Integrating online cooperative learning into the English as a foreign language writing curriculum
: A modelling trial

  • Ying Liu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


Online learning has been reported to be increasingly used within Chinese higher education. The rapid expansion has created a problem that it’s difficult to carry out real-time learner interaction among a great number of students. The pure online instruction made the existing problems in university EFL teaching even worse, such as ‘teacher-centred’ instruction, student’s low learning motivation and low level of class participation. There is a need to develop pedagogies in EFL teaching in China to meet expanding demand and solve the problems. Therefore, this study aimed to explore the integration of cooperative learning (CL) into online EFL curriculum to facilitate learner interactions, bring about meaningful learning together and research its influence on learner writing proficiency. To be specific, it was to explore whether online cooperative learning (OCL) with elements of Social Interdependence Theory (SIT) could actually manifest during learning and teaching online and whether there may be initial evidence that OCL could be effective at raising EFL learners’ writing attainment. A researcher-designed online writing curriculum was delivered to 17 university students in nine weeks, once per week for 90 minutes each session. The course, named Step by Step University Writing Skills, was composed of 12 topics, aiming to develop learner’s skills of writing a sentence, writing a paragraph and writing an argumentative essay step by step. Learning tasks using CL techniques Jigsaw, Think-Pair-Share (TPS), Random Reporter, Assigning group roles (AGR), were assigned in each session for the learners to practice the teaching contents in groups. The Questionnaire-Scale of ‘Learner Experience & Perception on Cooperative Learning’ was used to assess the learners’ prior knowledge of CL, their previous experience of CL and their attitudes toward CL before they took the OCL course. Learners’ writing proficiency tests were taken twice before and after the course as the pre-test and the post-test to measure the potential impact of OCL pedagogy iii (notwithstanding that this was a modelling trial and did not use a control group). Learners’ online cooperative interactions were video-recorded, transcribed and analyzed qualitatively to investigate the evidence of SIT in CL online. A post-course questionnaire was given after the intervention to find out learners’ perceptions of the impact of CL implemented in the study. As this was a small modelling trial, the study was not powered to detect the effectiveness of the intervention. Rather, it was to explore the feasibility of CL pedagogies be used in online curriculum for EFL learners. The analysis showed that CL with elements of SIT can be identified in learner online interactions. Learners’ writing attainment was improved after the course. The conclusion was that CL activities could be designed into an online course with EFL students; students reported that using the OCL pedagogies was an acceptable way to learn; that the technique could be scaled up to a larger sample. The study provided evidence on how OCL worked and how the online pedagogy was structured for CL to work. It presented a good theoretical model for planning and structuring CL activities online with EFL students. The study offered a basis to conduct a larger effectiveness study of the OCL. The findings in this study contributed to the existing literature on online cooperative language learning and CL in EFL instruction. Besides, it combined the cooperative skills into the curriculum contents, which contributed greatly to the higher education practice from the social dimension. In doing so, it offered an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the higher education reform in China.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorAllen Thurston (Supervisor)


  • Cooperative learning
  • EFL pedagogy
  • online curriculum
  • learner interaction
  • social interdependence theory

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