Why collaborate outside of your classroom?

Kevin asked this question after reading the challenges of the Scratch collaboration between my class and a class in Vietnam.

        Why not do the collaboration within the class? Is there some reason you have to create all these barriers to collaboration (12-hour time zone changes, …)
I appreciate this direct question to the premise of this project. First of all here are some good reasons to collaborate from a previous comment on my blog, but they do not address why one should collaborate outside of an individual classroom.

I believe in exposing students to different points of view. Too often students live in their neighborhoods with people like themselves and do not have an open worldview. For example my district is less than one hour drive from Lake Michigan, yet I have students who have never been there. I value any opportunity to expand my students’ perceptions of the world, in particular about different cultures. Collaborative projects can help students experience. When students Skype with others different from themselves they learn about how they are similar.

Collaboration and learning from/about others is often relegated to social studies/language arts classrooms. Gary and I wanted to do it in a programming situation. I think our goals and ideas were correct. We just did not set up our students well by not giving them opportunities to build relationships first. We had the best intentions but skipped that part due to logistics and time.

So I believe collaborating outside of the classroom is important because:

  • We do not live in a manufacturing based world anymore where kids live in the same small town with people who look just like themselves for their whole lives.
  • Diversity is an important part of the global community, and we need to expose students to as many different kinds of cultures as possible.
  • Collaboration allows students to see how they are the same as well as different from other cultures. The similarities can make as big of impression on them as the differences.
  • I want to model that real learning is not limited to the classroom walls.
  • Collaboration should build relationships between students.

I spent two years teaching English in China and studying Mandarin. I guess I have a strong personal belief in exposing oneself to different cultures and experiences. Many of my students may never have the opportunities to travel and experience new cultures firsthand. We have the technological tools to make these connections in the classroom. I believe that teachers have an obligation to use these tools to give students opportunities to collaborate and learn from as many sources as possible.

    3 thoughts on “Why collaborate outside of your classroom?

    1. Anonymous

      Well done!
      Just using my own global collaboration as an example, I’ve become aware of how HELPFUL those collaborative efforts across time zones can be. Earthquake, tsunami, etc. disaster relief and Human Rights responses can be passed to friends around the world in an “awake” time zone when one simply MUST sleep for awhile. When those on the other side of the world rest, we pick up the tasks again. We’d better hope our children learn to work together, like this, or our species may not survive.

    2. Kevin

      Now that you have a clear statement of why you want the kids to collaborate, how will you structure the assignment so that they will want to collaborate? Programming is one of the harder subjects to get good collaboration on—small projects are much more easily done individually and large projects require a fair amount of management skill to run effectively.

      I’ve been dealing with the problem for college seniors and grad students for the past 20 years—getting them to form teams that actually function better than the best single person on the team is difficult. It is hard to get the teams to perform better than the *average* of the abilities of the team members.

      I think that “group” projects that are too small—small enough that they are best done by one person—are educationally counter-productive. They teach good students not to join co-operative endeavors, because the effort of dragging around the group is greater than just doing the work alone. After 12 years of carrying weaker “team members”, the good students can be very averse to undertaking real-world projects that do require collaboration to complete.

      Big projects that can’t be done alone (like theater or some sports) are a more natural and more productive way to teach students how to collaborate.

      If you are going to do Scratch programming as a collaboration, you need to tackle a project big enough that no one in the class can do the whole thing alone. Unfortunately, scratch is not a very modular language, so integrating the pieces of a design may end up taking up far too much effort. Also, kids’ programming skills (and adults’ for that matter) vary enormously, so that a project too big for the best in the class to do alone may be too daunting for any of the others to approach. In the Scratch classes I’ve taught to elementary and middle schoolers, I’ve found it best to let each student develop his or her own projects, and to share programming techniques (like gravity simulations, background scrolling, and life-bars for games). Some students have developed collaborations based on complementary skill sets (drawing, programming, dialog scripting, …) and shared interests, but I’ve not tried to force a collaboration.

      Note: I am *not* arguing not to do collaborations. In fact, I have just started teaching a new (graduate) class in which the entire class in engaged in a project which may turn out to be too big even for the whole class to do. It seems to be going ok so far, but we’re only in the second week.
      The entire class is collaborating and
      we’re keeping a wiki of the class project at https://banana-slug.soe.ucsc.edu/

      What I am arguing for is that the collaboration be a natural consequence of the task being attempted, so that the students see it as helping them get their work done, rather than getting in the way of getting their work done.
      One of the reasons international cooperation can work well in social studies is that the task is to learn about the other culture, and having an informant from that culture makes the task easier.

      What have you come up with in the lesson plan so that the international cooperation you want to foster makes the students’ tasks easier, rather than harder?

    3. Steve

      For skills-based collaboration (using or creating IT type stuff)…

      I have been flirting with the idea of a collaborative online textbook. Or, something of the sort. — tutorials site (video or written), etc. Please bear in mind that I am just thinking out loud here…. with some current semi-related experience.

      It could be set up like so…
      The large group creates a list of main topics with objectives underneath. Then, smaller sub-groups (3-4 students) create the actual chapter content. The teacher(s) could be the overall manager in the beginning stages (topic and objective stages). Then, each sub-group should have a group leader that keeps the group on track.

      If the students do not have a good working knowledge of the skill, the teacher may be the one to create the list of topics/objectives. And then, the students do a problem-based learning to demonstrate the knowledge/skill.

      Since the document is a living document, the sub-groups could submit topic/objective revisions to the group as a whole for a discussion/vote.

      I am somewhat doing this in my class right now. My web design students have all gone through HTML, CSS and the Adobe suite. Now, I am having them look at the Adobe certification objectives. I split them up into groups of 3 or 4. In a Google Doc, they define what the general design-type objectives mean (in paragraph form & with examples), and then they create mini video tutorials for the program objectives. In the end, all students create their own PowerPoint slideshow of ALL of the objectives, using the other students’ info.

      As we teachers know, the best way to learn is to teach.

      So… if anyone is out there that would like to set up collaboration on these topics for next year, let me know…

      1. Web Design
      2. Game Design (Unity3D and maybe some others)

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