Hong Kong Higher Education Experiences
HKUST faculty member, Hong Ying-yi, shares her experiences of using the Jigsaw Method in two final year social science courses.
South East Asian Experiences
Two people in South Asia who have worked extensively with cooperative learning in education are Gan Siowck Lee in Malaysia and a research colleague George Jacobs in Singapore.
Dr. Gan's work is mostly in the area of computer-supported cooperative learning. George Jacob's experiences with cooperative learning are mostly with teacher development and English as a Second/Foreign Language. They have jointly produced a book for teachers called Learning Cooperative Learning Via Cooperative Learning.
North American Experiences
This is an excellent online book in which CCL practitioners share their expertise with assessing CCL. A variety of disciplines are represented in eighteen articles.
Assoc. Prof. Hong Ying-yi
Working in the Division of Social Science, Hong Ying-yi received her PhD from Columbia University in 1994 and was awarded the Otto Klineberg Intercultural and International Relations Award in 2001, conferred by The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Her main research interests are: Culture and Cognition, Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Learning Motivation, and Person Perception.
In this interview, she kindly shares her experiences of using the Jigsaw Method in an interview with CEI.
CEI: What was the reason for introducing the jigsaw method into your course?
Hong Ying-yi: I think basically it relates to the course materials and also the level I'm teaching at. I was teaching a new 300 level course on Intergroup Relations. I was concerned because firstly the reading materials for that course are quite difficult and complicated. And also it's a 300 level course and that means that I need to teach at a more sophisticated level. However, I think the structure of this institution causes many of my students to be ill equipped to learn the materials at this level, as many of them have not taken any Introduction to Psychology course before. Consequently, I had a very difficult time and so then I came across this Jigsaw Group method as a solution. I knew about it because it was designed by a social psychologist. So then I read about it and then also I talked to colleagues at Hong Kong University and one of them used it. And I found this method might solve my problem. And I found there were two things I needed to cope with. First of all, the materials are difficult, as I told you before. And also, there was a large amount of content to cover. However, the second time I offered it some of the class had taken my Introduction to Psychology course but over a third hadn't. And I don't think I can turn them away simply because they haven't taken the introductory course. So I think the Jigsaw Group seems to be able to cope with these two problems of students who have a large variation in their background knowledge of the subject and the need to cover a large amount of complex content.
CEI: Could you briefly give some background to the course and describe what you did?
Hong Ying-yi: I use Jigsaw Groups in two of my courses; both of them are advanced level, 300 level course. One was Intergroup Relations and now I use it in my Advanced Social Psychology. In the latter course, there are seven major themes that I cover in this course and each one is a module.
For each module, I designed three classes with a regular structure. In the first class, I will give a lecture on the topic. In my lecture, I will give the basic theoretical approaches to the studies and also sometimes I introduce the readings. And for each module I have four assigned readings. And each student in a Jigsaw Group of four people needs only be responsible for one. They will assign the readings amongst themselves. There are seven groups in the class, one for each theme or module, and four students in each group.
Each student after the first class of each module needs to go home and read their assigned readings and then they need to hand in a summary of the reading at the beginning of the second class. This is very important. This is the QC process. Otherwise, they can come without having finished reading the assigned materials.
In the second class, they need to hand in their summary and then I will ask them to form the 'expert group'. What I mean by 'expert group' is that is comprised of the people who read the same assigned reading from across all the Jigsaw Groups. As there are four readings, there are four large 'expert groups'. The big 'expert group' is useful because they can clarify the points or things that they don't understand in the assigned readings with their peers. And also they were given time to ask me questions if they have problems with it. Also there will be a TA around too. So the two of us will go around the 'expert groups' helping them to clarify some of the important points in each of the readings. And then after that when they are comfortable, they don't have many problems, they will break into their Jigsaw Group. From then on, because each class will last for 80 minutes, that means they will still have 60 minutes and each of them will present and teach each other about their own readings in about 10-15 minutes per person.
In the third class, one Jigsaw Group will come out to present. So in the third class, basically we will wrap up the whole topic. I will give immediate feedback on their presentation. And also I will talk about some things that I think the students have problems with and then I will conclude that module. So between the second and third class the group that is going to present needs to meet.
At the very beginning of the semester, each Jigsaw Group selects one of the seven topics for their presentation so each Jigsaw Group presents once during the course because there are seven modules. The beauty of it is that it has to be seven groups and usually works out because the enrollment in that class is between 28 and 32. So some groups may have five people and then two people in the group will do the same assigned reading, which is fine. Because they choose the theme to present at the beginning of the semester, usually they have plenty of time to prepare and they can come and ask me.
The content that the students decide to present varies a lot. Sometimes, it's good and sometimes it's not so good. Some groups complain in the evaluation that they would like more structure to tell them what to present but I don't do that. I tell them at the very beginning my expectation; I want a very coherent presentation. Basically, they can use some of the assigned readings in their presentation. However, as their presentation will last for an hour and so some groups choose to overlap a lot with their assigned readings. But the feedback is usually not good because most of the students know them pretty well. And some students, I think they really haven't tried hard enough so it turns out their presentation wasn't really exciting at all. However, there are groups that present well. They go to the library and find new studies, new approaches that neither overlap with the assigned readings or with my lecture. So the students are clearly capable of doing that. Usually about three to four groups will make very, very good presentations but two to three groups will just do the minimum. But I can see the feedback from students was that they were bored; the feedback visually at the time and in their course evaluations.
Also the grading system is very strict in my course. First, I grade each summary and then I also grade the presentations giving individual marks, i.e. all the members need to give a part of the presentation, they can't send out one member to do it. The group will break up the topic into pieces and people will do the library search by themselves. Then you can see individual input so it's not hard to give grades. Also I take attendance and I give points to attendance. They will get points for each class they attend. In general, I don't like to force attendance. For example, I don't do this in my intro courses. However, in this course it is very important. I tell the students at the start that attendance is not only for yourselves but also for your classmates, and so I think it is very important.
There is no exam at the end of the course but there is a term paper. They can do the term paper on any topic but many choose to cover the topic they did for the Jigsaw group class presentation, as most have done a lot of work on this. Although most assessment are based on individual work, the group presentations are an occasion where the group has to work together and in the assessment, I emphasise a lot on the coherence of the presentation.
At the beginning of the course, I emphasise that I use Jigsaw Group because I want to create a learning atmosphere rather than a performance atmosphere in the class. In learning the primary goal is to learn rather than to get a high score as with a performance culture. I don't want to over-emphasise on grading so that they need to help each other out because they want to learn better.
CEI: Did it go as planned? Could you describe the positive outcomes and any negative ones?
Hong Ying-yi: I have run this course at least four times and it has run as planned all four times and I haven't needed to make any major changes.
There are several positive outcomes. Many students feel that they really have learned things; some of the materials well that is. It's because the structure makes them do so and I think that this kind of Jigsaw group works very well for Chinese students. The reason is that often when you assign things for individual students to read and then discuss in a group in class, students feel firstly that they don't like to speak up a lot. And then second of all, when they don't have time, they try to loaf a lot. Well if they couldn't make it, they wouldn't put extra effort in finishing the assigned reading. I don't mean they are lazy but they wouldn't try really, really hard. But in the Jigsaw Group, because now you need to teach other people the material, you can't stay there and open your mouth without anything to say. So for them the group pressure is huge. So they feel like they cannot be seen as irresponsible or lazy. So they try really hard to read and understand the assigned reading. So then it is good and at the end, because they have put in so much effort, they feel that they have learnt things from it. Also, they usually hand in better summaries at the end of the course. They can better understand what is important and what is not important in the subject.
In terms of negative outcomes, there are some students who know a lot more about psychology, particularly with exchange students who are psychology majors in the US. Each time about two to four students are from the States with a one or two who are psychology majors. The feedback from them would say that they like the course, they liked everything, they liked the assigned readings, but they felt that some of the locals didn't really understand the readings. Sometimes I cannot help a lot, I cannot go to individuals and coach them. If they ask me questions, I can answer them. But I cannot make sure they are up to the level of these exchange students in terms of their subject knowledge background. And also, English proficiency as well. They need to teach these exchange students using English. Another thing is that in my course, I lecture in English and the group presentations are in English, but in the group discussion they can use whatever language they want to.
Sometimes, I get frustrated in the third class when students present because I know some of the students might not be presenting great stuff and other classmates get really impatient and read their own books and I feel disappointed when students are doing that. But it's not all students, just some. After each presentation, I'll ask the whole class; What did you like about this presentation? What do you think could be improved? And often students are quite enthusiastic in responding. So I think again it's a good way for them to express their opinion and share their knowledge.
CEI: If another faculty member were thinking of using this instructional method, what advice would you give?
Hong Ying-yi: Two things. One thing is that you have to be very sure that you monitor the students' progress in the assigned readings so I think it necessary to have each of the students turn in their summary. I think that's one key element. Another key element is taking attendance. These are the key things.
CEI: Ying-yi, thanks very much for sharing your experiences with the Jigsaw Method.