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"It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed." ~ Napoleon Hill

Achieving SLOs Through Collaborative Learning


I believe in collaborative learning.

In fact, in 1995, I wrote and presented during the Continuing Professional Development Program Mid-Year In-Service Training on Research Forum held at the Saint Michael's College of Laguna (Philippines), where I used to teach, an action research about the benefits of integrating technology with collaborative learning to motivate students in taking responsibility for their own education.

Despite the benefits of collaboration, however, I seldom use it in the classes that I teach now. More time is usually consumed in this type of learning environment, yet I have schedules to follow and deadlines to meet.

Well... Something happened in my accounting class recently that forced me to reconsider my options.


MY ACCOUNTING 1 (AC 131) CLASS

I normally spend the first 20-30 minutes discussing the lesson(s) for the day, covering one or more SLOs. During these discussions, I present illustrative examples, interspersed with graphics and animation, to keep the students' attention and help them understand better. I encourage them to ask questions. Ninety percent of the time, no one does. And when I follow up with "So is everything clear?" they nod or say yes. Hence we move on.

What follows is a class work. They are given an accounting problem to solve, oftentimes similar to the examples shown, which will require them to apply the principles, procedures and techniques just discussed. The activity keeps everyone engaged for the remainder of the class period.

Obviously, some students in the class are buddies. They are seated close to one another, and they tend to work together. However, although this is an "open notes, open books" activity and they are permitted to consult with their classmates for help, I notice that many students would rather work alone. If one such student gets stuck with an item in the problem, that's when he or she comes to me for assistance.


ASSESSMENT RESULTS

Whenever we finish a chapter, I give a quiz to assess if the students achieved the desired learning outcomes.

For several semesters that I have been using this teaching methodology which I developed over the years, I was convinced of its effectiveness and quite satisfied with the results.

Well, guess what? This time around, when I saw the results of our most recent quiz, I was in for a disturbing surprise: Half the class failed in one section, and only one student passed with a "C" (no one got higher!) in another section. This is unacceptable.


COLLABORATIVE ACTIVITY

The following meeting, I gave their corrected papers back. Instead of the planned activities for that day, I decided to divide the class into two groups: those who got 70% or higher in the problem quiz, and those who got lower. Then, I instructed the students to pair themselves (i.e., one student from the first group to partner with one student from the second group).

I did the same in the next section. But instead of grouping them, I simply told everyone to get a partner and work together with that person.

Finally, I told them to discuss the problem quiz between themselves, and help each other understand the solutions, explaining the "why" and showing the "how".

That same day I sent this email message to those who partcipated in the class activity.

Dear AC 131 Students,
   
Today I divided the class into two groups and asked each student from one group to help a fellow student in the other group by discussing the problem quiz in Chapter 5, explaining the 'why' and showing the 'how'.
   
I am interested in knowing what you think about this activity. (A) Do you think it helped? (B) Were lessons understood better by you or your classmate as a result of your collaborative efforts? Or (C) do you think it was a waste of classroom time and didn't accomplish any purpose?
   
Please email me back with your answers to the above questions as soon as you receive this message. In addition, please feel free to add your own observations and comments. And if you have any questions, please let me know.
   
Regards,
   
Your Accounting Instructor



STUDENT FEEDBACK

I received only one email reply. Apparently, since it was a weekend, students were unable to access or open their emails. So when the class met again on the following Monday, I displayed the questions on the board, and asked them to write their answers on paper.

Here's a summary of their responses:

      
(A)
ALL 20 students said the activity was helpful.

(B)
18 of 20 students said either one or both (partners) understood the lessons better as a result of their collaborative efforts.

(C)
ALL 20 students said they don't think it was a waste of classroom time.


Among their notable comments were as follows:

"Students (including myself) learn easily from classmates because they’re not afraid to ask their classmates. So I was glad we did this. He made me realize my own mistakes (why) and (I was) able to correct them."

"My classmates seemed to understand what I tried to explain. I even understood the problem more as I tried to explain to the others."
   
"I’d say that this activity was quite helpful since some students tend to learn better from each other rather than their instructors. This doesn’t mean that the instructor has poor lecturing. It just means that some students have different ways of learning."

"Please continue to use this activity in class. It does help to get other perspective and help from fellow classmate on the same subject matter and the help on the activity went both ways so I think it was beneficial for both parties. Thanks."
   
"I believe the reason was that because we speak our language and understand it more clearly."
   
"I think we should do this a lot because not only that it would help us learn from one another but also help us getting to know what we both don’t know and ask you."
   
"As I am observing this activity in this class, I believe that it is the best. I really wish it to be like this throughout the semester."


Some students agreed that we should continue to do this activity. Others suggested that we should do this more often.


You can view the complete responses and comments/observations written by the students by clicking on this link.


CONCLUSION

The activity itself took only about 30 minutes of class time. Yet the lessons gained from the experience, and the feedback that I got from my students, not only reestablished my faith in the collaborative learning process; it definitely influenced the way I intend to conduct my classes in the future. For the better, I'm sure.



Rafael Pulmano, CPA, MBA
Associate Professor
Business Administration Division
College of Micronesia–FSM

March 2, 2014



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