The worldwide need to develop collaborative habits.
Collaborative habits are needed all around the world and there is a variety of educational approaches that involves joint intellectual efforts by students, or students and teachers together. In this era of great developments in communication technologies that facilitates access to resources and people, what students need worldwide is working in groups in order to mutually search for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating something together (Beichner & Saul, 2003). Collaborative English language learning activities vary widely, but most center on students’ exploration or application of the language, not simply the teacher’s presentation or explication of it. It represents a significant shift away from the typical teacher-centered or lecture-centered lesson in school or university classrooms. What teachers need in the English language classroom is not only the lecturing, listening and note-taking process, but students’ discussion and active work with the English course material they have. Language teachers worldwide need to use collaborative learning approaches that help them tend to think of themselves less as expert transmitters of knowledge to students, and more as expert designers of intellectual experiences for students coaches of a more emergent learning process (Smith. & MacGregor, 1992).
The benefits collaboration can bring into the language learning class.
Since learning is an active and constructive process, collaboration is a way in which language learning students can benefit learning new information, ideas or language skills workinhg actively with other classmates in purposeful ways. In collaborative learning situations, students are not simply taking in new information or ideas, they are creating something new with the information and ideas. These acts of intellectual processing of constructing meaning or creating something new are crucial to language learning. The language classroom also benefits because collaborative learning activities immerse students in challenging tasks or questions (Dillenbourg, 1999). Rather than beginning with facts and ideas and then moving to applications, collaborative learning activities frequently begin with problems, for which students must marshal pertinent facts and ideas. Instead of being distant observers of questions and answers, or problems and solutions, students become immediate ractitioners. Rich contexts challenge students to practice and develop higher order reasoning and problem solving skills in the second language. Language students bring multiple perspectives to the classroom; diverse backgrounds, learning styles, experiences, and aspirations. As teachers, we can no longer assume a one-size-fits- all approach. When students work together on their learning in the language class, we get a direct and immediate sense of how they are learning, and what experiences and ideas they bring to their classwork (Funaro, 1999). The diverse perspectives that emerge in collaborative activities are clarifying but not just for us. They are illuminating for our students as well. Another benefit that collaboration brings to the language learning class is that it allows for student talk: students who are learning English are supposed to talk with each other, and it is in this talking that much of the learning occurs (Golub, 1988).
The strategies needed from the teacher to promote collaboration.
Collaborative learning covers a broad territory of strategies with wide variability in the amount of in-class or out-of-class time built around group work. Collaborative language activities can range from classroom discussions interspersed with short lectures, through class periods to study the language in teams or carry out projects that can last a whole school term or year. The goals and processes of collaborative startegies also vary widely. Some language teachers design small group work around specific sequential steps, or tightly structured tasks. Others prefer a more spontaneous agenda developing out of student interests or questions. In some collaborative language learning settings, the students’ task is to create a clearly delineated project; in others, the task is not to produce a project, but rather to participate in a process, an exercise of responding to each other’s work or engaging in analysis and meaning-making. The use of cooperative learning is a strategy that encourages language students to work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning” (Johnson, 1990).
Problem-centered instruction is another strategy built around collaborative learning which fosters discussion-based teaching and gives students direct experiential encounters with real-world problems to use the language. Students are immersed in complex problems that they must analyze and work through together. These startegies develop problem-solving abilities, understanding of complex relationships, and decisionmaking in the face of uncertainty. Case studies can also be used by the teacher to pomote collaboration in the classroom (Harding, 1993). A story or narrative of a real life situation sets up a problem or unresolved tension for the students to analyze and resolve using the second language. The use of cases promotes collaborative learning as it frequently asks small groups of students to tackle cases in language class or in study group sessions.
Simulations are among other collaborative strategies that can be used in the language classroom since these structured role-playing situations simúlate real experiences and most of tehm ask students, working individually or in teams, to play different roles in a situation or an unfolding drama that requires collaboration among students. The key aspect of simulations, though, is that of perspective-taking, both during the simulation exercise and afterwards. Following the simulation, there is usually a lengthy discussion where students reflect on the simulation and explore their own actions and those of others. This is where important concepts and lessons emerge.
Writing groups also promote collaborative learning. Peer writing involves students working in small groups at every stage of the writing process. Many writing groups begin as composing groups: they formulate ideas, clarify their positions, test an argument or focus a thesis statement before committing it to paper. This shared composing challenges students to think through their ideas out loud, to hear what they “sound like,” so they will know “what to say” in writing (Mitnik, 2009). Writing groups also serve as peer response groups. Students exchange their written drafts of papers and get feedback on them either orally or in writing. This is a challenging process, one that requires students to read and listen to fellow students’ writing with insight, and to make useful suggestions for improvement. Finally, discussion groups and seminars are collaborative strategies that encourage student dialogue with teachers and with each other. Open-ended discussion or seminars give the opportunity to students to pose questions and build a conversation in the context of the topic at hand using the second language.
The tools that can be used to teach collaborative skills.
When students work together they learn from one another and extend their interaction and language learning outside of the classroom. When properly applied, technology can eliminate barriers to collaboration and provide a comfortable setting for student collaboration and cooperation. ICTs enable convenient collaboration from any place and at any time allowing archive meeting notes and student exchanges. They provide students with experience and support in teamwork and help them learn from each other.
Email and a suite of other tools in this category can help language teachers disseminate information widely and set up alternative forums for language class discussions, extending the opportunity for students to exchange ideas outside the classroom. Students may continue small group discussions through a threaded newsgroup. Language study groups and project teams can also coordinate their efforts online through email and online discussion groups (Lee & Smagorinsky, 2000).
Collaboration often requires a convenient place for documents and other files to be saved that all group members can access. ShareSpaces is a tool that language teachers can use to create a shared space in which to store group files, and give group members access to it. Teachers can allow other teachers and students to view and download the files, or also give the group members permission to update the language file. GoPost is another tool that allows teachers to create a Web-based discussion board where their language students can compare notes, discuss assignments, post attachments, and work together online. Language teachers have control over who has access to the GoPost forum, and they can even allow students to use pseudonyms to make them feel more comfortable.
Wiki is another useful tool to teach collaborative skills. The advantage is that this Web site can be viewed and easily edited by anyone with Internet access and a Web browser (Oblinger, 2004). Wikis can be a very useful tool for student collaboration and cooperation. Not only can students easily collaborate on a project using a wiki, they can also easily make it public and invite experts, teachers or other students in the field to react to their contribution.