Is Collaboration More Than Group Work?

Educational research throughout the 20th century focused on learning through an individualistic approach. Learning happened on a personal level, all teaching occurred in a similar fashion, and all students learned the same thing. Educational folk theory is a prime example of this, as there is a focus on individual differences and why some students have problems learning (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2008). The successful student is used as a standard and comparison for others (ibid). I would like to believe that as we live through another century our ways of teaching students to learn has changed. However, a part of me questions the truth in this. Is standardized testing not another form of applying the educational folk theory? Do we still measure student success as a comparison to the norm?

The learning sciences attempt to answer this question by focusing their research on how students learn. Instead of questioning why students have trouble learning, they would question why a concept is difficult to learn (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2008). Researchers argue that students should no longer be treated as individual learners, but instead as members of a knowledge building community (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2006). Knowledge building can be viewed as a community that aims to improve ideas rather than assuming a truth, through developing collaborative problem solving and in-depth understanding (ibid).

Throughout the exposure to all of these theories I see great application for this in my classroom. I understand that students learn differently and need to be a part of a collaborative, knowledge building community, but I also would argue that school systems haven’t completely ignored that notion either. When I think of my own educational experiences, I had ample opportunities to be part of a collaborative classroom community, where we worked together to be creative and form new ideas. I am beginning to question though if our definition of collaboration has changed. Has it moved away from the idea of group work towards a sharing and building of a knowledge network?

Kolonder et al. (2003) would support the assumption of this as they explain that:
“We try to help our teachers understand that collaborative learning is not simply a call to have students work in groups, but rather, it is a value that needs to permeate the classroom-through sharing across groups, more expert students helping less expert ones, the teacher admitting what he or she does not know and getting excited about learning from the students, the students together figuring out what they need to learn more about and helping each other with their investigations and experiment designs, and so on” (p. 539).

Through this definition, it becomes clearer about the transformation that the word collaboration has moved through. It also leads me to reflect upon my own teaching practices and wonder to what extent am I truly providing collaborative experiences for my students?

References
Kolodner, J.L., Camp, P.J., Crismond D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., Puntembakar,           S., Ryan, M. (2003). Problem-Based Learning Meets Case-Based Reasoning in the           Middle-School Science Classroom: Putting Learning by Design™ into Practice.                   Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(4), 495-548.

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge building: Theory, pedagogy, and                     technology. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp.           97-118). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (2008). Toward research-based innovation. In F. Benavidis         & D. Istance (Eds). Innovating to learning, learning to innovate. Paris, FR:                             Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. pp.67-88. DOI                           :10.1787/9789264047983-en

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