Why should children have to collaborate?

Collaboration, in more and more of what I read online, is a pre-requisite of good “21st century” learning environments. I can see why it is important, but as with a lot of online discussions, it seems needlessly binary. One has the sense you either subscribe to the “we should all be collaborating model” or you are a reactionary dolt who just doesn’t get it. I’m not sure it’s a simple a good as people make out, though.

There are various points I’m unclear about. The first is political. As this report comments,

“Working in groups can have considerable drawbacks for learning as well. Many students do not know how to work together and must have good models and instruction for the process. The status of individuals within a group can make some students consistent leaders and others always followers. The person whose ideas are respected in general may not be the person with the best understanding of the problem to be solved. Collaborative learning must also be organized in ways that tap diversity as a positive resource and counteract classroom stereotypes”

In other words, yes collaboration is important but it needs some quite serious social training and/or engineering for children to get the most out of it. How often does this actually happen in class compared to the herd them into groups and see how they get on approach?

The second is character. Not everyone is an extrovert. Yes group work is useful: if nothing else it adds energy to classrooms and gets children engaged. Any introvert, though, who has sat through a seminar with an extrovert full of their own ideas knows how painful group work can be. Susan Cain puts it far better than I can.

It would be a great shame if the quiet of contemplation lost out to the noise of collaboration in schools.

The third is interest. Collaboration seems to trump co-operation. These are different things, though, and I am not sure why one is better than the other. The group approach implicit in collaboration helps foster a group ethos and all the good that comes from shared goals. However, if it is important to personalise learning, then perhaps we need to be careful when we insist on collaboration that the child’s own goals are not too frequently sacrificed to those of the team? Personalisation and collaboration are not wonderfully easy bedfellows.

Delicious and Editorship

Fred‘s got some great points about delicious’ overinvestment in crowdsourcing. [thanks to headshift for the link]

the fact that del.icio.us overlooks the value of the individual is a key structural hole in the service. Del.icio.us is populated by many brilliant minds, but they are simply too hard to find! Its almost as if everyone on del.icio.us is blogging anonymously. It might have made sense a few years ago, but it doesn’t anymore. Del.icio.us can improve the social aspects of the service without becoming another social network; the idea that adding social to del.icio.us is somehow a negative is completely bunk. Social can be added well, and it will make del.icio.us even more popular. It’s time for del.icio.us to realize the value of editorship.

I think that’s right.

Fred also talks about making finding people easier. I personally have two types of feed I follow in delicious. Luminaries – as Fred calls them – or people I feel I ought to be following are the first. This group are generally visible enough in other channels (blogs etc) for me to find them on delicious – though it still takes a bit of work). In many ways, though these are the safe bets.

The second group are less visible, but effectively provide me with a tailored, edited and interesting reading list. They’re close to hitting the “optimal unfamiliarity” sweetspot Ton has spoken about. Sadly, it takes me a fair amount of effort to find these feeds. Focusing on the editorial social aspects may well mitigate that.

Feeds & Faces

If blogs really are about conversations, then why not make them more like human conversations and add a face or two to the feeds?

All the aggregators I’ve tried to date are text based. They have (broadly) 3 panes – an “all your feeds” list, a “selected feed’s titles” lists, and a “selected title’s post or excerpt”. My “all my feeds” list is growing inexorably bigger and at some stage, it’s going to be long and unmanageable. In my experience, some people are better at remembering names and some people are better at remembering faces. (Personally I’m better at faces – names I’m normally fine on, but there will be hideous blanks now and then.) But aren’t the aggregators slightly skewed towards people who are better at names?

It’s just a thought, but I’d be really curious to see what sort of a difference adding some sort of small visual cue (e.g. passport photo, Technorati profile photo, group logo) to that list would make. So, instead of having a load of “Bill’s Blog about Everything” feeds whose value to me becomes harder to distinguish as time goes by, I might get a little picture of Bill and then the title of the feed/blog. Perhaps it might help sort through unwieldy subscription lists?

(And er, I realise I don’t have a picture of me on this blog, but [sigh] I will soon – just let me comb what hair I have left, lance this unsightly boil, and get my dentures back from next door’s Alsatian….)