative learning, compared to the graduate students’ more positive perception.
Conceivably, undergraduate students’ perceptions are based on the fact they mainly experience collaborative learning as learners, while the graduate students are experienced teachers, who might have had prior opportunities to implement various methodologies in their classrooms.
Another possible explanation is that these perceptual differences are due to graduate students’ position as advanced academic learners, with deeper instructional perspectives.
Based on the outcome of this study, the authors recommend that, alongside active experience with the method, teacher education should include the study of its theoretical and methodological aspects.
This might include the history of the development of collaborative learning, for example, pointing out the differences between collaborative learning and cooperative learning, exploring the development of the levels of CL and of various methods and models (Johnson & Johnson, 2009), or the affinity between CL’s rationale and constructivist learning theories, like, for example, the OCL (Online Collaborative Learning) theories (Harasim, 2012).
In addition, at the completion of a collaborative activity or task, it is highly recommended to conduct a discussion in which participants reflect on their personal experiences.
This is the instructor’s opportunity to point out the connection between students’ reflections, the theories underlying the task, and the behaviors it demonstrated.
Austin, R., Smyth, J., Rickard, A., Quirk-Bolt, N., & Metcalfe, N. (2010). Collaborative digital learning in schools: Teacher perceptions of purpose and effectiveness. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19(3), 327–343
De Hei, M. S. A., Strijbos, J. W., Sjoer, E., & Admiraal, W. (2015). Collaborative learning in higher education: Lecturers’ practices and beliefs. Research Papers in Education, 30(2), 232–247
Harasim, L. (2012). Learning theory and online technology: How new technologies are transforming learning opportunities. New York, NY: Routledge Press
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2009). An educational psychology success story: Social interdependence theory and cooperative learning. Educational Researcher, 38(5), 365–379.
Libman, Z. (2014, April 3–7). Learner performance in statistics: A comparison of three instructional constructivist-based approaches. AERA (American Educational Research Association) Meeting, Philadelphia.
Shonfeld, M., & Weinberger, Y. (in press). What influences teacher educator’ use of collaborative learning? In M. Shonfeld & D. Gibson (Eds.), Collaborative earning in a Global World. NY: IAP.