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Confessions of an anti-collaborator

Confessions of an anti-collaborator

I have a confession I must make:

When I was in highschool and undergrad, I HATED collaborative group work. Absolutely HATED it. But I'm recovering.

This likely has several causes, one of them being I was always a painfully shy and introverted child, and forced socialization was my worst nightmare. The other reason I hated groupwork was because I was always a straight-A student, and I was always paired with the failing student that needed help. The teacher would always talk to me about it beforehand, and frame it as a philanthropic effort, and probably give me an extra sticker. But what happened? I would end up doing ALL the work because I was never brave enough to trust the other student with my grade. Combine that with my horrific fear of talking to people, and you have a recipe for a nightmare.

At "Collaboration by Difference" with Fiona Barnett and Cathy Davidson, I was most struck by Prof. Davidson's comment that we have been TRAINED since kindergarten to work individually with a narrowly focused attention (and trained to ignore all the gorillas in the room). She mentioned how its funny that we must be TOLD to work collaboratively, but young children must be TOLD to work independantly. I felt so robbed! I wonder if I was raised working collaboratively, would I have had the same horrific fear of group work in high school and most of undergrad? How can we undo 18 years of focused attention and independant learning? How are we perpetuating this independant mindset in the university?

There has been research done showing that learners retain most information when teaching others. This strategy is far under-used by college professors because it is a very high-stakes strategy for both instructors and students. Its difficult for the instructor to completely let go of control of the classroom, and difficult for the student to confidently instruct their peers. However, I think this is one of those things where it is so so difficult the first time, and exponentially easier and easier in the future. I think if I had been thrown into a high school or college classroom and forced to teach my peers, I would have quickly overcome my horrific fear of group work, because I would immediately see that my peers DO have great knowledge to bring to the table (to my shock and surprise!). This holds students accountable for their own learning, and helps them to work through the more difficult material in ways that may not have been brought up in a traditional lecture format.

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5 comments

Molly, I complete sympathize with your past feelings and experiences with collaborations. I think the type of person that generally ends up in academia (straight-A and type-A) is also exactly the type of person that has a difficult time collaborating. It is extremely difficult to let go of the reigns when you know that if you completed a project yourself it would be 'A material.' However, I think we need to let go of this idea of creating work worthy of an A grade. And we may even need to let go of the A grade (or any grade) in general. For one thing, the type of work that is successful in your average school setting (grade school, high school, and even college) tends to be incredibly boring and predictable. Yes, it fulfills the requirements, but does it fulfill our potential? I think the answer to that is a resounding "NO." And that is exactly why I came to the workshop today--because I have come to the conclusion that I am only going to reach my potential by being open to other points of view and other methodologies. To do this I think we need to acknowledge our own failings. We're only human--we can't know everything. Why not take advantage of the vast knowledge that our peers both within and outside of academia have? Even if every collaboration is not 100% successful, I am sure that it will be a superb learning experience for all involved.

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Yes, yes, yes. I completely agree. Learning to let go of the reigns and welcome other contributions and even welcome failure I think would increase learning greatly. I think the straight-A, type-A students like myself are afraid of this because they are so afraid of that letter. When in fact, I'm sure we all know of those students that were a good deal less type-A and accept low grades because they feel like the work is beneth them, or it just doesn't captivate their attention. We all know someone like this--a "failure" in school, but in reality a true genius (Einstein is always the classic example). Being a little less type-A, learning to enjoy what we do, and learning to accept a failure here and there would not only greatly increase learning, but make it more fun! (Which I think we decided was our #1 rule of collaboration in the workshop).

From the educational standpoint, I think this conversation points out the necessity to abolish the A/B/C/D/F grading system. I enjoy baking as a hobby, and some of my greatest learning opportunities were when the product was a complete failure...learning why it failed helped me make a loaf of bread 1000x better the next time.

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I appreciate your contribution. I think this article raises some fair questions concerning this visual, ie that the nice round percentages seem bogus. Fair enough. I was thinking today how this idea might be better illustrated not as a pyramid or stair-step model, but as a continuum. However, the conclusions this article draws are not that different from what I meant in my original post. This article concludes that the most effective form of education is a multi-modal form of learning where the information is presented through a variety of strategies and techniques, engaging all the senses. YES! I completely agree! I by no means meant to argue that we learn best through teaching others, so therefore this should be the ONLY teaching method we use....not at all.

What stood out to me most in this article is the following statement: "As it turns out, doing is not always more efficient than seeing, and seeing is not always more effective than reading." Based on the conclusion, I think they mean to put an emphasis on the "always"-s. This is absolutely true.  If we teach using ONLY lecture, or ONLY small group work, or ONLY blogging, etc, we would be doing a major disservice to our students and to ourselves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this controversial model.

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I appreciate your contribution. I think this article raises some fair questions concerning this visual, ie that the nice round percentages seem bogus. Fair enough. I was thinking today how this idea might be better illustrated not as a pyramid or stair-step model, but as a continuum. However, the conclusions this article draws are not that different from what I meant in my original post. This article concludes that the most effective form of education is a multi-modal form of learning where the information is presented through a variety of strategies and techniques, engaging all the senses. YES! I completely agree! I by no means meant to argue that we learn best through teaching others, so therefore this should be the ONLY teaching method we use....not at all.

What stood out to me most in this article is the following statement: "As it turns out, doing is not always more efficient than seeing, and seeing is not always more effective than reading." Based on the conclusion, I think they mean to put an emphasis on the "always"-s. This is absolutely true.  If we teach using ONLY lecture, or ONLY small group work, or ONLY blogging, etc, we would be doing a major disservice to our students and to ourselves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this controversial model.

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