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The Learning Conference 2003

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Student Perceptions of Learning Together

Dr Kam Wing CHAN.

This study aims to investigate the change in perceptions of student teachers in Hong Kong towards learning collaboratively, with a view to facilitating the implementation of co-operative learning in teacher education courses, so that the student teachers are better equipped with the skills of employing co-operative learning as one of their teaching strategies in their teaching careers to achieve the 21st century educational aims. The aims of education for the 21st Century focus mostly on enabling every person to develop critical thinking, as well as building self-confidence and a team spirit, so that s/he is capable of life-long learning. Research shows that co-operative learning develops higher-order thinking skills (Mathews et al., 1995), enhances motivation, improves interpersonal relations (Slavin et al., 1991) and class cohesion (Johnson, Johnson, Buckman & Richards, 1985).

Cooperative learning is sometimes regarded by some researchers as very similar to peer tutoring or classroom group work in which students learn collaboratively. For the purposes of this research, cooperative learning is defined as “the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning” (Johnson & Johnson, 1999, p. 5). The Johnsons emphasise that cooperative learning does not simply mean placing learners in small groups to work on a task; it requires structured goal interdependence and individual accountability (Slavin, 1990; Kagan, 1990), face-to-face promotive interaction, interpersonal and small group skills, as well as group processing (Antil et al, 1998; Johnson & Johnson, 1999), resulting in effective collaborative learning. Local research on co-operative learning or students’ learning collaboratively is scarce. There were a few studies on students in secondary (Chan, 1998; Lai, 1993) and special schools (Chen, 1990). Most of these studies focussed on comparing the effectiveness of co-operative learning approach with the traditional approach. Two studies which was carried out at the tertiary level viewed co-operative learning from the perspective of students (Flowerdew, 1997; Lam, 1997). Limited research had been conducted in teacher education to investigate whether co-operative learning can also be used in teacher education programmes (Govindarajan, 1993; Hwong et al, 1993), however, the results were not convincing. Student teachers will be more confident to implement co-operative learning if they have experienced it themselves. When student teachers have possessed the conception of co-operative learning and believe it works, it is more probable that they will implement it at school. Only a small-scale action research was performed by Chan (2000) on the perceptions of student teachers in the HKIEd. The result had little generalizability.

This study aims to investigate the perceptions of student teachers in Hong Kong towards learning collaboratively. A questionnaire survey to investigate perceptions of learning collaboratively will be administered to a sample (n=80) chosen from the researchers’ students, to whom an intervention is to be conducted. During the intervention, the researchers will use co-operative learning as the main teaching strategy to teach their students, who will be surveyed twice, one before and one after the intervention, by the same questionnaire to assess the change, if any, in their perceptions towards learning collaboratively. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted to 20% of these students (n=16), selected by stratified sampling, to include three categories of students according to their degree of participation in learning collaboratively (high participation, moderate participation, low participation), which is assessed by the researchers’observation during class, as well as their peers' comments, to collect in-depth information regarding learning collaboratively. The result suggests that their perceptions towards learning collaboratively changed moderately after they had experienced cooperative learning in their classes. For example, they tended to think that the possibility of chatting while working on a group discussion was low and they would feel less embarrassed when they expressed different views as other group members. Implications to the ways how to change students' perceptions towards learning style will be drawn.


Dr Kam Wing CHAN  (China)
Lecturer in Curriculum and Instruction
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
The Hong Kong Institute of Education

  • Cooperative learning
  • Change of perceptions
  • Learning style

(Virtual Presentation, English)