Teaching Collaboration

May 6th, 2010 |

I would like to purpose a session on teaching collaboration, no not teaching collaboratively (although that might be part of the answer) but rather how do we encourage collaboration amongst our students. In some sense I have come to believe that “collaborative literacy” (I know poor name, need something better) is a key component to creating digitally savvy students. But this creates problems in the classroom.

First issue: Most of the disciplines we all teach in value singular scholarship and singular production, to the point of idealizing it (the picture of a scholar sitting alone amongst a stack of books producing a manuscript). What’s worse is that many of us became academics because of an attraction to this kind of singular work, and very few us got any graduate instruction or experience in collaboration.

Second issue: The institution is structured in such a way as to not only not encourage collaboration, but make it difficult. We are asked to evaluate students individually, give them credit for work that they have done, and assign a grade which signifies individual achievement.

How do we teach our students collaboration? So how do we craft assignments in such a way as to not only encourage, but require this sort of collaborative approach? How do we then evaluate this and make it fit into the existing system?

When group projects go well they do really well, when they go poorly they go really, really, really poorly. So here is something I am thinking about doing for next semester, an idea with which I am toying:

At the beginning of the semester students will form groups based on project interest. No minimum to group size. If some projects have a lot of interest, might divide into two groups.

  • The student groups than spend the first week establishing community rules, expectations, etc.
  • Student groups are allowed to have a process by which they dismiss group members for not living up to community standards.
  • All students within a group receive the same grade.
  • If you are removed from a group you can do an individual project, or form a group with someone else. (Up to you to negotiate.)

So, I purpose a session where we discuss what models have worked, what hasn’t, why, and what else me might try.

Comments Feed

7 Responses to “Teaching Collaboration”

  1. Jmcclurken Says:

    I’m definitely interested in exploring this further. I’ve done both individual and collaborative digital history projects with students and look forward to discussing ideas about making group work more effective and productive for all involved.

  2. Bill Ferster Says:

    Count me in. Big issue in DH classes.

  3. Mark Sample Says:

    Collaboration among students is something the sciences teach and reward much more than the humanities. I’ve often dreamed of teaching my literature classes in one of the biology labs down the hall, with students working with lab partners around those tall workbench tables. In some way, even simple changes in classroom space (e.g. getting rid of chairs) can encourage collaborative behavior.

    Maybe instead of the term “collaborative literacy” we just use “collaborative practice,” evoking the apprenticeship model underlying Lave and Wenger’s notion of communities of practice.

  4. cjceglio Says:

    This topic interests me, not only from the standpoint of teaching students how to collaborate and then evaluate the fruits of that work, but also from the standpoint of thinking about how collaboration can enrich are range of traditionally solitary activities.

    You mention the stereotypical vision of the scholar in splendid isolation with his or her books. This is a particular paradigm that I’m interested in challenging. One of my THATCamp proposals involves adapting or developing an annotation tool for collaborative critical reading. Existing software such as CommentPress (www.futureofthebook.org/commentpress/) or Adobe Buzzword (www.adobe.com/acom/buzzword/) provide some but not all the features that I envision for this project. The aim is to leverage the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing by fostering critical reading skills that encourage students to examine how scholars structure and develop their arguments and, in turn, to think more critically about their own writing. The difference between this idea and, say, having students blog about what they are reading is that the tool would make students’ observations about the text–and the text itself–visible in the same shared space, inviting close re-examination of the text.

    Goals include:

    •Transform reading from a solitary activity with no feedback mechanisms to a collaborative learning activity.

    •Help students to strengthen their critical reading skills: understand how arguments are structured, use of rhetoric, conception of audience, etc. Transfer this knowledge to creation of students’ own written work. Peer-learning: shift from many-to-one to a many-to-many model, create space for low-risk participation and carry momentum over to classroom discussion.

    So, the issues of how to create the setting for successful collaboration and group work pertain to my project as well—even though it in itself may be more tangential to the interests of the topic as you propose it. I’m interested, too, in facilitating other collaborative work, such as you’ve all written about here.

  5. THATCamp 2010 » Blog Archive Says:

    […] proposals already seen (Bill Ferster’s on visualization, Dave Parry’s on teaching collaborative learning, and the extra question Rob Nelson asks at the end of his post about what we should be teaching […]

  6. ethan.watrall Says:

    I’m in. This is a big issue for my proposal.

  7. briancroxall Says:

    Count me in as well.


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