The term gets quite a bit of air time these days. I defy you to go to a conference and avoid hearing the word less than a dozen times. Go to a session on wikis, and it’s a collaboration bonanza. People love to talk about it. People love to challenge others to use it. People love to say how important it is for kids to learn through it. Problem is, I’m not sure people actually know what it means.
Go ask five people right now and see if you get a clear, common definition.
Ask yourself, and see if you have a clear definition.
We most certainly live in an age where it’s never been easier to stand in a space and mix our ideas together with others. There’s great power in the act. We’re certainly made smarter and sharper and our learning is grown richer because of it, but I fear we’ve done a poor job really understanding the what and why of the whole idea.
I think we should stop and clarify with our staffs and even our selfs. We should let them wrestle with it. Let them see that we aren’t just talking about cooperative work. Collaboration and cooperative learning are two very different ideas. Certainly the circles of their constructs overlap in Venn Diagram fashion, but there’s more in the separate circles than there is in the overlap. We need to understand the circles. Find their boundaries. And then find what it is that makes collaboration such a powerful force in learning.
I’ll admit, I’m still fighting with the circles myself. Still struggling to understand the space between the two. Still working to see what would happen if we found ways to really let our learning step out of the cooperative and move into the collaborative. Where would it take our students? Where does it take us?
If you really want to wrestle with the ideas, I don’t think there’s a more challenging description of the two than what Ted Panitz has framed up. I’d strongly encourage you to go read it. Then wrestle with it. Let it work on you a bit. Then come back and share your thoughts on it.
Can we hope to get our students to engage and collaborate using the tools we champion when we ourselves haven’t clearly established our own vision of what is evidenced when collaboration takes place? If we aren’t clear on what we expect to find when it happens, should we be advocating for it?
I know there’s great power in the process. I just believe we have to understand what it is that comprises it. And then, perhaps we might even start thinking about including it in our assessments and give our students meaningful feedback about it.