Sunday, June 24, 2012

Collaborative Learning

Someone posted this on Facebook (another professor).  I think it is funny because it is true for some people, but not for me.

Collaborative learning can be a disaster or it can be a triumph.  Since I use it a great deal, I will defend it pretty much to anyone.  I think any assignment can be made collaborative; I think people, even introverts, need to be sharpened by the thinking of other people (iron sharpens iron and all that in the book of Proverbs).  Yes, I am reading Quiet and it is good, but introversion is no excuse for not being able to collaborate.   An introvert may only collaborate differently, but a person who believes he or she does not need to collaborate is prideful.    Finally, for better or worse, in the real world of work people have to collaborate at least some, and I would venture that 90% of people really don't know how to do so.  Even if they have worked collaboratively in college, that doesn't mean they were taught HOW to do so.  In our individualistic culture, collaboration is not natural for many.

On the flip side, however, I do understand the visual above.  I am in a doctoral program that is heavily about collaboration, collaborative inquiry, double loop learning, communicative action, etc.  Some of it is a little leftist for my tastes, but I can see its values.  We did collaborative inquiry groups yesterday and it was intense.  We were all quite tired when it was over.  Yet I learned a great deal from it about the process and myself.  It was also challenging--even a little painful to put myself up to that scrutiny.  Not that collaborative work in a college or work setting has to be so intensely personal.  I understand why high achievers (I'm one) do not like group work and how they feel that one or two people often end up bearing the load.  Those people should be held accountable. I know that over the next three years in my doctoral program there will be times I will grow frustrated about a group project.

My point, though, is that throwing students into a group project is not teaching them to do collaborative inquiry or learning.  They need scaffolding or training and time-outs and an opportunity to come fuss at the instructor.  It comes down to whether the instructor just wants the students to learn the material a little differently by talking about it in groups or producing a project as a group, or if the instructor really wants them to learn collaborative skills as well as the content.  As a communication teacher, I fall more to the former.

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