WHEN IS COOPERATIVE LEARNING INAPPROPRIATE?

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Here is my original posting to a variety of discussion groups followed

by the responses I received.

ďWhen is cooperative learning not appropriate?Ē

My knee jerk reaction was to think, ďIt is always appropriate!Ē

Then I started to think carefully and it occurred to me that most

cooperative learning approaches call for a component to address

individual student accountability. This might take the form of an exam

at the end of a lesson, a report, an essay, a project presentation, etc.

Under these circumstances I would say that CL techniques would not

apply. They could be used to help students prepare for tests or peer

edit papers but the final activity should be carried out by each student

individually.

Can anyone else think of other educational objectives where CL would

not be appropriate?

If you would like to add two 2-cents to the discussion please continue to 

e-mail me and I will add your response to the others below.

tpanitz@capecod.net

visit my web site at:

http://_tedscooppage.homestead.com/index.html

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Responses

"Ronald D. Illingworth" <ffrdi@uaf.edu>

University of Alaska Fairbanks

This isn't a direct answer to your question but a variation.

I work entirely with distance students.Most are physically isolated

from all of the other students in the class.While I agree with the

benefits of CL, implementation under these circumstances is more

difficult.Students can not travel to some central location

periodically.Course delivery occurs via audio conference bridging using

an 800 number.Adding CL audio conferencing would add a rather

significant monetary cost to the courses that f2f courses don't

encounter.Internet access is minimal at this time and will remain so

for the next few years.I would appreciate any suggestions that you or

others might have that might address this issue.

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Al Roy <aroy@bristol.mass.edu>

It would probably not be appropriate to ask students to cooperate in the

reading of a novel by having every person in the group read a different

chapter of the book.

Just KiddingKeep The Faith

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Marie Miller-Whitehead marie@TVEE.ORG

http://www.tvee.org/

Having worked with assessment of both individual and cooperative learning it

would appear that CL does have fairly clear limitations depending upon the

goals of the particular project.Let me say that CL is particularly

appropriate for non-graded activities, adult learners working on project teams

or doing problem solving activities.CL may not allow the individual student

the opportunity to demonstrate creativity, it may not allow those who evaluate

and assess the project or product to definitively identify the unique

contribution of each of the members of the CL group; thus when it is desirable

to grade an individual's knowledge, product, or behavior (in some cases) CL

may not be the most appropriate method.That said, it IS entirely possible to

do all of the above using CL techniques and methods although it is a more

complex and time consuming approach than is assigning a score to the work of

an individual student.As you so succinctly point out CL is always appropriate

to the truly dedicated advocate of CL...without CL how would we do "team

problem solving" ....also, how does one draw the line anymore when we make

more and more use of ad hoc "virtual work teams" in the workplace?

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Allen Wilkinson <aw@STRATOS.NET>

As a farm boy by heritage and watching professional scientists as an

adult, I believe that some people are most creative in solving problems

in the solitude of their own musings. So I would argue there are

learning styles best fostered by the opposite of cooperative learning.

Any co-believers out there.

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Connie Hudgeons <connie@HANDYWERKS.COM>

As a long time user of CL,I've been reading this conversation with interest.

I have to agree with both sides of the issue.CL is, in my personal opinion,

very overused.I think that the underlying purpose of CL at all times is to

teach its name - cooperation.

I often combine that very independent work with CL -- requiring everyone to do

all the work on "pieces of the puzzle" so to speak, and then come together in

cooperative groups to do a large culminating activity that requires all the

parts.

PBL (problem based learning) often requires this type of structure.

I think there are lots of time when cooperative learning is appropriate -- say

reviewing for tests, or reviewing lecture notes -- and times when it is not

appropriate -- say introducing new concepts or strategies that have to

be mastered to move forward in content progression.As a teacher, I use

CL -- say fish bowling -- as a means of evaluating all that independent stuff.

So, Allen, I agree with you.Solitude is a great motivator of creativity and is

just as needed as CL.

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tony <A.H.Wright@MASSEY.AC.NZ>

I think it depends on the level of focus you are taking. Very often there

is an important place for individual effort within a cooperative task. For

example, when writing a report, it is often best if one person goes off and

writes the first draft that is then edited by the group. An exam is a

similar example. The co-operative task can lead up to the examination which

is individual.

I guess what I am saying is that co-operative learning probably has a role

in most learning situations, but everything doesn't have to be done

co-operatively.

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Jan Shetzlerjshetz@UDel.Edu

I think maybe CL is not appropriate when the task or problem to solve is not

challenging enough.There are times when the assignment given to students

is something they can do alone and giving it as a group assignment will only

reinforce the idea that each person should do just part of the assignment

and then copy each other's answers or when one person does the work and

others freeload.I think it is important for the task to be difficult

enough that students need each other.

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Lauren Eve Pomerantzlauren@teachspace.org

Let me preface my statement by admitting that I am not a schoolteacher.My

paid position is as a technical writer and software trainer.As the

Programs Coordinator for the CSSC I develop and give presentations with

various levels of student interaction.However, I am a perpetual student,

taking seminars at local colleges regularly.I am now working on a degree

in Telecommunications Management.

I also apologize because this is a long post.I have strong feelings on the

subject.

Cooperative Learning works when the students are of similar abilities, level

of interest, and devotion to their education.It helps if the students

like, or at least respect each other.I despise cooperative learning.I am

intelligent, I write and organize information well, I like research, and I

am a disgusting perfectionist.I was (and still am) the student who regards

a B as a personal failure.When assigned a term paper, I do the research

the first weekend and write the paper the second.I turn things in early.

Other students hated me, and frankly, I don't blame them a bit.

In middle and upper school, in project after project, I was taken advantage

of by students who worked more slowly than I did, who were sloppy with their

work, and who would be satisfied to get a B or a C on a project.In

college, when I learned to refuse to be taken advantage of, I dreaded these

projects.I would have my work done a month before the due date and would

experience growing levels of frustration and resentment as that date

approached and my teammates pulled all nighters to meet it.

I would bet that if you allowed students to comment anonymously on their

experiences, you would find students who shared my frustrations and who

despised such projects as much as I do.

In my current program of studies, cooperative learning in required in some

courses.My experience is that in the labs, this is fun.When learning new

skills like punching telephone blocks, the lab turns into a social, where we

gab, joke, and critique each other's technique.

On the other hand, a recent history class required cooperation on a

presentation.My partner contributed absolutely nothing, and I did all of

the work.What can you do?If a project gets a C, it isn't divided into an

A for those who slaved and an F for those who worked.If your partner is

doing C or F work and you want an A, you have to make up the difference.In

a class with limited grading opportunities (two tests, two presentations,

and a final) every grade is critical.Had I received a C on that project,

it would have brought my overall grade down from an A to a B.

One teacher had an interesting approach.In a business class, we divided

into groups and worked all trimester on a business plan.At the end of the

class, our teacher asked us to comment on what we had learned about

ourselves and teamwork through the project.Then he asked how much people

had worked on the project, from most to least.It was last summer, I was in

the middle of Y2K conversions, and I had to admit that I had worked the

least.Everyone else got variations of A, depending on where they ended up

in vote.I got a B.This, I think, requires a level of honesty that most

middle and upper school students wouldn't have.I didn't have it then.

Cooperative learning is a nice concept, but it doesn't match the real world.

In the real world, you must take your own grades home to your parents.Your

parents do not care if the average grade in your team is better or worse

than last semester.The improvement or decline in your teammates' grades do

not count on your report card.They do not count on your college

application.They do not count on your thesis.They do not count at your

job interview.They do not count at your performance evaluation.In the

real world, you live and die by your own deeds.

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"Lillian Seese" <lseese@stlcc.cc.mo.us>

I've followed this discussion - and your web site - for a long time.I tend

to think that whenever CL is not appropriate, "group work" is.

This, of course, opens up the question of "what's the difference?"I feel

that CL always involves students learning new stuff, where as group work

often only involves practicing skills.

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SALLY MCCOMBS <mccombs1@EMAIL.MSN.COM>

Of course, you're right that there are times that it's better to let

kids work individually, if only because there are kids who really do better

when allowed to work alone.I think the old "variety is the spice of life"

applies here.

However, I must mention that it is possible to use CL when testing,

also.I've used the following technique and it's been successful.First,

each student must complete the test individually.Then they get into their

group with another blank copy of the test.They discuss their individual

answers and must agree on a final answer that they put on the "group" test.

Finally, they turn in all the tests.As far as grading goes, of course it's

up to the teacher.You can either count just the group test or you can give

a group grade and an individual one.

I don't use this for all my tests, but it does have some advantages for

occasional use.The students I teach (middle schoolers who have been

retained at least once) are notoriously bad at taking tests.This method

helps them get over the anxiety and get in the habit of reading and

analyzing test questions instead of skimming and guessing.

Now, time to go to work. (sigh)Our kids are gone, so it's just the

mopping up. (G)

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Wes Clarkson <wpclarks@episd.org>

The individual assessment component of cooperative learning, along with components such as jig

sawing, rely on individual learning, but they are, never-the-less, integral parts of the CL process.

CL is not always "group learning," but rather a cooperative effort where students take individual

responsibilities for specific tasks and activities, which they tne use to help each other learn all the

material in question.

I've used CL extensively in the classroom, as a staff developer, and as a math facilitator for over

ten years.

My response to the idea that CL is not always appropriate, is that cooperative learning, properly

designed and supported with appropriate materials, can be used effectively to teach any class, any

group of students, any time any where.The difficulty is that it requires more planning and more

physical effort on the part of the teacher than a direct teaching or lecture style of presentation.

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jim borgford-parnellbparnell@u.washington.edu

As to your question, "When is cooperative learning not appropriate?"If I

had to choose only one learning format in my teaching I would choose

cooperative learning.However, I don't have to choose only one and my

experience and training has shown me that too much of anything is never an

appropriate choice.

This discussion of cooperative learning has me thinking about how odd our

educational system is, in that we gather our learners together into small

spaces and then treat them as if each person is alone in the room.One

would imagine that concepts such as cooperative learning, group discussion,

socially shared cognition, active learning, and others, would be the driving

forces behind this system in which people are intended to learn in groups.

Instead, the underlying concept seems to be economy; it is more economical

to teach individuals if they are all gathered shoulder-to-shoulder and

listening to one teacher.

Learning theories and practice models that foreground groups and social

situations are alien to this system, and are usually compromised by the

grading systems, competition, individualistic ethos, and lack of pedagogical

preparation.Experiential learning and situated cognition are radical and

expensive notions that are out of place in our classrooms.At the same

time, we expend enormous time and effort creating elaborate systems to force

people to learn on their own, to not look over their neighbor's shoulder, to

not talk in class, and to separate their sense-making from everyone except

the teacher and the disembodied voices in the text.Our educational system,

reminds me more of Hollywood's version of the Roman gladiatorial games, in

which it was every man for himself and the last one standing was the winner.

Well one thing is for sure, there is no lack need for instructional

consultants in this system.

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Karen Fredericksonkf6@post.queensu.ca

I always enjoy your postings and really like your website.This aspect of

appropriateness seems to be more related to a philosophical perspective

rather than "appropriateness."If teachers are plugging coop learning into

the traditional teaching and learning perspective, then problems arise.

What do you think?

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Beverly K. Maddoxbmaddox@mail.snider.net

Ted, I've read with interest your posts and responses concerning cooperative learning.I've not

much to add except for two strategies concerning assessment/grades.A friend of mine who

teaches high school English in Fairfax county, VA, devised a strategy to help with grades when she

uses groups for projects--She doesn't claim it as a fully original idea, but she's incredibly modest

(also retiring in the fall, to education's great loss).I'm patching in the handout I use in workshops

rather than adding an attachment:

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GROUP SELF EVALUATION

Each kid gets an index card, records own name and names of other members, and

assigns points to each member. Total points possible for group must equal

number of members times 25. If a kid decides to reduce someoneís grade by a

certain number of points, s/he must give those points to another kid. Hereís an

example of how the individual kids in a 4-person group might grade each other

and how to figure their grades for group work.

KidsAís assignedBís assignedCís assignedDís assignedTOTAL

Scoresscoresscoresscores

A27262527105%

B2225232293%

C24252626100%

D26242626102%

Total scores100100100100

Kid A gets 103 % of groupís grade. Say groupís grade is 89, then A gets 103% of 89, or 92.

Kid B gets 93 % of 89, or 83. Of course, the teacher has to do a little more complicated math if

there are 3-person or 5-person groups, but calculators make that pretty easy and foolproof.

KidsAís assignedBís assignedCís assignedDís assignedTOTAL

Scoresscoresscoresscores

A272725105%

B22202184%

C262829110%

Total757575

If groupís grade is 89, A gets 105 %, or 93; B gets 84 %, or 75; C gets 110%, or 98.

Keep cards confidential to allow teacher to compensate for any vendettas. If a kid has been

absent for most of the groupís work, provide alternative assignment and tell the group not to

include him or her in the scoring.

Idea credited to Ann Teague, English teacher at Fairfax

High School, Fairfax, VA

One of my strategies that turns a testing session into a learning session is to administer a test

individually, then, after everyone is finished, distribute the test to groups and allow the group to

"retake" the test.the Group submits one answer sheet with everyone's name on it.I grade

individual tests and the group tests, averaging each individual grade with the group's grade.A

professor of mine in graduate school years ago used this strategy and I thought it was the best

teaching strategy in my graduate program; I learned so much from those heated debates in my

groups.I've always felt the most learning I did in that class took place in my test groups.This

works best in a 90 minute "block" class, but I've occasionally modified it by administering the

group test the next day or giving everyone a take-home copy and allowing them to "research"

before the group test.There are other modifications I occasionally use, too, such as requiring that the handwriting vary.Of course, the majority of the points come from application, synthesis, and evaluation type questions.Grading is a bear, but I don't do this with every test--only ones that count for many points.

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LegendRNM@AOL.COM

Hi to all, I just wanted to respond on two points raised by Ted re: coop

learning.First, in response to the accountability issue, I disagree that

the groups can only be used for practice or studying and not for carrying out

the final project or presentation, etc.Think of Slavin's STAD technique--

it provides both for group and individualcontribution to a final grade--

it's a perfect method of doing authentic assessment.

Second, I agree that my knee-jerk reaction is that coop learning is always

possible (and necessary!!).However, many school use homogeneous whole class

grouping ( a sort of tracking at the elementary level).Within these classes

teachers would have a tremendous responsibility to see that students remain

on task, maintain roles, etc.The whole idea of ZPD is incorporated into

coop learning, so if students are all at a low level, real progress may be

slow or impossible.Behavioral issues may also arise.Also, teachers who

have heterogeneously grouped whole classes may still choose to group students

according to achievement level (sometimes called "ability level" !! LOL)I

understand that grouping this way allows the teacher to better focus their

energies and materials, but then the ZPD issues enters, as well as

expectations and non-challenging tasks.Anyway, my two cents, for what it's

worth, Peace, R. Caporrimo

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dennis roberts <dmr@EMAIL.PSU.EDU>

it is important in this discussion to make sure of whether we are

discussing the learning OF a task/skill ... or the performance OF that

task/skill

in some sense, you could argue that cl is always present ... since, it is

very difficult to think of any task/skill that one learns ... where he/she

learns it alone ... in isolation from people ... resources ...

if that is the conception of cl ... then there is nothing to debate

but, of course, if that is the case ... cl as a separate notion to argue

for ... lacks merit

fundamentally, one has to look at the task ... and ask: does it have to be

performed alone ... and if the answer is yes (like a kids first piano solo

recital) ... then even if one gets help along the way in learning the task

... should we put it in the category of cl?

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John Baughman <jbaughman@EVERETT.WEDNET.EDU>

In my experience at the elementary level, regardless of whether or not

teachers are cognizant of Slavin's "STAD" model, the issue of individual

accountability is more often than not neglected.

By neglecting it, we delude ourselves into the idea that "all" are

learning to standard- not just the competent ones.

Second, it is my NOTION that paired cooperation is all that some groups of

kids can handle because of the behavioral chemistry of the group.I made

the make mistake of assuming

otherwise.

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KGarc@AOL.COM

In a message dated 6/14/00 9:55:48 AM Pacific Daylight Time,

jbaughman@EVERETT.WEDNET.EDU writes:

<< Second, it is my NOTION that paired cooperation is all that some groups of

kids can handle because of the behavioral chemistry of the group.I made

the make mistake of assuming

otherwise. >>

You're right...in this case, there needs to be a strong connection to the end

result, to get them to encourage each other through the process. For example,

one cooperative learning project I use involves thekids being travel

agents, using all their school subjects. In one part they need to research a

geographic area, determine what there is to see and do there, understand

political aspects and write a travel itinerary to sell their travel package

to customers. They KNOW this needs to get done collaboratively in order to be

ready for "Travel Day" where the customers come in and look at all the teams'

travel packages. Teams that have difficulty need to get through the process

so they have something to sell. Teams with trouble are closely facilitated by

the instructor BUT they also have a lot of momentum and commitment from

within the group to succeed in their interpersonal negotiations because of

the culminating sales activity. So I guess my point is that behavioral

chemistry can be overcome through a strong motivator which includes a fun

culminating activity.

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Catherine Scott <c.scott@UWS.EDU.AU>

In response to Dennis's point that isn't all learning co-operative learning

because there are always people around when we learn, (I hope this does not

bowdlerise Dennis's argument).

>in some sense, you could argue that cl is always present ... since, it is

very difficult to think of any task/skill that one learns ... where

he/shelearns it alone ... in isolation from people ... resources ...

My take on it would be that an essential aspect of CL is that it avoids

competition between students, and using competitivenessas a 'motivator'.

Thus having people around falls way short of a sufficient condition for the

prescence of CL.

Sorry if this is less than articulate - I am typing and talking on the

phone at the same time.

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Linda <metzkel@together.net>

Linda Metzke, Lyndon State College, Lyndonville, VT

I actually use cooperative learning for exams sometimes because I teach

future teachers and sometimes the accountability issue is the ability to

work together! But, sometimes one must give students information that is

not readily available and then cooperative learning is not the best

format.

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        Paul Hertzel <hertzpau@niacc.cc.ia.us>

Jim Borgford-Parnell wrote,

        At the same time, we expend enormous time and effort
        creating elaborate systems to force people to learn on
        their own, to not look over their neighbor's shoulder,
        to not talk in class. . .

In the colleges I have taught, the above words would be interpreted
as confusing "learning" with "testing".   We expend enormous time
and effort to make sure students test on their own, do not look over
their neighbor's shoulder during tests, do not talk during testing . . .

But we make no such efforts during learning.  Studying together is
encouraged, looking sideways during class to see how others have
interpreted activities, and asking questions is encouraged.  I have
never been to a college where it was otherwise.

The important distinction, I think, is that the learning (and therefore
the testing of it) really is a personal, individual thing that takes place
inside one's mind, but cooperative methods are encouraged as useful means
toward achieving it.
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Larry D. Spence" <lds7@psu.edu>

  Paul Hertzel wrote:
>The important distinction, I think, is that the learning (and therefore
>the testing of it) really is a personal, individual thing that takes place
>inside one's mind, but cooperative methods are encouraged as useful means
>toward achieving it.

I disagree and many others would too.  Learning is fundamentally
social.  It takes place in social settings by communities of
practitioners.  It is tested by whether or not it improves practices and
ultimately the quality of human life.  That is why testing procedures that
merely attempt to audit individual brain contents ultimately encourage rote
memorization and frustrate meaningful learning.

What is at stake here are some widely different theories of learning.  If
you start with the associationist assumptions that Hertel does then
collaborative and cooperative techniques in the classroom are likely to be
more costly in time and effort with little impact on learning.  That's one
reason why students resist the techniques.  In my experience, changing
techniques without changing assumptions is a waste.
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            Paul Hertzel <hertzpau@niacc.cc.ia.us>

Larry Spence wrote,

>I disagree and many others would too.  Learning is fundamentally
>social. . .

If you can learn independently of a social setting, then for sure
learning is not fundamentally social.  Learning often happens in a
social setting, but it is not fundamentally social any more than
forgetting is fundamentally social.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
             Bonnie Mullinix <bmullini@monmouth.edu>

Paul Hertzel wrote:
> regarding what Larry Spence wrote,
>
> >I disagree and many others would too.  Learning is fundamentally
> >social. . .
>
> Paul Hertzel:  If you can learn independently of a social setting,
> then for sure  learning is not fundamentally social.  Learning often happens in a
> social setting, but it is not fundamentally social any more than forgetting is fundamentally social.

Just to break this either/or cycle up a bit, I would venture the safe
guess that many people would agree that not only are we not sure
precisely how learning happens, but we maintain very different views of
this process.  We do know that questioning our understanding of the
learning process helps to inform our practice as facilitators of
learning.  The best models of learning (in my opinion) are those that
both recognize that learning happens in many different ways and settings
(by addressing learning styles and opportunities for individual
reflection as well as interaction with others and the environment using
a variety of techniques/approaches).  They further recognize that while
everyone may have a preferred learning mode (which may well be
discipline-linked), the more we can learn to function in other
modes/settings/situations and expand our learning repertoire, the better
off we are as learners.  So I guess I would be disappointed in any
learning environment that did not recognize that learning is not
either/or (not that you actually said it was by the way).  Rather,
effective learning environments would strive to offer such strategic
variety as can help learners to push beyond their little bubble and
expand their comfort levels to encompass a broader and more dynamic
range of learning styles and modes.
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        "jim borgford-parnell" <bparnell@u.washington.edu>

Paul Hertzel wrote:
In the colleges I have taught, the above words would be interpreted
as confusing "learning" with "testing".

I must say that in my own teaching practice it has been a long time since I
have separated learning from the assessment of learning.  I suppose that if
you subscribe to their separation, my words might sound confusing. In that
light, I can also see how interaction between students is only viewed as a
study convenience rather than an important aspect of learning (you will
notice I didn't say "all" learning), and as such should not be dismissed in
the assessment of learning.

I am also very happy to hear that you only teach on enlightened campuses,
where chairs aren't bolted to the floor, where too many people aren't
crammed into rooms too small to enable intelligible discussions, where
faculty know how to lead discussions and create learning activities that
take advantage of the student resources in each class.  I have to wonder
however, how it is that you know how everyone on your campus teaches.
Having the autonomy to teach collaboratively and cooperatively isn't the
same as doing it, or knowing how to do it.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
        Louis_Schmier <lschmier@valdosta.edu>

Interesting question.  Speaking as a reformed "talkohoic," I'm not sure
there is a time when collaborative, cooperative, team, or whatever the
going term is out of line.  I am lucky in that I can move chairs around,
but that makes it easier.  I'm not sure bolted chairs are really the
obstacle people use as an excuse.  What that saying about where there is a
will, there is......?

Normally when I am confronted with a student who doesn't "want to depend
on anyone" for his or her grade, I tell that student to go out and find
one professional, just one, who isn't dependent on someone else for his or
her success.  If one could be found, I would teach that student personally
in any manner he or she wishes.  Hasn't happened yet.  I had a student
challenge the triad arrangement of the class, and I asked her what her
parents did for a living.  Her father was a surgeon and her mother was an
accountant.  I told her to talk to them about not depending on others.
She quietly came into the next class and joined her triad.,

You know, one of my childhood heroes is gone.  The Lone Ranger, alias
Clayton Moore, died recently at the age of 85.  I used to stay glued to
the radio and then the television listening and watching.  I'd go to the
Saturday movies to see the Masked Man do in the crooks.  The William Tell
Overture, his theme, was my first introduction to classical music.  I used
to run down to the corner newstand each Thursday to get the latest comic
book.  I ate Cheerios because I knew he did.  I sent away for silver
bullets, black masks, and goodness knows what.  I wore costumes. When we
played cowboys and indians, someone always wanted to sing out:  "Hi-yo
Silverrrrrrrr, Awayyyyyy"

The lone hero, the single trail blazer is the idol in our
American society. It's that individual thing.  We place the goals of the
individual ahead of the group.  Community harmony is not a particular
cardinal value.  It's a socialist thing.

If the truth be told, political and social philosophy not withstanding,
even if you are accustomed to working alone in a competitive rather
cooperative environment, you can learn the advantages
of teamwork, of people skills, of communication skills.

I have to do it myself and I can't do it alone.  Need to support each
other, to encourage each other, to help each other.  You need to be
willing to ask for help which is difficult for some intellectual macho
types as well as some shy types.  But, when people work together, they get
that help.  It wields a team.  Three people cooperating on a project
allows them to reach much higher than they expected they would ever be
able to do.

A close-knit team, drawing on particular strength, talents, abilities,
skills, of each member.  What one person lacks can be made up by another
member; one person's talent and abilities is shared by all.
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        Louis_Schmier <lschmier@valdosta.edu>

Interesting question.  Speaking as a reformed "talkohoic," I'm not sure
there is a time when collaborative, cooperative, team, or whatever the
going term is out of line.  I am lucky in that I can move chairs around,
but that makes it easier.  I'm not sure bolted chairs are really the
obstacle people use as an excuse.  What that saying about where there is a
will, there is......?

Normally when I am confronted with a student who doesn't "want to depend
on anyone" for his or her grade, I tell that student to go out and find
one professional, just one, who isn't dependent on someone else for his or
her success.  If one could be found, I would teach that student personally
in any manner he or she wishes.  Hasn't happened yet.  I had a student
challenge the triad arrangement of the class, and I asked her what her
parents did for a living.  Her father was a surgeon and her mother was an
accountant.  I told her to talk to them about not depending on others.
She quietly came into the next class and joined her triad.,

You know, one of my childhood heroes is gone.  The Lone Ranger, alias
Clayton Moore, died recently at the age of 85.  I used to stay glued to
the radio and then the television listening and watching.  I'd go to the
Saturday movies to see the Masked Man do in the crooks.  The William Tell
Overture, his theme, was my first introduction to classical music.  I used
to run down to the corner newstand each Thursday to get the latest comic
book.  I ate Cheerios because I knew he did.  I sent away for silver
bullets, black masks, and goodness knows what.  I wore costumes. When we
played cowboys and indians, someone always wanted to sing out:  "Hi-yo
Silverrrrrrrr, Awayyyyyy"

The lone hero, the single trail blazer is the idol in our
American society. It's that individual thing.  We place the goals of the
individual ahead of the group.  Community harmony is not a particular
cardinal value.  It's a socialist thing.

If the truth be told, political and social philosophy not withstanding,
even if you are accustomed to working alone in a competitive rather
cooperative environment, you can learn the advantages
of teamwork, of people skills, of communication skills.

I have to do it myself and I can't do it alone.  Need to support each
other, to encourage each other, to help each other.  You need to be
willing to ask for help which is difficult for some intellectual macho
types as well as some shy types.  But, when people work together, they get
that help.  It wields a team.  Three people cooperating on a project
allows them to reach much higher than they expected they would ever be
able to do.

A close-knit team, drawing on particular strength, talents, abilities,
skills, of each member.  What one person lacks can be made up by another
member; one person's talent and abilities is shared by all.
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        "jim borgford-parnell" <bparnell@u.washington.edu>

Louis:
I'm in complete agreement with your points.  Chairs bolted to the floor are
often a real nuisance, but they are not the real problem.  The real problem
(from my perspective) is that these physical limitations, which are
institutionally built-in, are illustrations of, metaphors for, and often
concrete evidence of, very limited considerations of a wide range of
appropriate pedagogies.  No, it is not the chairs, it is the intransigent
mind that is bolted to one way to teach and one way to learn. I also agree
that cooperative(esque) learning just makes sense, although I can well
imagine learning goals and content that call for more individual efforts.

A major theme in the discussions this past week has been the social aspects
of learning.  Part of the debate has degenerated into an either/or argument,
which is fine if contained on the theoretical level, but on a practical
level this either/or stance is troubling and problematic.  I think it is
often (not always) the case that junior faculty members and TAs are at a
developmental level that requires them to narrowly focus their personal
working theories of teaching and learning.  They need that steady anchor in
the rough seas of pedagogy.  However, at some point, when they've grown
accustomed to the water, they need to free themselves from that anchor and
take advantage of the current, the tides, and different locales.  As faculty
developers, we often provide some of the anchors, but we also need to
provide the means for cutting the ropes.  We can't do that if our own
beliefs act as blinders to other possibilities. Bonnie Mullinex said it well
in an earlier Email:
 "I would be disappointed in any learning environment that did not recognize
that learning is not either/or (not that you actually said it was by the
way).  Rather, effective learning environments would strive to offer such
strategic variety as can help learners to push beyond their little bubble
and expand their comfort levels to encompass a broader and more dynamic
range of learning styles and modes."
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        "Theall, Michael" <Theall.Michael@uis.edu>

CL is appropriate when it is the most potentially productive method
available to meet instructional (teacher and learner) needs.  It's less
appropriate when other methods offer greater potential or when its effects
may be dfferential.  It's inappropriate when it might interfere with
learning for individuals or groups.   In other words, I am not comfortable
with judging any technique in a binary way because the range of
possibilities is too broad and there are always alternatives to consider.
Likewise, judging out of context is not a good idea.  Like anything else
instructional, CL's effectiveness depends on a complex mix of elements, and
it's a big task to pre-specify the full set of situations in all three
categories above.  The best we can do is to know what are the intended
outcomes, to know the learners, to know the available resources, and to know
the technique well enough to adjust it to fit the needs of the situation.

There's that old joke, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee", but the
truth is that for its environment, the camel is much better designed than
the horse.   We can acknowledge the value of both species in their own
environments without having to list one as superior to the other in general.

I suspect that in general, CL's merits outweigh its limitations and that
they do so pretty consistently except in cases where the use of the
technique is foolish (as in the example about having students each read one
chapter in a book), or when idiosyncratic personal issues conflict with the
process and its intents (as in the egotistical view of the person who can't stand
for others to get credit for "HIS" work).  While I do agree that sometimes individual
reflection is important, I also think the case of the "farm boy" solving problems is more
infrequent than the writer imagines it to be, and/or that the farm boy might
have solved the problem faster or more efficiently if he had had someone
else to work with.  The American icon is the clever, capable.
intelligent-but-not-necessarily-educated, individualistic, independent,
enterpreneurial type who defies the dull thinking of the "crowd", beats the
odds, and alone produces some brilliant solution resulting in fame and
fortune.  We cling to that notion and attend to the pronouncements of those
few lucky individuals who have succeeded (e.g., Ted Turner ... "I didn't
fail Princeton, Princeton failed me") while ignoring the fact that they
probably couldn't get along well enough with others to work productively in
any other mode except alone.  For every Turner, though, I would hazard the
guess that there are thousands who profit from the well-structured exchange
of ideas and the feedback of a peer or similar group.  Despite the "I work
alone!" cries of the few, the reality is that the current workplace reflects
CL much more than it does the ivory tower individual.
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