Enhancing Academic Research Through Collaborative Research

Lance Stilp, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Research, Academic writing, Project, Collaborative learning
  • Learner English level: CEFR A2-B2
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: several hours
  • Activity time: 50 minutes, x5
  • Materials: survey software, large poster paper

This activity enhances student research and academic writing through collaboration with international students. Students go through the academic research process in a practical, rewarding, and collaborative manner by undertaking this project over the course of a semester.


Students should know the goals and steps of the project ahead of time. Create a booklet that contains information such as the project goals, list of team members, language resources, and key deadlines/checklists. The five steps are: Topic Discovery; Research; Interviewing; Poster Presentations; Report.


For days 1-4, teachers need to schedule at least 30 minutes with another class of international students. You can find these classes by contacting other courses within the university and requesting to do collaborative classes. These classes work best if they are the same international students each time. Alternatively, you could request international students to come into the classroom on certain days. If teachers are unable to find international students, this lesson has worked with other language learning students or with local residents willing to engage on a regular basis.

Day 1: Assign groups of 3-4 students who will work together over the semester. Have these groups exchange personal interests. You could provide students with sample activities that engage topics such as health, language, culture, technology, environment, business, volunteer, marriage and so on. It is important that groups decide on day 1 which academic topics they will pursue. After the lesson, groups create surveys (in English) of 15-20 questions that explore their chosen topic with a variety of questions that mix multiple choice, Likert scale, and open-ended type questions.

Day 2: Students conduct their research surveys with international students. Make sure that international students don’t become grammar “checks,” though they should give feedback on unclear questions. After the interviewing, encourage students to interview more people outside of class with a target of 20-30 participants.

Day 3: Students come to class having completed their surveys. Next, they make claims and report back to the international students. (e.g., claims such as “According to my survey…”, “It seems that…”). Facilitate thoughtful and opinion-focused discussions of these findings. Mini-debate activities extend this activity. After the class, Japanese students prepare a group poster presentation based on their topics and conversations.

Day 4: Groups give poster presentations to their peers, including international students. Each student in the group should present one part of their research. Encourage Q&A from the international students after presentations finish. You could follow up by videotaping the lesson and improving presentation skills.

Day 5: Students should write an academic report that contains background information, an opinion about what they learned, and supporting findings from their research. This could be conducted in class collaboratively or as a final assessment for the project. Have students complete a feedback survey on their experience over the semester to encourage self-evaluation and reflection.


The main purpose of this activity is to engage students and their academic skills in meaningful ways. It is collaborative because students have to work together with group members, including students from different cultures. It builds critical insight and the ability to think deeply about a topic, and students learn to explore solutions to problems through first-hand interviewing. Since students work over the semester, it also teaches life skills and project management. Finally, with the aim for Japanese universities to become global, it fosters relationships with different cultures that could continue beyond the classroom.


The appendix is available below.