While sharing with a math teacher at lunch about how I was using technology to connect my 6th grade math class with a class in Florida, he asked me “Why would I want collaboration in my class with another classroom?” He was not being a smart alek but was seriously wondering how it would help him or why it was important. I assume he was thinking about the agressive pacing schedule of the district curriculum and trying to meet the standards.
I must admit that the question threw me for a second. I hold global collaboration as a high personal value. I lived in China for two years, and often advise my students to take any opportunity to travel and/or live overseas if they get the chance. It is a question that I would never ask, but looking at it from his perspective it is a valid question.
I ended up answering by saying that it increased student motivation in that their work had an authentic audience. I compared hanging work on the walls to posting it on the internet to share with the world. I talked about our class’s work with Kyle Webb and how we made videos to answer his challenge problem to us. I didn’t talk about diversity, culture, or the force of globalization in the world. I didn’t talk about the importance of getting along with and being successful with all different kinds of people.
I think this is an example of how standardized testing of curriculum makes teachers focus so much on their content area that they forget about the other things that we need to teach students that can not be tested.
So help me out. How could I have better answered this teacher’s question “Why would I want collaboration in my class with another classroom?”
I agree with you on the motivation standpoint. My students are always so excited to see who commented on their writing. Rarely does someone say, “I don’t know what to write about” anymore.
You might have assumed too much. Is your colleague asking a question about practicalities or about the fundamental purpose of an education? It may be that he feels that he has no leeway at all in his schedule to try something unfamiliar; that the pressures imposed by the pacing of instruction does not afford him the time to learn how to effectively use social media tools. Or, if he is familiar with SM then he might be asking how does it help him deliver prescribed curriculum and teach to a test. The issue here, then, would not be about SM or collaboration as such, but about anything that takes him and his students off pace. On the other hand, he might be challenging your ideas about the fundamental aim of an education. He maybe sees the purpose of an education is to meet district- or state-set objectives. The two possibilities require different sorts of answers: the first asks for practical help to find time in a busy schedule, the second asks for big talk about the scope and nature of an education and about authorities.
But in either case, I find answering the challenges to SM, and online learning in general, by pointing to increased student motivation a weak argument. It’s the common answer and it rests on our belief that where there is engagement there is learning going. However true that may be, it leaves me with a sense that that is a very narrow view. It says that we collaborate in order to get engaged or to be motivated. We certainly don’t think that about group work in class so why do we think that about group work online? (The two–group work and collaboration–are not exactly equivalent, but i hope you take my point.)
Part of our problem is that we so far have little evidence beyond anecdotes that would convince us that we must use SM. Nevertheless, your colleague might be making the common mistake of taking this lacking as proof that there is no value in SM.
I think I would have responded to his question with a question of my own: “How do your students currently collaborate within your class?” If he’s a teacher that does not encourage collaboration in his own classroom, then it’s not surprising he wouldn’t see a point in collaborating over the internet. If he does use collaboration in class, it would be good to know how so I could respond in some encouraging ways of how he could use the internet to extend what he’s already doing. By describing something familiar, it’s less likely to scare him away from the idea.
And if that doesn’t work, step 2 is to use the internet for collaboration so effectively in your own class that his students will be jealous and demand it for their other classes. That’s a very positive kind of pressure for students to exert on their teachers.
One of the phrases I’ve heard recently, that may apply in this case, is, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” So if this teacher is not familiar with the concept of collaboration (using the computer) for himself, how can he possibly extend that to his teaching? I think this is an example of why it’s essential for teachers to collaborate with others, beyond the walls of their schools. When they see the benefits it brings, they can then begin to think how it will benefit their students.
I don’t see standardized testing as playing a role in this situation. It strikes me more as lack of understanding about the benefits and uses of collaboration outside the classroom/school walls.
Thanks for the feedback but I am still not satisfied. Brad I agree that my motivation answer was weak and that is why I am looking for a better answer.
What bothers me is that I believe in collaboration at some sort of deep level but I can not articulate well why it is important. That is the essential question I was left with from this conversation.
In blogs and on Twitter we often preach to the choir and everyone assumes collaboration is desirable. This teacher is not a part of the choir and asks a legitimate question: “why would I want to collaborate with another classroom?”
I believe the essence of his question was philosophical as to why would this be worth the time and energy and how will it help my students learn math? I also feel underneath it is the pressure of too much curriculum to prepare for standardized tests because that is the main thing administration talks about.
Now I am left back at my original question “Why Collaborate?”
Collaborate to express your ideas to an authentic audience because sometimes you don’t know what you’re thinking until you share it with others.
Collaborate to have your thinking challenged or validated which might promote open-mindedness.
Collaborate to listen to others’ thinking so you understand other people’s perspective and the reasoning for it.
Collaborate to share our strengths, talents, gifts and so that other people’s strengths etc. compliment our own and even fill in for our weaknesses.
Collaborate for the pure experience of the trials and tribulations of living in a society that demands collective survival.
Collaborate so we are a part of the human experience, learning how to communicate verbally and non-verbally.
Collaborate for the support, kind words of encouragement, an extra set of hands, ears or eyes, and collaborate even for the competitive challenge.
Collaborate to realize that my story and your story have much in common. That we are alike and we are different, and that either way it’s okay.
Collaborate because some tasks are too big for one person to handle alone.
Just some thinking…