Flat Connections

Transforming learning through global collaboration

The Blood, Sweat, and Eureka of Collaboraton

Most of us have collaborated on a project.  It can definitely be fun to sit around a big table brainstorming, being struck by flashes of insight, reliving related projects, tweaking and adjusting a group idea into something new.  But when it comes to collaboratively creating a piece of writing, a work of art, or some other tangible artifact, the whole game suddenly changes.

Above all else, in school, we learned -- to put our names on our own papers.  Getting credit was and usually is the bottom line. Only using your own ideas amounts to honesty.  Competing to get a gold star, or an A, or a promotion is what it was or is all about. In the US, we thrive on the individual. We are proud of being unique, of making it on our own. And when a person has a work of art (writing, visual, etc.) go on display, they know the world will be assessing them personally, based on how that work turns out.

So this turn in education toward collaborative work can be a challenge. Perhaps students are more apt to be receptive to collaboration than parents and other adults.  As teachers, we talk a good talk, supporting the benefits of collaborative work, but as a participant, it is a lot more difficult to actually "do!"  What great challenges are provided by the Flat Classroom Certification course to help us really understand what we are asking our students to do. 

Collaborative writing is a great stretch, an exercise for releasing control, coordinating schedules, appreciating the different points of view and work flow styles.  Although it initially seems incredibly difficult, stick with it -- both for yourself and with your students.  In the film, Shakespeare in Love, the Elizabethan characters are continually assured it "will all work out." When someone asks how, the answer is , "I don't know.  It is a mystery."  True collaboration has many turns when you don't know how it could possibly come together, but rest assured, it will. Stick with the process and the mystery will unfold.

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Comment by Susan Adams on December 8, 2012 at 4:03am

I always love your insight, Abena.  I appreciate the way you pointed out the time it takes to develop certain skills.  Many teachers aren't willing to wait for it all to "click," but when we do wait - it is well worth it to see the lights turn on in student brains.

Comment by Abena Bailey on December 8, 2012 at 3:43am

This idea of protecting one's own achievement is something I witnessed very recently with some Y8/G7 learners. When we started as a class in September on a collaborative project, their learning blogs were filled with comments that indicated their concern at certain group members letting the team down and everyone being given less credit (not grade-wise) for their efforts because of individuals.

Through much discussion, reflection and the development of dealing with 'difficult' group members, the learners comments have changed dramatically. I am genuinely astounded at how much they have grown in this area since September. Now I often read (in their blogs) of how a lack of co-operation was dealt with by making expectations and time limits clear and where there is a breakdown in the team, everyone takes much more responsibility instead of pointing the finger. The cohesiveness has certainly become more visible in their every day practices as well as their shared thoughts. And this is in the context of mixed ability, constantly changing teams.

For sure, I could have thrown in the towel long ago and said, 'This just won't work!' but perseverance was the key, facilitated by great discussions and encouragement from posts on this and other edu blogs. I don't ever recall any educator saying that change was easy; indeed the challenges are made plain for anyone to take warning, but the rewards of sticking with it can be truly surprising and this feeds into the next 'trial' thereby increasing confidence that these techniques can have real impact.

A great post Susan that highlights the challenge we face but the successes we can look forward to.

Comment by Susan Adams on November 24, 2012 at 6:07am

Thanks for sharing.  :)  We all need to be open to continuing to learn and change our thinking.

Comment by Julie Lindsay on November 22, 2012 at 10:44am

Susan, your words resonate with me. I was always an 'A' student at school and disliked collaborating with others who I thought were not up to my academic level....what a terrible attitude I used to have! It has taken me years of online work and years of international travel (that I know I have been privileged to experience) to realise that everyone has something worthwhile to contribute, everyone has their own corner of the market and should be valued, and that everyone together can create a better product than one individual. Now this product may not be the same as one individual may want it....and that's the point, it is NOT a personal outcome it is a collaborative outcome.

This was further emphasized last week at the WISE conference, the most amazing event I have been to for a long time (except for the events Flat Classroom run of course!). I was in a workshop with the topic of innovation: Adoption and Adaption and our table of 10 people were charged with 'How do you focus on what will make the system more responsive', in other words, what strategies can you adopt to effect innovation and have it flourish. Well, as a team of 10 people from about 10 countries (Oman, Peru, India, Canada, Spain, USA, Brazil etc) we each had a different experience and story to tell about innovation and implementing change in different countries. Our list of suggestions was full of unique ideas that we collaborated on to find the best ones to share.

I agree...'stick with the process and the mystery will unfold' Thanks for sharing!

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