This post is inspired by a Tuesday in which I witnessed several different faces of collaborative learning, and a post by Barry Dyck about how giving students choice in learning affects the learning/teaching experience… And what this all means for a process curriculum
First, the different faces of collaboration. I am teaching a class (well a module of a course) where students are meant to design educational games. This module has been taught previously, and really well and successfully by another professor, who scaffolded the students’ design process quite closely. I did not do that, because it does not fit very well with my teaching philosophy, but also because I do not have time and a few other reasons I will come back to later. So anyway, yesterday, I had the groups of students come and work together on finalizing the design of their game. He various groups were at different stages in the process. I went around taking photos of them working together (promising not to share without their permission, so not sharing on this blog). I had three groups and they looked as follows:
One group had scissors and cardboard and tape and were split up in groups of two or three working on different things and talking and shouting across the roundtable
Another group were huddled around the table talking, with several people holding markers and writing things
A third group were sitting silently, each of them staring at a computer.
I stopped by the third group and asked, “why aren’t you guys working together?” And they said, “we are! We’re working on a google doc together”. I laughed out loud! I am someone who keeps half her life on google docs (I know, it’s a disaster to depend so heavily on something like that), I do so much collaborative writing with people all over the world, as well as colleagues at work, on Google docs. I just don’t think I have ever sat next to someone, right next to them, and collaborated on a google doc. So I was not expecting that! But there it is! These students were collaborating, but their collaboration looked different (and not very photo friendly, right?) but it was happening.
This also reminded me of something. When discussing with colleagues my philosophy of not overly guiding my students in their game design, someone suggested that by not scaffolding students, there would be certain students who would be strong and guide the process, whereas others would get lost and possible follow blindly. But my view on this is that I cannot know in advance which students/groups belong to which category. And so I let them work on their own, and I go around the class listening in, and giving feedback here and there. Some groups I spent a few minutes with, others I spent more time with because they needed more guidance, or because their ideas were actually more complex and needed to be thought of more deeply.
Reading Barry’s blogpost, he talks about how “letting go” goes against what most teachers are trained to do (follow curriculum and outcomes). He says:
“Students will flounder and you’ll be tempted to step back in and take control of their learning to make sure that they are at least doing something. Resist. Engage in dialogue, direct, nudge, but don’t make their plans.”
I later attended a workshop on cooperative learning by my colleagues. One of the presenters is an expert on cooperative learning, and he does it really well with his students. He structures it and I have seen the quality of his students’ output (we sometimes teach the same teachers, so I can see the same students I taught produce great work for him). Is approach also makes it easier to know who did what and ensure individual accountability within groupwork, which in ed psych class i had learned was very important.
And yet, I only loosely structure the group projects I assign – and with the latest game design assignment, I provided very very very little structure – I just posted today some of the students reflections on that project.
It occurred to me while reading my (mostly freshman) students’ blogposts that I gave them soooo little and they gave back soooo much… Don’t take my word for it, read their blogs, which I link to from my own blogpost.