Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Collective Learning . . . all together now!

I love the concept of collective learning. Making use of people and organisations with different skills is absolutely how the real work functions in business - but rarely in education. I suspect that too often there is a confusion between the concepts of group work and collective learning and I believe there is a fundamental difference between the two.
Group work tends to take place when a small group of students are asked to produce a piece of work together. Usually there is little division of labour and individual skills are often ignored. Teachers seem to encourage groups to work "together", that is, all doing the same thing as this makes assessment easier. How do you assess students who are all contributing in different ways towards a goal?
Collective learning involves the use of student skill diversity. The importance is placed on the learning rather than the method to get there. This is much harder to assess.
In my year 11 IT class we produce web sites. I try to make the task a real task: real clients, real web sites, true teams with team leaders, teams with mixed abilities, etc. Teams conduct face-to-face meetings with the client, produce mock-ups, correspond with the client, produce and evaluate the site. However in the context of a secondary school with 72-minute periods, three periods per week, the task becomes very difficult to sustain. There is little time to devote to the task and it is expected that students each meet a common set of criteria.
As usual there are lots of problems - are there any answers?
We are investigating an online elective. It would run outside of normal class/school hours giving the possibility of more time. It would move beyond the constraints of the common curriculum allowing students to be assessed individually. An online elective could encourage the use of Web 2.0 tools for collaboration both within the college and beyond.
Changing teacher attitudes to assessment will be a major task but an important one if we wish to pursue true collective learning tasks.
Finally, until the end of year examination is replaced by a more effective and realistic measure of a student's ability then, sadly, little will change.

(For week 04 #change11)