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Posts Tagged ‘cooperative

The end of every semester gives me time to reflect. Even though I am no longer a full time faculty member, I do this because I am still an educator of future educators.

Most times I take notes — literally in macOS Notes — of what to do differently the next semester. This semester a conversation with one future faculty member reminded me to stay the course.

A graduate student I had just evaluated on student-centred pedagogy stayed back and asked me why I insisted that higher order thinking be challenged to and attempted by groups of learners.

The simple answer was the same as what that student recalled from workshop sessions — getting students to work with one another was more engaging. I did not give that answer because I know that empowerment is more effective than engagement.

I provided a broader answer. I replied that getting students to think deeply was important individually, particularly in a university context. However, we also have a civic responsibility to prepare students for the work place.

These are the same work places that have to deal with ill-structured problems. Often workers operate in teams or groups to find or devise solutions.

Universities have to play catch-up with the work place. Faculty who claim to prepare students for the work place need to operate accordingly. That is why higher order thinking, like peer teaching and cooperative learning, are critical.

To teach is the learn twice.

I helped that learner connect dots that he did not realise went that broad and that deep. I realise that I do not do this often enough. This reflection is a reminder for me to not just take these teachable moments, but also to make them.

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.

I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.


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