Active Learning & Active Testing

Book Writer & Publisher: 
David McMurray. Kagoshima, Japan: Shibundo
Kanami Ikeda, Graduate School of The International University of Kagoshima

[David McMurray. Kagoshima, Japan: Shibundo, 2018. p. 100. ¥1,000. ISBN: 978-4-901352-39-0.]

Active Learning & Active Testing uses the Active Learning (AL) method of combining business case studies with the English language learning activities from pre-intermediate to advanced levels. This classroom textbook introduces Active Testing (AT) which is a way to evaluate students on their ability to learn actively in teams. In AL classrooms, students discover and suggest ways to solve social issues and gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic. AT is used to evaluate how well students have actively learned through rigorous debates and negotiations based on the case studies.

As the title suggests, this book is divided into two sections. The first section introduces three business cases. The cases are stories about international trade and tourism, recruiting staff for restaurants, and governing an island rich in resources. Keywords and new vocabulary in these stories are explained through easy-to-understand word-matching and fill-in-the-blank exercises. Finally, the students from each team give a succinct 10-minute presentation to answer the teacher’s initial questions.  An example of such a question, provided in the book for teachers to use is: “How can the company recruit employees from overseas?” A basic solution can be found in the text, but for deeper learning the team must actively search newspapers online.

This textbook was suitable for teaching my once-a-week Business English class for junior-year university students that focused on reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the intermediate level. My class was a mixed-class of Japanese and Chinese students. At the beginning of the 15-week course, students studied the first section individually. Conversation between students of different nationalities went well, although some pre-intermediate level students needed extra support to understand the business terms. I also needed to occasionally compensate for their lack of knowledge about business strategies.

Research conducted in foreign language classes at universities using AL techniques (Settles, 2012) found a direct correlation between students’ motivation and their achievement levels. As such, I regularly divided my class of 24 Business English students into groups of four during classes that covered the second section of the textbook. All students were given their own tasks or roles in their groups, and they reflected on whether they fulfilled their own tasks in weekly reports. This helped me to evaluate their ability to actively learn, and helped students make up for any lack of knowledge about business case studies.  I also suggested we use flipped learning techniques, in which students practiced their presentations at home. During class, students discussed the problems presented in the textbook. This activity helped students to discover better ways to solve the business cases and present their ideas with confidence in class, and I was able to observe group work activity and motivation levels by briefly interviewing some of the students after the class. I worried that if a student who wanted to improve his or her English knowledge paired up with a student who hesitated to take part in the activity, their shared goals could not be achieved. However, the second section of the textbook covered interesting topics which seemed to encourage all students to discuss and debate the business cases in pairs or groups.

With classes that have students from different countries, the language teacher should apply testing criteria fairly for each student. For example, different cultural backgrounds influence how knowledge management is viewed. In their research on a comparison between Western and Japanese employees, Wildman, Bedwell, Salas and Smith-Jentsch (2011) claimed that Japanese view knowledge as being primarily tacit, whereas Western cultures tend to focus on explicit knowledge. The case studies in the book enhance the tacit type of knowledge in students. The textbook can be helpful for the language teacher to keep in mind how to effectively use testing techniques.

In terms of how students felt about the pedagogical approach of this course, the feedback was generally quite positive. One Japanese student mentioned that the content of the textbook reflected that of real business cases that may happen in today’s Japan. One of the international students said that the learning content of the book could improve their future business plan.  Accordingly, the study with the textbook seemed to help them greatly to think deeply and creatively.

In summary, this textbook is designed to enhance AL through the study and the testing of students on three business case studies. These three cases in the textbook do enhance group learning and discussion activities. The cases in the book were effectively used for international participants during a business case debate. In conclusion, from my observations and informal interviews with the students during this Business English class, I found this textbook to be useful in maximizing student involvement with the material and creating an effective learning environment.


Settles, B. (2012). Active learning. New York, NY: Morgan & Claypool.

Wildman, J. L., Bedwell, W. L., Salas, E., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2011). Performance measurement: A multilevel perspective. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbook of industrial/organizational psychology 1 (pp. 303-341). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.