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Posts Tagged ‘cooperation

I completed another round of performance assessments of future faculty this week. The experience reminded me of something that I have been meaning to write and share with future batches of learners. This is the difference between incidental and purposeful cooperation, and the importance of the latter.

Incidental cooperation is not designed for, or at best superficially designed for.

For example, a teacher might hand out worksheets to students, and if students choose to work with one another, the cooperation is incidental. It is not planned or required.

The teacher might design the worksheet to be challenging and perhaps tell students that they can consult each other. But this is also incidental because students have a choice to work alone.
 

 
Purposeful cooperation is well-designed and skilfully implemented.

This requires a teacher to design a task that is unlikely to be resolved by individuals working on their own. Cooperation is a must. Such a design might consist of one or more A-B layers.

In paired work, you have students A and B. Each has a task that each must complete separately. This is like giving each student a jigsaw piece whose complementary piece is held by someone else. They must then work together to create a more complete picture.

The A-B strategy can also extend to different groups. If A is one group and B is another, A could teach something that B does not know. Alternatively, B could prepare a resource for A, challenge A with it, and discuss outcomes with A.

In any implementation of purposeful cooperation, the teacher needs to monitor closely, pull answers out of learners instead of pushing answers to them, and deal with unproductive behaviours.

This type of cooperation limited only by the creativity and critical thinking of the teacher. It is also challenging because the preparation is more complex and the facilitation more involved.

But the design and implementation of purposeful cooperation is worth the effort particularly if learners are challenged with higher order outcomes and are given insights on what working life is like.

This semester I had to resort to something I might have done as a classroom teacher 21 years ago. I had to manage expectations with a warning prior to a cooperative learning activity.

Some context: I model and teach assorted pedagogical strategies to future faculty. One of these strategies is a variant of the jigsaw method. This is a cooperative learning activity that replaces a long and boring lecture on even more pedagogical strategies and theories.
 

 
I have done this for many semesters, but I something changed last year. During the jigsaw, a few individuals would resort to selfish behaviours. I vividly recall three individuals at separate sessions: One shopped online, another used social media to chat with people outside class, and another played a mobile game.

An outsider might baulk at the actions of these three. They are Ph.D. students who are privileged to attend a well-respected university. Most students at this level are also sponsored for their studies, so this raises the privilege ante further.

I confronted these individuals to let them know they had responsibilities to their group — in a jigsaw cooperation, they were individually accountable and yet dependent on one another.

I realised I was reacting to this instead of preventing it. So this semester I set expectations like I used to as a classroom teacher. I told my learners that I would give them a verbal warning if they engaged in selfish behaviour, and if they persisted, I would ask them to leave the class.

No one crossed that line this semester even though a few were tempted. But I do not think that it was the threat of being confronted that led to positive behaviours. I also emphasised the rationales managing one’s self for the good of a group. The social pressure to conform and cooperate did the rest.

The video in this tweet creates an almost irrational joy or hope. It featured people trying to return to the owner a cap that dropped from an upper floor of a high-rise building.

Spoiler: The owner got the cap back, but not without a couple of failed attempts.

Why feature this video? One might talk about the small things we can or should do today to restore faith in humanity. One might also wonder how the bar got set so low.

No, for me this video is a start to having conversations with teachers about the overlaps and distinctions between cooperation and collaboration.

There are some videos that you watch on YouTube and there are others that are on Vimeo. Those in Vimeo tend to be in a class of their own.

A good example is this animation about two robots mining gems.
 

Video source

There is not a word uttered in the video, but the message is clear: Cooperation is constructive; competition can be destructive.

The same could apply in the context of schooling. There will be times when competition is important or even necessary, e.g., competitive sports, fund-raising, friendly rivalries.

But there are times when it is counterproductive, e.g., teachers not sharing resources or students not helping each other in order to stay ahead.

Unlike in the video, the impact of negative forms of competition are not always and immediately obvious. They fester and rot, and as they normalise, we say it is just part of our culture or defend it by saying there is nothing wrong with competition.

Competition is not always a good thing. If you cannot see that, then you need to let these two robots remind you why.

Many years ago, I used to tease student teachers into thinking more deeply about the differences between cooperation and collaboration. I would say:

  • Cooperation is 1+1=2
  • Collaboration is 1+1=3

They would eventually figure out some elements of what John Spencer distilled recently.

But the more direct answer to my riddle is in this tweet.

The result of cooperation is often the sum of its parts. The result of collaboration is a new birth.


Video source

When I watched yesterday’s Wongfu Weekend episode with my son, I told him this was a good instance of how cooperation is often better than competition.

Minecraft is a sandbox game that has no fixed rules. As a player, you decide what you want to do, and that is probably one of the major reasons why this game is so popular.

In the video, Phil and Wes (who are new to the game) are coached by Ted and David respectively.

Phil and Ted opted to take the more constructive route. Wes and David went on a destructive rampage. They eventually fought each other even as zombies, skeletons, and spiders attacked them both.

If they had cooperated, they would have survived the night. Because they competed, their game avatars died. That is a lesson in Minecraft you can take into life.

Finish/Start by I like, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  I like 

Lots and lots have been said about the quality of Finnish education. I admire what they do and how they do it. I do not envy those who want to try to replicate or borrow ideas for implementation.

I am not going to add much to that conversation either. But I will point out what one Finnish educator said at Mind/Shift:

“You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the U.S. it’s based on a belief in competition,” Sahlberg said. “In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth.”

I think that value system is what allows the Finnish to “finish” first in education. But because they are not in competition with anyone else (except perhaps themselves), they do not ever finish.

What do our teachers and educators believe in?


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