This paper reports students’ experiences of a coursework task in a Japanese linguistics course that embraces certain aspects of collaborative learning—aspects that are not practised widely in Japanese language learning situations. These involve the students looking at themselves as well as their fellow students as producers of knowledge and understandings rather than simply developing learners of a foreign language.

The task asked students to examine language use in a TV drama script in light of sociolinguistic norms described in the Japanese linguistics literature. The task had two phases and was designed so that it was not possible to complete the second phase without using a peer’s findings from the first phase. Using their peers’ findings as a “previous study” gave students an opportunity to take a critical interest in the work of their peers as a crucial step in achieving their own academic outcomes.

This paper discusses students’ experiences of this task in relation to particular benefits of the collaborative mode of learning that have been reported in the literature, such as positive interdependence, widening one’s point of view, and developing awareness that knowledge is a social construct that can be challenged. It also discusses the assessment design of the learning task, which allowed students to be assessed on their individual learning outcomes while requiring their peers’ support in completing their work.