Cultural orientations and collaborative learning.
The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of cultural orientations on collaborative learning. Cultural orientations were measured in four dimensions: horizontal collectivism, vertical collectivism, horizontal individualism, and vertical individualism. It was found that student cultural orientations affect student satisfaction with collaborative learning. Student satisfaction was found to be positively and moderately related to group grades. The effect of learning styles was also investigated. It was further noted that collaborative learning could accommodate students of various cultural orientations and learning styles. In comparison with lecture, collaborative learning was found to be a more effective instructional method. This article concludes by noting that it is important for college instructors to inform students about their cultural orientations and to use sound instructional designs to better prepare students for collaborative projects.
In recent years, student-centered learning, such as collaborative learning, has received unprecedented scholarly attention because of its increasing popularity on college campuses. Although the benefits of collaborative learning are well documented in literature (such as Johnson & Johnson, 1999; Caropreso & Haggerty, 2000), the interplay between cultural orientations and group process in the context of college education has not been examined, while the impact of cultural orientations on group decision making, leadership, conflict resolution, and employee relations is well documented in management literature. Given that both collaborative learning groups and work groups in organizational settings are task-oriented groups, it is thus important to examine the effects of cultural orientations on collaborative learning groups so as to explore ways to better utilize collaborative projects for both students and instructors.
First of all, what are cultural orientations? Cultural orientations were acquired through the socialization process from childhood to adulthood and very much affect how an individual will interact with people in the rest of the society. One important aspect of cultural orientations is individualism and collectivism. Individualism stresses independence and individual reward, while collectivism views the needs and goals of the group as more important than one's own needs and goals. Singelis et al. (1995) further made theoretical and measurement distinctions between vertical and horizontal individualism and collectivism. Vertical collectivism (VC) perceives the self as a part of a collective and accepts inequality within the collective, particularly the notion that age and experience determine the status of an individual within the collective. Horizontal collectivism (HC) perceives the self as part of the collective, but stresses equality. Vertical individualism (VI) perceives an autonomous individual and accepts inequality as the result of an individual being more superior to others because that individual is willing to work harder than others. Horizontal individualism (HI) sees individuals as autonomous and emphasizes equality. Cultural orientations were found affecting communication patterns. For example, collectivists exhibited more supportive forms of communication, such as comforting and ego support (Mortenson, 2002).
The popularity of collaborative learning can be explained by its benefits, which center on three aspects: academic achievement, positive attitudes toward the subject matter, and a commitment to learning or active learning. In terms of academic achievement, studies found that student test scores were positively related to the amount of collaborative elaboration in the student discussion (Van Boxtel et al., 2000) and that students who participated in an inquiry-group instruction had significantly higher achievement scores than students who remained in a traditional approach (Chang & Mao, 1999). Group discussions can enhance the depth of knowledge acquired by the students, and students retain more of what they have learned from group discussions (Occhipinti, 2003; Jensen et al., 2002). Collaborative learning also generates positive attitudes toward the subject matter. For example, in an astronomy class, students were found to be more attentive and exhibited more enthusiasm for learning (Adams & Slater, 2002). In earth science classes, students exposed to collaborative learning exhibited positive gains in attitudes toward the subject (Chang & Mao, 1999). Proponents of collaborative learning further argue that collaborative learning contributes to active learning and a life long commitment to learning.
Although the positive aspects of collaborative learning are documented, a few studies give evidence to the problems in collaborative learning. For example, Wilson (2005) noted in a longitude study that a very small percentage of teams were not successful reaching learning goals and a small number of highly competent individuals found themselves worse off: Could the problems of collaborative learning be explained by cultural orientations? Nevertheless, one study showed that groups composed of people from collectivist cultural traditions would display more cooperative behavior than groups composed of people from individualistic cultural traditions (Cox et al., 1991), and people who preferred individualism gave more importance to individual work than group performance (Bochner & Hesketh, 1994). Moreover, feedback quality and relational quality among group members tend to be higher for matched collectivist-collectivist and individualist-individualist situations than for mismatched situations. Cultural orientations also relate to organizational commitment (Abraham, 1997), participative decision-making (Sagie & Aycan, 2003), and conflict styles (Oetzel & Ting-Toomey, 2003). Given that there is a link between cultural orientations and social interaction at organizational settings, this study was conducted to examine the effects of cultural orientations on the satisfaction and effectiveness of collaborative learning to shed more light on the dynamics of this instructional method. Student satisfaction gauges the social dimension of the collaborative learning groups, while effectiveness measures the task dimension. In addition to cultural orientations, the interplay between learning styles and collaborative learning will also be investigated.
Because previous studies show that prior attitudes toward collaboration successfully predicted student satisfaction with collaborative learning and that individuals with high team orientation experienced higher satisfaction with team members (Ocker & Yaverbaum, 2001; Hoag et al., 2003), it is thus hypothesized that the four dimensions of cultural orientation will affect student satisfaction with collaborative learning.
H1: Student cultural orientations affect student satisfaction with collaborative learning. Students' cultural orientations, however, are hypothesized as not related to the effectiveness of collaborative learning. Effectiveness was measured by group test scores on collaborative learning course content. In other words, it is hypothesized that students of various cultural orientations learn equally well from collaborative learning sessions. The reason is that Johnson and Johnson (1999) stated that collaborative learning could accommodate a broad range of learning styles. As a result, it is also likely that collaborative learning could accommodate students of different cultural orientations. By the same token, it is further hypothesized that student learning styles will not affect the satisfaction or effectiveness of collaborative learning. Students of various learning styles benefit from collaborative learning.
H2: Students of various cultural orientations benefit equally well from collaborative learning.
H3: Student learning styles do not affect the satisfaction or effectiveness of collaborative learning. Small group communication literature suggests that the social dimension of group functioning will affect the task dimension of the group (Hirokawa & Poole, 1996). It is thus further hypothesized that student satisfaction will affect the effectiveness of collaborative learning.
H4: Student satisfaction will positively relate to group grades, which measure the effectiveness of collaborative learning. This study also investigates which of the two instructional methods contributed more to student learning. Previous findings on the effectiveness of collaborative learning in comparison with the traditional approach are mixed. Furthermore, the effects of collaborative learning in the field of communication have not yet been examined. Because the majority of previous studies found that collaborative learning is more beneficial to student learning, it is hypothesized that collaborative learning contributed more to student learning.
H5: Collaborative learning is a more effective instructional method than lecture in contributing to student learning.
Investigation on H1, H2, H3, and H4 is based on data collected from an introductory communication theory course in Fall 2005 at a college in Western New York. A survey was administered, and 100 students filled out the survey. Examination of H5 is based on student grades from the same communication theory course in Spring 2005 (N = 88) and Fall 2005 (N = 133). Both were large lecture classes. Both collaborative learning and traditional lecture approach were used in the two courses. Approximately 25% of the course materials were presented to students in collaborative learning format, while 75% of the course materials were delivered using traditional lecture. For collaborative learning sessions, students were requested to study the materials ahead of time. Classes started with group discussions on the content and application questions provided by the instructor, after which, the instructor went over the discussion questions. The class ended with a group test. Individual tests on collaborative learning materials were administered in three examinations throughout the semester together with questions based on materials from lecture. Group test grades on collaborative learning content were used as effectiveness measures.
The survey asked questions on student satisfaction with collaborative learning and students' cultural orientation. As for learning styles, students were requested to complete an online questionnaire to assess their learning styles (Fleming, 2006). Student satisfaction with collaborative learning was measured by asking participants whether they "strongly agree," "agree," "neutral," "disagree," or "strongly disagree" with statements regarding whether they were satisfied with the way their group members worked together, whether their group members got along with each other well, whether they liked their group, whether the workload was evenly distributed among all group members, whether group members contributed equally during collaborative learning sessions, whether there were conflicts in their group, whether they were satisfied with the grades they received with their group, whether their group members respected their inputs, and whether the group concentrated on the assigned task.
As previously mentioned, student cultural orientations were measured in four dimensions using scales developed by Singelis et al. (1995), which contains eight statements for each dimension. Except HC, adjustments were made to the IC, HI, and VI measurement based on results from a confirmatory factor analysis. Items that did not cluster were eliminated. Measurements for each dimension are in Table 1. See issue website http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/fal2006.htm
Although American culture is generally regarded as an individualistic culture, 49% of the students exhibited HC orientation. This is because individuality usually comes with age. Most people start out with collectivistic orientation from ties with family and friends, and gradually become more individualistic (Triandis, 1995). 96% of the students surveyed were 25 years old or younger. Consequently, this high percentage of HC orientation is not surprising. 31% of the students were HI oriented. In other words, 80% of the students were horizontally oriented in their social interaction with others. 10% of the students identified with VI, and 6% with VC. Preliminary demographic analyses show that gender and year in school do not affect satisfaction or effectiveness. Age affects group grades (F = 6.33, p = .00), but not satisfaction, The younger the students, the better the group grades (r = -.41, p = .00).
An ANOVA was performed to assess the relationship between cultural orientations and satisfaction. It was found that cultural orientations do affect student satisfaction with, or the social dimension of, collaborative learning (F = 2.86, p = .04), with VC students most satisfied and VI students least satisfied. HC and HI students fell in between VC and VI students and were equally satisfied with their collaborative learning experience. Hypothesis 1 is supported.
A second ANOVA was performed to examine whether cultural orientations affect the effectiveness, or the task dimension, of collaborative learning measured by group grades. Cultural orientations do not affect group grades. H2 is sustained. Collaborative learning does accommodate students of various cultural orientations because cultural orientations made no statistically significant differences on group grades. It was further found that students' satisfaction toward collaborative learning does positively and moderately relate to their group grades (r = .20, p = .05). H4 is supported. Given that cultural orientations affect satisfaction (H1), which in turn relates to the effectiveness of collaborative learning (H4), but cultural orientations do not directly affect effectiveness (H2), there is thus an indirect effect of cultural orientations on group grades.
As H3 predicts, learning styles do not affect satisfaction or effectiveness. Collaborative learning does accommodate students of various learning styles. H3 is sustained. This leads to another more important question: Between collaborative learning and lecture, which instructional method is more effective? As previously mentioned, this hypothesis was tested based on tests scores from a total of 230 students. An independent sample t test was performed on grades obtained from three examinations to compare individual student grades on materials learned in collaborative learning sessions and materials learned from lecture. The result shows that collaborative learning is a more effective instructional method with an average of 80% correct answers, in comparison with lecture with an average of 71% correct answers, F = 4.41, p = .04. H5 is supported.
This study provides evidence that cultural orientations affect student satisfaction with collaborative learning. More specifically, the results show that the more collectivistic students were, the more satisfied they were with collaborative learning, and the more competitive individualists were the least satisfied. Horizontally oriented students who value equality were in between. This finding may explain some students' dissatisfaction with collaborative learning documented in literature (Wilson, 2005). Because student satisfaction was found to positively and moderately relate to group grades, it is thus essential for instructors to increase student satisfaction in collaborative learning classrooms. One way to increase student satisfaction is to educate students about their cultural orientations, especially early in the project, to enable students to benefit from this instructional method. Most college students nowadays are aware of their learning styles and are informed about the study habits that best fit their learning styles. It is actually equally important to test and inform students about their cultural orientations. An understanding of their own cultural orientation and the characteristics of each cultural orientation will help students understand their own and other students' behaviors in a group setting and to be more capable of resolving conflicts arising in the group process. This understanding will not only contribute to student learning, but also sharpen students' teamwork skills and interpersonal communication skills. Instructors can also put students' experiences with collaborative projects in perspective and better help students solve relational problems encountered in group work. For example, because VI students were the least satisfied, instructors could pay special attention to VI students' willingness to participate in group work.
Another way to increase student satisfaction in a collaborative learning environment is through sound instructional design, such as to implement peer evaluation early in the project, to use clearly stated guidelines, and to make use of individual grades to increase individual accountability (see Payne & Monk-Turner, 2005).
One important contribution of current study is to show that students of various cultural orientations and learning styles benefit equally well from collaborative learning sessions. Although cultural orientations do not affect group grades directly, cultural orientations affect student satisfaction, which does positively and moderately relate to group grades. The two above mentioned recommendations will not only improve student satisfaction, but also student grades. Results from previous studies on the effectiveness of collaborative learning in comparison with a traditional lecture format are mixed. This study demonstrates that collaborative learning is a more effective instructional method than lecture.
The results of current study proved that student cultural orientations affect student satisfaction with collaborative learning. In particular, students with VI orientations were less likely to be satisfied. This finding is consistent with previous research that students who had high team orientation were more likely to be satisfied with collaborative projects. This study provided a cultural explanation of this phenomenon. Consequently, two ways to increase student satisfaction with collaborative learning were suggested. This study also proved that collaborative learning is not only a more effective instructional method than lecture, but also a method that can accommodate students of various cultural orientations and learning styles.
Implications for Future Research
While there are strategies to help students of different learning styles to study, literature on how students of different cultural orientations could successfully work together is scarce. Future research should examine guidelines regarding how students of different cultural orientations could work together effectively. Future research should also document the effects of informing students about their cultural orientations on their experience with collaborative projects.
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Hsiang-Ann Liao, Queensborough Community College, NY
Liao, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of speech communication at Queensborough Community College, The City University of New York.
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|Publication:||Academic Exchange Quarterly|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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