Collaboration 101

Are we preparing students for a world of Mass Collaboration?

I think many of us are trying, but there are lots of hurdles to overcome. Teaching in an inquiry-based, PYP school, a large part of our learning is done collaboratively. F2f, this is a good starting point, but what lies ahead for our students?

A Vision of Students Today begins by emphasizing that we are still forcing students to learn the way we did, and for many of us, that is a while ago. Information is limited, linear and outdated. As constraining as classrooms can be, collaboration (and mass collaboration using tools like Google Docs) is the future. We need to be able to work with others, and online tools encourage us to set up PLNs and expand our working, studying & gaming environments. I guess this is one of the main reasons I feel very fortunate to be working in a IBO PYP authorized school, which focuses on student-centered, inquiry-based, collaborative learning. We try to involve the students in all aspects of their learning, and collaboration and interaction is at the core of our teaching and learning. I realize that many schools are going this direction, but when I compare it to what I grew up with, a BIG difference. You now see students very involved in their learning, and loving it.

Mass Collaboration Could Change Way Companies Operate talks about how companies are slowly moving away from relying only on employees housed within their office space, to posting queries, questions, and tasks to online communities for potential solutions. This opens their workspace up to the world, and significantly reduces costs for the company. Isn’t it our responsibility to prepare our students for “what’s ahead?” Surely we need to incorporate this into our classroom.

I turned to one of my favorite mass collaboration sites (Wikipedia) for a definition of what mass collaboration is. I like this … it is clear, simple and straight-forward.

Mass collaboration is a form of collective action that occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project, often modular in its nature. Such projects typically take place on the internet using social software and computer-supported collaboration tools such as wiki technologies

This term, I have had the chance to explore the idea of “mass collaboration” in more practical terms. First, a team of teachers from ISB (Bangkok) and I are working on a student-friendly AUP using Google Docs. We have looked at a few different Acceptable Use Policies from other schools, combined with ISB’s existing AUP, and are now in the process of adapting the language so that students in Gr 3-5 will understand it, and adopt it. This has been really a powerful experience, as at different times of the day, one of us will jump online and make changes to our working document. Quite often, we include notes within the policy and color-code changes. I always look forward to seeing what work the others have done. However, one question I have with efforts like this is at what point do we consider it complete? Who makes the final decision? There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but no-one to deliver the meal when it is done. Obviously, some sort of moderator, administrator or “captain” is needed to complete projects collaborated online. Someone needs the final say.

Another shot at mass collaboration, on a small scale, is involving a wiki in this year’s Gr 5 PYP Exhibition. This has been a little more difficult, as not all of the staff (and students) are ready to jump on board with the idea of working collaboratively online. Paper and pencil are still favored because they are familiar and easier. Hardware, software, and time are all limitations which we need to factor into our daily schedules. When planning an activity, computers do often take longer and can be a distraction to students. However, spending time now to establish proper online habits and develop skills necessary to work in groups, both f2f and online, is important. I like the idea of assigning tasks which they can work on together, and a wiki is perfect for this. I have assigned each group (of 15) their own page, and we are now in the process of exploring what their page can be used for (the purpose), and how they can work on it online. I (along with some teacher-mentors) plan to comment and interact with them online, giving regular feedback on what they are doing and encouraging them to use their space more and more. Hopefully, this catches on and they see the benefits of working collaboratively online. I think this is a really useful first introduction to the idea of mass collaboration.

One more final note – Wikijunior. What a great idea. It isn’t perfect and needs work … but again the potential is incredible. What a powerful tool for students to contribute to something like an online book. I can see this really motivating to many students. Become knowledgeable on a topic and then use your understanding to contribute to a collaborative, online, student-friendly, resource. Very powerful. One question though … is it moderated? Who checks their information? Is it enough to rely on students to check students?

So, are we preparing students for a world of mass collaboration? I like to think we are trying. Mass collaboration needs a slow introduction, so that acceptable use and the appropriate skills develop at the same time. The worst thing we can do is throw them in head first, with a sink or swim attitude. Let’s start simple, and scaffold their learning like we do with anything else. Challenge them to think “outside of the box” and be responsible for being “effective collaborators”. Make them realize the benefits of working with others. This has huge potential.

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~ by yamaguru on April 26, 2009.

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