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The review of the literature is organized in seven themes. The first theme aims to provide an overall overview on the history and previous studies made on Cooperative Learning. The second theme addresses the importance of Cooperative Learning. Then, the third and fourth themes focus on Group Work and its benefits. Followed by, are the fifth and sixth themes base on the positive perceptions and experiences from students using group work and use of Group work in accounting class. The seveseventh section which is the last one of the literature review enumerates some of the criticisms of using group work as a teaching and learning strategy.
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2.1 History of Cooperative learning
The origin of the Cooperative Learning dated back at least 100 years ago, and even thousands of years ago, but little research was made until the 1960s (Jacobs et al., 2002:2). Since then, it has awakened much attention and has constantly been a hot topic in education.
From 1960s till today great importance has been attached to the term Cooperative Learning. For instance, in the mid 1960s Johnson and Johnson contributed much for cooperative learning in the training of teachers at the University of Minnesota. Then, it progressed till the early 1970s where researchers like David DeVries and Keith Edwards at Johns Hopkins University built up Teams-Games-Tournaments and other researchers like Sholmo and Yael Sharan in Israel developed the group investigation procedure for the Cooperative Learning groups.
In the late 1970s Robert Slavin extended DeVries and Edwards’ work at Johns Hopkins into Student Teams-Achievement Divisions and modifying computer-assisted instruction into Team-assisted Instruction. At the same time, Spencer Kagan created the Co-op co-op procedure. Followed by, in the 1980s Donald Dansereau widened a number of cooperative scripts, and many other individuals worked out further cooperative procedures (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991).The Cooperative Learning has also been found as an effective epitome of communicative language teaching. As affirmed by Putnam (1995) that “The Cooperative Learning is embraced within a communicative language teaching framework” He also pointed out that the cooperative learning activities are often used in communicative language teaching
Cooperative learning has become so common that it is no more considered as a new idea in education. This can be viewed in the mid of 20th century where applications of cooperative learning drew its development to sociology and social psychology specifically to Gordon Allport’s Social Contact Theory and Morton Deutsch’s studies of group dynamics. This continues on, as Cooperative Learning is believed to make educational magic in a uniquely 21st century way.
2.2 Definitions of Cooperative learning
It is believed that the use of cooperative learning in the classroom as an instructional strategy had been a subject matter for many years. Jenkins and O’Connor (1996) suggested that cooperative learning in the classroom is amongst the best strategies for teaching students with and without disabilities in the classroom. As a result, the success of teaching using cooperative learning was conclusive in almost all studies.
To begin with, it can be noted that many scholars and researchers have attempted to investigate into the concept of Cooperative Learning. In view of that different definitions have been given to Cooperative learning.
According to Slavin (1983) Cooperative learning has been defined as a teaching strategy that encourages students to work in “small, heterogeneous learning groups” in order to promote individual learning. The fact that learning groups should be mixed or diverse is significant to ensure that learners can learn from each other, and provide encouragement and support to each other in different aspects and at different levels of the curriculum. Likewise, cooperative learning has generally avowed to be the best option for all students since it emphasizes active interaction between students of diverse abilities and backgrounds (Nelson, Gallagher, & Coleman, 1993; Tsai, 1998; Wei, 1997; Yu, 1995).
The accepted idea proposed in these different definitions by different authors is that Cooperative learning should be taken as a learning approach in which student are grouped together in order to ensure that they help each other in learning an academic subject in the scope of a common goal and also where they are actively participating in the teaching-learning process
2.3 Importance of Cooperative Learning
Today cooperative learning is a matter-of-fact in almost all school content areas and, progressively more, in college and university contexts all over the world (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Kessler, 1992). This could be found in the results of several studies of the cooperative learning literature where Springer, Stanne, and Donovan (1997) acknowledged that there is the need for a shift in importance from teaching to learning.
At the very first glance, it might seem that cooperative learning is merely the splitting up of students with varying levels in small groups in order to attain common goals. Things; though, are not always what they appear to be. In reality, cooperative learning goes beyond organizing students.
For example, as stated by Crandall (1999) “Cooperative learning is more than just small group activity. In a well-structured cooperative task, there is a genuine information gap, requiring learners to both listen and contribute to the development of an oral, written or other product which represents the group’s efforts, knowledge and perspectives.”
Many studies have been conducted vis-à-vis the effectiveness of such cooperative learning approaches. Cooperative learning is group learning activity planned so that learning is reliant on the socially structured exchange of information between learners in groups and in which each learner is held accountable for his or her own learning and is motivated to increase the learning of others. (Olsen & Kagan, 1992).
In addition Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean T. MacGregor (1992) mentioned collaborative learning as an “umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together”. Drawing from this quotation, it can be said that to some extent together with cooperative learning, collaborative learning activities also cover a broad territory of approaches such as classroom discussions intersperse with short lectures, peer teaching, students put together around group work in the amount of in-class or out-of-class time and others. Nunan (1992), for instance, uses the terms cooperative learning and collaborative learning interchangeably and quotes the following definition: “Collaborative learning entails students working together to achieve common learning goals.”(Slavin, 1983; Sharan et al. 1984). But for this study our prime focus is on group work.
2.4 Definition of Group Work
Toseland and Rivas (1984) described group work as a goal directed activity with small groups of people aimed at achieving socio-emotional needs and completing tasks. Normally, this activity is aimed at individual members of a group and to the group as a whole within a system of service delivery.
The use of group work has been broadly accepted as an effective teaching and learning tool (Conway, Kember, Sivan, & Wu, 1993; Freeman, 1995). More precisely, there is a substantial body of literature advocates that the use of group work as a cooperative learning approach has positively contributes to student learning (James, 2005; Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000; Roberts, 2004; Rossin & Hyland, 2003).
Furthermore, as stated by Lundgren (2008) cooperative learning was considered as a relationship in a group of students that requires positive interdependence, individual accountability, interpersonal skills, face-to-face positive interaction, and processing. Infrequently, random or special interest teams could be formed to maximize student talents or meet a specific student need (Kagan, 1994).
2.5 Benefits of Group work
2.5.1 Group Work enhance Learning
To start with, it is recognized that engaging students in Cooperative learning make them learn best when they are actively involved in the process (Gross Davis, B 1993) and also Cooperative learning involves groups of students working to complete a common task together (Siegel, 2005). It has also been viewed by Vygotsky (1978) that students perform at higher levels when they work in diverse groups, as opposed to working individually. Furthermore, as asserted by Johnson and Johnson (1987) huge majority of the research comparing student-student interaction patterns indicated that students learn more effectively when they work cooperatively.
Other investigators like Cotterill and Mills (1994), in Australia at Wollongong University, stated that all three benefits of group work in their assessment policy, “Group work, under proper conditions, encourages peer learning and peer support and many studies validate the efficacy of peer learning.” It is said that teachers also get satisfaction with the integration of cooperative learning groups (Linchevski & Kutscher, 1998). It is so because the use of small groups requires fundamental changes not only in the organization of the classroom but also in ways of learning (Kramarski & Mevarech, 2003).
Likewise, cooperative learning facilitate individuals to develop their own understanding as cooperative learning approaches force learners to actively relate their own experiences and perceptions to those of others. Consequently, while interacting in cooperative learning activities individual understandings are verbalized and discussed and in the process of discussion new meanings are created as learners help each other to better understand the learning matter. (e.g. Akan, 2005; Anderson et al, 1996; Kalliath et al, 2006).
It is at this point interesting to note that Anderson et al (1996) put forward that group learning has become more important, as institutions of higher learning consist of increasing numbers of mature learners who bring life and work experience into the classrooms. Therefore, these mature learners return to formal education because rapid social, economic and technological changes require them to be lifelong learners with transferable skills.
2.5.2 Group Work and its 21st Century Skills
Using Group work as a teaching and learning strategy does not only promote cognitive development but also plays an important role in the development of personal and social skills which will help students in future. As per Bermejo (2005) Group work is becoming more and more imperative with the demand for higher order thinking skills in the 21st century job market.
The field of collaborative learning broadens beyond the classroom walls and then cooperative learning may be observed as a component of collaborative learning. This has been clearly discussed by Wiersma (2002) who believed that collaborative learning has a wider application outside the classroom and is rather a philosophy of life that involves ‘working together, building together, learning together, changing together, improving together. It’s a philosophy that fits today’s globalized world’.
Moreover, it has been seen that in a literature there is a strong support that a successful cooperative work environment will lead to greater effort to achieve, more positive interpersonal relationships, and greater psychological health when compared to a competitive work environment (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).
As argued by Gibbs (2001) the requirements for students to enter today’s work force with the ability to identify and organize information and resources, communicate well with others, and understand social and organizational systems. Therefore, it will be true to say that Collaborative learning does enhance leadership skills by developing and strengthening team members’ abilities to reflect, respect, converse, and resolve conflict.
2.6 Positive perceptions and experiences from students using Group Work
According to Walker (2001) little research has been published to date reporting on student perceptions of group work. Despite the fact that focus of her study is on student perceptions of group work associated to peer assessment, her findings suggest that “students in general had a positive attitude towards group work”.
The facts that most students are usually positive about group work have been echoed by additional researchers. To start with, Chapman et al (2006) in a study found that “the overall attitude generally positive [and] degree of conflict was moderate”. As a result, it can be said that most group experiences can be categorized as a positive one.
The question which needs to be answered is: What are these positive experiences? At first, it will be true to say that students appear to enjoy working cooperatively and are willing to cooperate with others in the group (Krol, Janssen, Veenman, & van der Linden, 2004). The reason behind which is the fact that it encourages various styles in which learning takes place. Normally, learning in groups is experienced as fun and more active. This can be found in a study by Yazici (2004) entitled as ‘Student Perceptions of Collaborative Learning in Operations Management Classes’ provided evidence “that the students agreed that they had a better understanding of Operations Management in a collaborative instruction environment”.
As said by Colbeck et al (2000) students who experienced to group learning approaches in education learn to value the skills which they are acquired for their future careers, like for instance, the ability to listen to other perspectives with an open mind, to suspend judgments, and to search for solutions in a democratic and inclusive manner.
Moreover, in a study made by De Vita (2001) students found group work to be demanding, but on the other hand they felt that they learned a lot about themselves and felt better prepared to work in diverse teams in the future. As a result, it can be said that group work has lead to positive impact on students.
2.7 Use of group work in Accounting Class
Many studies have focused on cooperative learning as teaching strategy in accounting field. For instance, Norman, Rose & Lehmann (2004) in their broad review of literature between 1990 and 2003 agreed on the terms ‘collaboration’ and ‘cooperative learning’ were used interchangeably in many international accounting journals and elsewhere. In a study by B.J Farrell and H.M Farrell (2009) called Student satisfaction with cooperative learning in an Accounting curriculum showed that team work has been as an instructional strategy. As a result, it can be viewed that the used of cooperative learning is common in tertiary sector. Thus, teachers in secondary schools must ensure that cooperative strategies are being used.
In Mauritius, either it is in Primary or Secondary schools; more focus is paid on teacher-centered classroom rather than student-centered. Therefore, for accounting students who will opt for further studies in Universities or will join the world market, they should possess the knowledge, quality and skill to work in groups. It is because team work is required in almost every universities and work place.
Hence, in every classroom, especially in accounting teachers must structure lessons so that students work co operatively in small groups, ensuring that all members master the assigned material. Restructuring the classroom using one of the many cooperative learning models represents a major departure from the traditional classroom setting.
In Mauritius it can be clearly noted that there are a competitive situations in classroom. Students only aim is to compete with each other for grades, they work against each other to attain a goal that is getting the highest mark. Therefore this lead to a competitive or individualistic classroom environment, but studies have shown that working in groups lead to significant positive effects on the learning of the students ( Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Johnson, Johnson and Smith, 1981, 1991; Johnson et. al. 1981; Qin, Johnson, & Johnson, 1995).
2.8 Criticism of Group Work
It is believed that to avoid drawbacks of this particular teaching strategy, it is of the essence to recognize what has been said against it. Many researchers have proved that cooperative elements alone do not ensure maximal productivity from a learning group; there has to be both cooperation and conflict (Iganaki & Hatano, 1986, Tjosvold & Johnson, 1978, Worchel & McCormick, 1963). To be more precise, group work practices have been criticized as being ineffective (Alexander, Rose & Woodhead, 1992). It is because many problems like conflicts of ideas, disagreements, misunderstanding and free riders can be found during the processes of the strategy.
On the word of D.Johnson, R.Johnson and A.Smith (1990), it has been viewed that when students interact conflicts among their ideas, conclusions, theories, information, views, opinions and preferences are obvious. Furthermore, Cohen (1996) stressed upon the fact that, “Disagreements about ideas is a healthy sign during group work as long as intellectual disagreement does not degenerate into sharp interpersonal conflict.”
As said by Ames (1984) when cooperative groups fail, there is the tendency to fix blame on others and the weaker group members become the scapegoat. Therefore, misunderstanding might rise up. There are still some cases where pupils, even in small groups, tend to be silent participants and depend on the thinking of other students. Previous studies by Galton et al. (1980) and Bennet (1987) have shown that, whilst children in classrooms may be seen sitting in groups; closer observation proves that their mode of working is rarely collaborative.
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“Free-rider” is a familiar problem in group work. In a study by Per Ola Börjesson et al. named “Free-riding in Group Work – Mechanisms and Countermeasures”, free-riding in group work has been described “when one or several members of a group contribute so little to a group project that if the same grade is given to all members of the group, the grade would be misleading and unfair”. Hence, this is ascertained that such problem is inevitable.
Although many studies have shown that both low and high ability students tend to benefit from cooperative learning, the question of whether the experience of working in group will be of value in terms of creating a pleasant environment which will lead students in achieving academically is remained to be answered.
Occasionally, random or special interest teams could be formed to maximize student talents or meet a specific student need (Kagan, 1994).
It was certainly understandable
Jerome Bruner wrote “The single most characteristic thing about human beings is that they learn” (1967: 113).
The review of the cooperative learning literature is structured around six themes. The first theme aims to provide a theoretical frame of learning underpinning the use of group work as learning and teaching strategy in education in general. The second theme focuses on the rationale for the use of group work in Accounting. Vital in a discussion about group work in accounting education are the group work experiences and views of learners and educators as discussed in studies about group work – these make up the third and fourth theme respectively. The review then examines suggestions put forward in the literature regarding ways to overcome some of the challenges associated with group work. The last theme focuses on the influence of task design on group work and suggests that good design can contribute to addressing a number of group work challenges.
Use of collaborative learning in general
Use of group work in accounting
Group work experiences and views of learners as discussed in previous studies
Overcome some challenges
Task to design group work
There have also been criticisms of this pedagogic approach, Holt et al (1997) council
against its indiscriminate use. They note the complex relationship between individual,
competitive and collaborative behaviours. Holt also stresses that all costs and benefits,
particularly to the students, must be weighed. Further noting that time, in particular, is a
very scarce resource for students.
Evaluation has been carried out on the effectiveness of group work in accounting
education for meeting the desired learning outcomes (Caldwell et al 1996; Ravenscroft
et al 1997, Berry, 1993). Berry expresses concerns similar to those above about theconflict between individual and collaborative behaviours in this context. The effect of
cooperative learning has been measured using student examination performance
Ciccotello et al (1997). observed that students exposed to cooperative learning
outperformed students taught by individual problem solving sessions on a managerial
accounting course. Several papers report on the implementation and operational issues
arising from the use of group work in accounting (Cottell et al, 1992; Cottell et al 1993;
Peek et al, 1995).
Referring back to the
Group work in accouting
that cooperative learning as a student-focussed pedagogical approach provides educational satisfaction (Norman et al., 2004) in
creating a positive learning engagement for most students studying International Accounting and in
developing their interpersonal, professional and written communication skills.
Norman, Rose & Lehmann (2004) in their extensive review of
literature between 1990 and 2003 found the terms ‘collaboration’ and ‘cooperative learning’ were used
interchangeably in many international accounting journals and elsewhere.
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