Issues involved in promoting collaborative learning

A teacher’s challenge in a modern well-run classroom is to encourage situations where the students participate and communicate with each other and interact with the course materials. However there are problems in course design; what works for some students might not work for others. Consider some of the reasons:

  • lingusitic differences. In many western universities, everyone can speak English at a fairly high level, but not everyone is a native speaker.
  • genders. Males and females communicate differently. I know that for a fact because I read Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars. And anyway, there’s other stuff on the web about it. For example here.
  • ethnography, religious or cultural backgrounds.

Here is a group of students at UBC. A superficial glance indicates a fairly diverse group. The breadth of their collective experience should be valuable in collaborative learning. But as each brings his/her culture into the collaborative environment, there are different behavioral norms, there are culturally defined power relationships, and endless possibilities for miscommunication.

Even in a relatively homogeneous setting like a Japanese university classroom, issues arise when the teacher asks students to collaborate and get on with some task. Who will be the first to speak? Who will get the ball rolling? How can one student voice a good idea without causing others to lose face?