Collaboration has been on my mind often in the last several weeks. What exactly is effective, authentic collaboration? I’m finding it harder to define it than I am to tell you what it isn’t.
Authentic collaboration isn’t having students draw a colored strip of paper in order to determine groups. It isn’t having student sit at a table together while each completes the same assigned task and is evaluated only for his or her individual work.
I read Gillian Wilson’s post “Why It’s Time to Put Students in the Driver’s Seat” with great interest. She writes, “If we have only trained them to follow a listed set of instructions to achieve a pre-planned end goal, we are not preparing them for a successful future.”
Aha! This seems to inform concerns about collaboration in the classroom. It seems we’ve moved into territory where teachers feel a responsibility to engineer every step of students’ teamwork. Certainly there is a scaffolding necessary to assist in building social skills for effective student partnerships. However, when we control every aspect of the process, students don’t have to wrestle with how to work with others effectively. Te@chThought suggests that the learning process should be part of the assessment.
Microsoft Partners In Learning along with SRI International posit that effective collaboration is “students hav[ing] shared responsibility for their work” and “the learning activity is designed in a way that requires students to make substantive decisions together”.
Collaboration is messy and hard and often takes multiple attempts. And when the learners persist in the process the results are far more useful and beneficial. It’s worth the hard work both for the teacher and the learners. Perhaps Don Tapscott says it best: “Learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.”