Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students' Experiences of Small Group Projects at a University in Canada: The Significance of Relationships and Identity Building Processes to the Realisation of Cooperative Learning
de Silva, Moira Eilona Margaret
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Cooperative learning is a pedagogic approach that is prevalent in all levels of education as it is seen to yield higher learning outcomes than individual learning (Johnson & Johnson, 2009). In the global university, it is believed to have the potential of increasing intercultural contact since students work together in small groups to conduct projects related to their discipline. The assumption is that students will learn the intercultural skills they need for an interconnected world by studying and learning in groups with linguistically and ethnically diverse others (Association of Community Colleges Canada, 2010). Although cooperative learning is based on social interdependence in which group members work together for the mutual benefit of their group, there has been very little research conducted into the relationships that the group members actually have with each other. It is the aim of this study to examine these relationships and find out their impacts on cooperative learning experiences. Drawing upon insights from pragmatism and dialogism, in this thesis, learning is conceptualised as an embodied, socially situated, and relational process. This means that the key to learning is the relationships that learners can construct with others. An integral part of forming relationships is the negotiation of identities in which people see themselves and others as certain kinds of people. In learning in cooperative groups, the ability to negotiate legitimate, competent identities is regarded as essential. For this reason, the study reported in this thesis uses a view of identity as socially constructed as a lens though which to analyse relationships in cooperative learning. The study focuses on the experiences of 12 students participating in group learning projects in first year business courses. Narrative inquiry is the methodology used as it is ideal for highlighting the complexities in human relationships and issues of power. The narratives of four international, four Canadian immigrant, and four Canadian-born students are analysed. A key finding from the analysis is that the relationship students are able to negotiate in cooperative groups and the types of identities they are able to construct with others strongly impacts their learning. There appeared to be a hierarchical order to student identities in groups with Canadian-born students assuming more powerful identities. Frequently these students are results oriented showing only interest in achieving high marks in their group projects. This leads to an absence of emotional connectedness amongst students and a disregard for the process aspect of working together which is core to cooperative learning. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the ways that cooperative learning could be changed to make it more process oriented. Finally, I make recommendations for further research which can build on the findings from this study.