Saturday, 25 April 2009

Collaborative Learning

image: flickr Andross

Rewriting the introduction to the Virtual Teams Module this week and, more particularly, redesigning the process.

I want this to be an interactive and collaborative module which simulates virtual team working, so I am asking students to work together in small teams, on a project of their choosing and to present their final work electronically (as we never meet face to face on this module!)

In the midst of my ruminations on this I was given an idea for a blog post by my Twitter compaƱero @ffolliet :

"The sadness about education is that clever people can't always share their wisdom".

I think what he meant was that some very knowledgeable teachers are not very good at expressing and sharing what they know - and that is certainly true.

There is a famous cycle of learning that shows the learner moving through unconscious incompetence ("I don't know what I don't know" - the pre-learner) through conscious incompetence ("aaagh! I am terrible at this!" - the beginning learner) onto conscious competence ("hey! I am getting the hang of /pretty good at this!" - the apprentice) and finally to unconscious competence ( "I can do this in my sleep" - the Expert).

Teachers, it is alleged, are worse than useless if they are at the Expert stage because they have forgotten the struggles of learning, do not necessarily know how to help someone get to their elevated levels and can't understand why someone else is struggling to grasp the point. (see my earlier post on The Curse of Knowledge).

I think though when I first read this Tweet I immediately leaped to another interpretation: how difficult we make it in education for very clever, knowledgeable and experienced students to share their knowledge.

In Distance Learning with mature, work based students I think it only fair to assume that students will have valuable skills, knowledge and experience to share and to build upon - so why should I think I am the only person worth listening to? - or assume that the set texts and articles I am recommending are the only knowledge worth sharing?

In Action Learning (and similarly in Person Centred approaches to teaching and coaching) we start from the premise that the "client" knows where it hurts and how to fix it - they just need help in articulating & acting on that knowledge.

So - just as @ffolliet's comment on Twitter stimulated me to write this blog and share something that deep inside I have known for a long time, just maybe forgotten - with a well timed question or prompt we can all bring out the cleverness inside each other. Student-directed groups, action learning sets, wikis for collaborative writing are all spaces where we can do this.

This isn't signalling mass unemployment for academics - just that the role has to change from being the clever person in the room who has all the answers to being the one who knows how to encourage everyone to ask clever questions of one another.

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