This is the fourth in the series of discussions about why more teachers do not use collaborative/cooperative learning techniques in their classes. This post focuses on teacher training and on administrators roles in CL.
LACK OF TEACHER TRAINING IN COLLABORATIVE TEACHING METHODS-
LACK OF TRAINING OR EXPOSURE TO COLLABORATIVE LEARNING-
LACK OF FAMILIARITY WITH ALTERNATE STUDENT ASSESSMENT TECHNIQUES-
LACK OF TEACHER TRAINING IN COLLABORATIVE TEACHING METHODS
The current teacher training methodology does not foster CL. Teachers are not trained to facilitate groups, use brainstorming techniques, facilitate conflict management, or use group dynamics theory. They are trained to be good classroom managers with orderly students quietly listening to their lectures or doing their work individually. Many teachers do not know how or where to start using CL techniques in their classrooms.
Teachers are not trained to involve their students in the development of class procedures and assessment and are therefore not likely to accept constructive criticism from students. Also, teachers have trouble dealing with dissension in class by students who do not want to use CL methods. Convincing students that they are learning well or benefiting from this method is not always easy. Therefore, teachers need to be well grounded in the philosophy of CL and they must have opportunities to practice in a safe environment.
Collaborative learning skills need to be modelled to become effective, yet how many administrators run their schools or departments in a cooperative fashion? Very few meetings are run using collaborative techniques. It takes a great deal of effort to change what one is comfortable doing, especially if the same process has been used for many years. In order to move into CL teachers must rethink what they are doing in their classes and how they are accomplishing their goals. Most teachers have not seen group work in action so they have very few models to go by when trying to make changes.
Teachers generally reflect the teaching styles of their professors and in turn want their students to emulate themselves. There is a great deal of comfort in propogating the familiar. At the university level the preferred pedagogy is the lecture, thus there are few role models for future teachers who might be interested in using CL methods. Most professors are more concerned with doing research than with teaching. This situation is reflected in their teaching loads compared to graduate student research supervision. Except within some education departments, very little research goes on in support of good teaching practices. Within institutions there are very few role models to provide mentoring for teachers. In fact, teachers are often criticized by their peers when they do try to institute CL. Critical comments by teachers about room noise and student activity in the classroom are often used to discourage people from using CL techniques.
Because teachers receive little training in CL they are unaccustomed to what takes place in the CL class. One consequence is that they find it hard to believe that students can be learning the content material while they are socializing in their groups. Social learning is unique to CL and creates an enjoyable as well as interesting environment. This is not very surprising: human beings are social animals so any situation which encourages and enhances this basic instinct is bound to be deeply satisfying and enjoyable; learning in such instances is magnified, not diminished. Additionally, students' self esteem builds as they gain confidence in themselves and their peers, leading to additional enjoyment of the learning process. In real life situations people work, learn and socialize all at the same time. If we are to help our students move into social and employment situations, then we need to provide a model for them to follow which includes cooperation and team efforts, as well as individual efforts, in a social environment leading to the accomplishment of their task at hand.
Another consequence of the teacher's lack of familiarity with CL classes is the feeling of guilt which arises. Teachers do not feel they are teaching if they are not dispensing information. They may appear to be inactive since it is necessary to allow time for the groups to interact without teacher intervention. Even if teachers move around the classroom observing the students or talking to individuals or groups, in their minds they still do not fit the picture of a teacher. Students may comment on the fact that they do not see the teacher "teaching". It takes a high degree of confidence and training to overcome these personal feelings and to resist student pleas to move back to the lecture format.
REASONS WHY ADMINISTRATORS LACK AN UNDERSTANDING OF COLLABORATIVE LEARNING TECHNIQUES AND PHILOSOPHY
LACK OF TRAINING OR EXPOSURE TO COLLABORATIVE LEARNING
Many professors start their teaching careers with minimal training in teaching techniques. As they move into administrative positions they advance by starting at the department chair level, then moving up through the division dean position to dean and president. Advanced degrees focus on administrative areas instead of teaching. Theydo not receive training in CL as part of their teacher preparation processs and do not receive any CL training in their administrative Masters or Doctoral degree programs. Few administrators seek out information about CL through seminars or individual courses. Thus they maintain their primary focus on the traditional classroom where the teacher provides students with information via a lecture format and the students listen attentively and quietly. Adminmistrators who lack a well grounded understanding of CL tend to evaluate teachers who use it negatively and this in turn undermines the teachers attempts to initiate CL in their classes.
LACK OF FAMILIARITY WITH ALTERNATE STUDENT ASSESSMENT TECHNIQUES
As with teachers, administrators have not been trained in the alternative assessment techniques which are vital to collaborative learning. They continue to support the individual, competitive exam systems and discourage techniques which involve group grading. This problem is exacerbated by state assessment tests and the national SAT and Achievement exams which also emphasize individual performance and content mastery instead of process mastery. Grade point averages and class rank are emphasized in order to promote student acceptances into top colleges. Colleges themselves rely heavily on the standardized tests for admissions criteria. College courses are content oriented and competitively graded based upon class curves. Secondary school teachers and administrators attempt to provide classroom environments which model college classes in order to help their students succeed later.
L-ACLRNG@PSUVM.PSU.EDU" "Active and Collaborative Learning"
From: Jack Sontrop <SONTROP@LOYALISTC.ON.CA>
What evidence exists that CL is too complex for an "average" teacher
(or administrator) to cope? Or, assuming that teaching may be the second oldest profession, how is it that CL has not evolved, in a Darwinian sense, as the most effective, well-practiced or dominant model, say, for groups of twenty-five or more students in content-based courses.
Please don't think that this is a frivolous question. And don't dismiss
content. Some average people need further convincing before they can
decide that CL may be worth the effort.
From: "Jennifer L. Anderson" <jandy@IASTATE.EDU>
I am currently a Senior at Iowa State University in the Department of
education and have had many classes that focus on collaborative groups. I
am currently enrolled in math methods and we do group activities on almost a daily basis. By using these methods in class every week we are all becoming accustomed to how to work in and manage the groups. In my language arts class we even worked on team teaching so we would have some experience collaborting out talents to produce a better lesson. I think it is very true that teachers need to work in cooperative groups before they can effectively teach using them, I have had lots of practice and feel confident enough to try it when I student teach. You have to be willing to learn and learn by trying to suceed. I will probably make mistakes the first few times I try but I will know the students will be getting a lot out of their cooperative groups.---
From: IN%"SAF120@PSUVM.PSU.EDU" "susan A. Freedman"
training! what training??????
From: George Jacobs <email@example.com>
Subject: Why more teachers don't use CL
In his discussion of why more teachers don't use CL, Ted Panitz mentions
that CL is not very much part of teacher education programmes, either as a
topic or as a pedagogy which is modeled in classes. I agree that this used
to be true, however, just from my own experience and what colleagues from elsewhere tell me, I believe this is changing on both counts. When I was a graduate student in the College of Education of the U. of Hawaii in the late 80s - early 90s, a sizable minority of professors used groups in their classes. There was even one professor in mathematics education who used group testing. Groups also happen today in teacher education programmes in Singapore, where I work now. Further, the content of courses very much support groups. Vygotsky and other theorists who stress the social nature of learning, and the whole field of cognitive psychology with its emphasis on the process of learning and the role of learners in constructing knowledge are very much in line with CL. Additionally, I've heard that one of the top-selling Educational Psychology textbooks is the one written by Robert Slavin, one of the leading scholars in CL. One last point, there seems to be a lot of workshops and courses on CL for in-service teachers. A friend of mine who works in a school district in Washington State (USA) told me that he seldoms meets a teacher who hasn't had at least a workshop in CL, and most have had more exposure. Of course, a 3-hour workshop is by no means sufficient, and just because someone has beeen exposed to CL doesn't mean they use it.
George M Jacobs
SEAMEO Regional Language Centre 30 Orange Grove Road
SINGAPORE 258352 Tel: 65-737-9044, ext. 608 Fax: 65-734-2753
From: "Kimberly Vincent" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To all Listers,
I was really looking forward to a dialogue on the list dealing with
collaborative learning. However the replies were sent directly to
Ted. I think dialogues on mathemtaics education would really enrich
the usefulness of the list.... I would hope to see more dialogues such as this one shared with the entire list as it takes place so that more people
may enter the arena of discussion and benefit from the discussion. I
find this method more time consuming and less apt to invite people to
join the discussion for there are too many replies to deal with at
I would like to say many things on collaborative learning however I
will just deal with a few issues. It was mentioned that teachers are
reluctant to give up power. After teaching college level classes and
inservice workshops for elementary school teachers I find those who
are most insecure with the material are reluctant to try
collaborative learning. They ar not unwilling to lose power instead
they are unwilling to not know where the activity will go and what
the studenst will learn from the activity. It is easier and more
secure to stick with the tried and true when insecure with the
concepts being used.However there are teachers who enjoy the power.
I know several mathematics teachers who have tried collaborative learning for a year or more and return to lecture formates. They feel the benefits do not out weigh the huge amount of time it takes to use collabortive learning. Often in mathemtics the rules and algorithms we teach are the most efficient approaches to certain types of problems. Many mathematicians like working in this efficient mode, and after tyring
the slow process of collaborative learning prefer to return to lecture
formate. By the way I am not one of those. I prefer collaborative
learning for I have seen how powerful it is for the students. They will understand things that before they were only memorizing. To me
that is much more valuable than dealing with memorizing an effieicnt
method. I also see that students learn the material better and do
better on exams if they have gone through collaborative learning. I
wouldn't teach with out it .
Kimberly Vincent University of Idaho Department of Mathematics
From: SSloan@VAX2.Winona.MSUS.EDU (Sally Sloan) email@example.com
I agree with comments re meaningful dialogues on math ed philosophy.
Re CL - I would like to throw an idea into the mix here for people who fear
trying this "different" approach.
Without moving into the full formal J and J Collaborative Learning model
you may enjoy trying a novel approach to testing.
Students take a SHORT quiz as individuals. That is collected. Then - they are given the IDENTICAL quiz to be worked in collaborative groups. One grade is awarded for the individual and another for the group work. I have seen it used where the individual part of the quiz was worth 60% and the group part 40% and various other creative distributions of points. That is a teacher decision. The interesting effect comes when listening to the group conversations. You will hear great amounts of learning occurring as students compare the answers they originally entered - respond to that wonderful question "how did you do #n?" and in general behave in ways we encourage for group work. Another interesting side effect to this technique is that individual papers can be graded while students are working on their group paper. I generally have the groups exchange and grade each others papers immediately. That way ALL grading is done before the students leave the room, students know immediately what the correct solutions looked like and even know their group grade. With a handy laptop they can even have their individual papers back on the spot.
I cannot take credit - I picked up this idea at a Bush sponsored conference
on college teaching a few years ago. I have used it many times (I do not do
it EVERY time I test) and always have had good results - good attitudes,
growth, learning obvious...
I also agree with the perspective that underprepared teachers are most
likely to avoid anything which might lead outside the book (answer book!).
I am not convinced that group work or even formal coop lrning takes that
much more time to do - just to prepare.
From: "Tim Peil" <PEIL@mhdma.moorhead.msus.edu>
I also have used the process that Sally suggests. Another twist to
this testing procedure is to give the group test first, then give the
students the identical test to take as individuals.
I have had some interesting results with this method; one quickly
finds out which groups worked together and which have individuals
dominate. Students learn the need to work together as a unit. I try
to group the students so that each group is balanced between weak,
average, and strong students. The results usually end up with the
weak students from the groups that work together score higher on the
individual test than the strong students from the groups which do not
work together. Leading to a definite incentive for students to work
together in the future.
Timothy Peil, Ph.D. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mathematics Department Phone: (218)-236-2454
Moorhead State University Fax: (218)-236-3945
Moorhead, MN 56563
From: IN%"email@example.com" "CIRCA"
As a student teacher, I am finding that collaborative learning is incredibly useful. I found in first grade that it forced the students to allow input from their classmates, allowed them to talk at all, and made them realize that their neighbor could have an opinion that was worth listening to. Students who normally wouldn't work together got to know each other on a level they wouldn't have sought.
To all teachers who are against collaborative learning, I say- Who are we to assume that we are the only people who are worthy of being heard? Is it not possible for our students to know things that we do not? Are our students not smart enough to have valuable info to share? What an awesome way to have children learn to accept each other and their
Aubrey Coultas University of Florida Master's Certification Program
From: David Lee Mount <dmount@ARN.NET>
>A tardy posting but one I think needs telling:
>My daughter was a math whiz in Grade 1. She loved it and learned
>everything as fast as the teacher could present it. His response
>was to pair her off with other kids who were having a harder time
>and get her to explain it to them in terms they could more easily
>relate to. For the first few weeks she loved the attention and
>status this gave her (though she did get a bit of a swollen head)
>but then she began to complain that she wasn't learning anything
>any more and was just doing the teacher's job for him. (I swear,
>these were her own reactions and interpretations!) By the end of
>the year she was so turned off it affected her whole attitude
>toward education; moreover, all the other kids shunned her socially
>as a "smartass" or "teacher's pet" and the bad experience carried
>over in her attitude even when we moved and she attended another
>school. Finally we put her in a private school with a special
>program for gifted kids and she began to recover some interest in
>school and learning. Now she is doing well at 13 but still despises
>mathematics and has no interest in developing her aptitude for it.
>Perhaps a more skillful teacher could have managed CL techniques
>better and avoided the temptation to exploit the brightest kids
>to help those less fortunate. Perhaps it is justified to "tax the
>rich and give to the poor" in the academic realm, in pursuit of a
>perfect world where everyone not only has equal opportunity but is
>actually equal. Perhaps my daughter is just a spoiled brat of the
>privileged elite. But you may at least understand my skepticism
>about the motives of some CL advocates and my reluctance to use
>them much in my own classroom.
> -- Jess
>PS: This is an excellent example of why apocryphal data and
> "experiential evidence" are unreliable: I am obviously
> emotionally involved in this topic and my critical
> judgement is impaired as a result. Don't think I
> am unaware of this. Make up your own mind!
I understand your disappointment and perhaps that you are angry. I don't
doubt your daughter's experience fed her lack of interest in the subject in
Although we don't know from your description what (or if) her teacher did
to motivate her, or to provide her with the stimulation of learning more,
there is no doubt that (at least for some students) the reward of "pride"
is not enough, nor is it without some sting in social aspects.
Since you know your daughter better than her teachers might and now have an historical perspective, what might you do differently if you were a teacher committed to CL in order to make it more beneficial to a student like your daughter? I ask this in all interest, not at all as an inflammatory query.
Dave Mount, MSc. firstname.lastname@example.org 806.353.3625 voice/fax
From: "Jess Brewer, UBC Phys (604)822-6455, FAX 222-1074" <msr@TRIUMF.CA>
Dave Mount said:
> Since you know your daughter better than her teachers might and now have an historical perspective, what might you do differently if you were a teacher committed to CL in order to make it more beneficial to a student like your daughter? I ask this in all interest, not at all as an inflammatory query.
Dave, I don't mind if you are inflammatory; I certainly am! But I take your query in the spirit it was intended and will give you a brief reply:
First, I am not a teacher committed to CL (in case there was any doubt);
I have a profound distrust of the judgement of anyone with a "commitment" to any idealogy, since it necessarily implies a reluctance to reconsider. (For examples, see history.) I do have a commitment to making the best use of any talents or advantages that may have been inequitably bestowed upon me by blind chance -- but I unconditionally reserve the right to decide all by myself what the "best use" might be. At the moment I believe the best use is that which would cause the greatest uplift of spirit and relief of suffering for the greatest number of honest and earnest people, taken over the long term; but of course I have very little knowledge of what that might be, so I opt for education -- by which I mean helping people acquire the tools for making up their own minds and being "right" as often as possible. (In Physics there actually are a few situations where one can unambiguously define "right" and "wrong" answers, but here I mean by "right" only a propensity toward successful predictions.) I doubt that I can imbue my students with the DESIRE to acquire these tools, but I try to show my own enthusiasm for them and hope they pick it up. Lots of times some of the techniques of CL are really helpful and I try to use them when I can.
Sorry, I don't seem to be able to stop lecturing. ;-)
Back to your question: what would I do different to keep from turning off my daughter? I will of course launch into another lecture and answer a different question, namely, "What can go WRONG when teachers use CL techniques?"
First, there is the obvious temptation to "get out of work" by having
the students do it for you. The example of my daughter's teacher
off-loading some of his individual-instruction load on her is only
the most obvious abuse; others are impossible to detect from outside
the teacher's conscience. The exercise of breaking up the class into
discussion groups and orchestrating the sharing of insights is not
EASY, but it is very DIFFERENT from that of preparing and delivering
a cogent, meticulous lecture with lots of left- and right-brain hooks,
humour, demonstrations, examples and so on. Which is more appropriate?
If you are trying to raise awareness of issues where there are no
clear "right answers" then the former is probably an essential tool --
I gave a couple of lecture on "Radiation Hazards" last month in
which I should have used the last class as a think-tank session
but I didn't -- I just lectured on instead because it was what I
knew how to do and had other pressing deadlines etc. So by the middle
of that lecture I had that sinking feeling that tells you, "You did
this wrong." Moreover, I realized I had been laying out MY OPINIONS
on an ambiguous subject to people who signed up to learn rigour.
This always produces a telltale wince from my conscience; I hope it
does from yours. So there is an example of how NOT using CL techniques
is "wrong." The contrapositive is when I set out to explain where
the Schroedinger equation came from and ended up prattling on about
the mystery of measurement and probability amplitudes, encouraging
questions from the students about philosophy and quantum mechanics,
simply because I had not prepared the derivation carefully enough
and was unable to get it across successfully. The students may have
enjoyed the bull session, but they were shortchanged -- they needed
the clear understanding of the Schroedinger equation for the assignment
due the next class. Again, pangs.
So what does this ambling reminiscence offer in the way of advice?
I have NO IDEA what exactly my daughter's teacher did wrong / could
have done better, except the trivially obvious exploitation stuff.
I wasn't there and I have no experience teaching primary school.
All I know is, if you have any business being a teacher, YOU know
damn well when you have done a good job and when you haven't, and
it has nothing to do with whether you used "approved" methods. If
you ever find yourself saying, "Well, that didn't work, but at least
we had some practice at CL techniques and I'm sure we'll all be
better for it in the long run," then you are an idealogue, not a
teacher. Go start a religion. (I'm sure this doesn't apply to
you, Dave; it is just a gratuitous bit of inflammatory advice.)
From: "Ralph A. Raimi" <email@example.com>
On Fri, 8 Nov 1996, Kim or Melodie Mackey wrote:
(in reply to this comment:)
> >Collaborative learning skills need to be modelled to become effective, yet
> >how many administrators run their schools or departments in a >>cooperative fashion? Very few meetings are run using collaborative >>techniques.
> This is quite true, and there are times when I would like to see
> administrators use collaborative techniques in meetings. But there are >also numerous times when I would just like to get some work done and >not have toworry about reaching a consensus.
My comment: It might be that collaborative techniques followed by
consensus are a good device for students' exploration of mathematical
truth. This is a matter on which I am not prepared to give an opinion.
However, the possibility of true consensus in questions like the answer
to a mathematical question is quite good. People *can* be convinced by
argument and reason, and the correct answer, since there is one, *can* be
arrived at and made unanimous.
But 'arriving at consensus' at an administrative meeting is
another matter. There may not be a true answer, only interests to be
balanced. The proponents of 'participatory democracy' of the 1960s often
used the drive to consensus as an intimidating device. The most famous
example of consensus of that era was Mao's China and its cultural
revolution, in which the degree of consensus was perfectly amazing.
One of the great philosophical works of the 19th Century was
Robert's Rules of Order, which prescribes majorities, not consensus.
Every democracy works by rules of this sort, while every tyranny works by consensus.
In having math students reach a consensus, the teacher should
make sure that the decisions are not made by intimidation.
Ralph A. Raimi Tel. 716 275 4429, or (home) 716 244 9368
University of Rochester Fax 716 244 6631
Rochester, NY 14627 Homepage: http://www.math.rochester.edu/u/rarm
From: Andre TOOM <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On Sat, 9 Nov 1996, Ralph A. Raimi wrote:
> However, the possibility of true consensus in questions like the
> answer to a mathematical question is quite good. People *can* be
> convinced by argument and reason, and the correct answer, since
> there is one, *can* be arrived at and made unanimous.
Here Ralph takes for granted that every mathematical question has exactly one correct answer. This is true if we exclude paradoxes of the set theory and other sophisticated matters. In public education this is true practically always - if it is good education. However, there is a fashion among modern educators to avoid unique answers and promote situations where it is impossible to say which answer is correct. We have discussed this on this list. It was even said that I insist on correct answers because I came from a non-democratic country. I am curious whence have other competent mathematicians, like Raimi, come?
> In having math students reach a consensus, the teacher should
> make sure that the decisions are not made by intimidation.
And here Ralph sais something important about the possible outcomes of this folly of educators. If students are dealing with a fuzzy situation, in which it is impossible in principle to determine objectively which answer is correct, what remains? Perhaps, intimidation, perhaps, politeness, perhaps, indifference, but certainly not mathematics.
Andre Toom email@example.com
Department of Mathematics Tel. 210-646-0500 (h)
University of the Incarnate Word 210-829-3170 (o)
4301 Broadway San Antonio, Texas 78209-6318
From: "Ralph A. Raimi" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On Sat, 9 Nov 1996, Andre TOOM wrote:
> Here Ralph takes for granted that every mathematical question
> has exactly one correct answer.
Yes, if you include "I don't know", and "This question is not a
mathematical question." There are those who say things like "A quadratic
equation has more than one correct answer." This is incorrect. A
quadratic equation is not a question at all.
It might be a clause in a mathematical question, though, e.g. "For
what real values of x will x^2-5x+6=0?" -- to which the correct answer
is, "For x=2 and for x=3." That's one answer, not two, and it should be
observed that it has a capital letter on one end and a period on the
other, even though as an English sentence it is a bit elliptical.
> However, there is a fashion among modern educators to avoid
> unique answers and promote situations where it is impossible to
> say which answer is correct.
Such situations might involve mathematics, but the fuzzy part is
generally social and not mathematical. To the question, "Which form of
measurement here would be most convenient?", there might not be one
correct answer; but such a question is not a mathematical one. Here a
parliamentary approach is best, with each participant guaranteed a right
to the floor at some time in the debate.
We have discussed this on this list.
> It was even said that I insist on correct answers because I
> came from a non-democratic country. I am curious whence
> have other competent mathematicians, like Raimi, come?
Thanks for the 'competent.' I was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA and went
to the public schools there, and then to the University of Michigan,
thirty miles away. My professors in Ann Arbor liked correct answers
better than incorrect ones. The answer, "I don't know" is also an
important one to recognize, however, and leads to interesting discussion.
"I don't know -- yet" is also a good answer, and maybe one that teachers
should cultivate more. It is the answer I am forced to give, for
example, when I am asked "How much is 511+657-47-98?" But the best
answer in this category is, "I don't know -- yet -- so let's see..
From: Judy Roitman <email@example.com>
Ralph Raimi said:
>> In having math students reach a consensus, the teacher should
>> make sure that the decisions are not made by intimidation.
Andrei Toom replied:
>And here Ralph says something important about the possible
>outcomes of this folly of educators.
I've said this before but I guess I'll have to say it again. One of the
main strengths of collaborative learning is that every kid is responsible
for explaining the group's decisions. This lessens the amount of
intellectual intimidation going on in the classroom. At least it does in
Judy Roitman Math, University of Kansas Lawrence, KS 66045
From: "Ralph A. Raimi" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On Sun, 10 Nov 1996, Judy Roitman wrote:
> I've said this before but I guess I'll have to say it again. One of the
> main strengths of collaborative learning is that every kid is responsible
> for explaining the group's decisions.
Sorry not to have noticed that. I have never seen such a class
in action, or discussed it with a teacher who runs one. How do you keep
it from being unduly time-consuming when some child or children show an
imperfect understanding of the group's decisions? And if this happens,
do you conduct a Socratic dialogue to get it straight, or do the other
children do some such thing while you watch? And do all the kids
maintain an interest in the matter while the explanations are in
progress, or do you assign them some other task for the while?
I remember my own high school geometry class, where the "group"
was the whole class, perhaps thirty of us, and one would be called to the
board to stand there with a yard-long pointer explaining something about
a diagram on the board. (I was a photographer and still have pictures of
my 10th grade classmates in such a position). When the explanation got
stalled the class was infinitely dreary, both for those of us who did
understand and for those of us who did not. The teacher did not bail out
the stalled student, but after hints and delays would call on another
student, often with the same result. One could say that we shouldn't
have been pilloried that way, but that was the only way the educational
theory of the time could see to secure our involvement in our own
educations. How is this sort of thing prevented these days?
From: Andre TOOM <email@example.com>
In our university there are quite a few students in advanced classes,
usually from 3 to 8. In such small classes it is possible to some extent to make sure that almost all explain or can explain what is going on. Usually, when one student explains his or her solution, I ask: raise your hands who understood. I also ask: raise your hands who did not understand. Thos who did not understand are encourages to ask questions to which the solver must answer. Among those who say they understand I choose one and say:
`Go to the board and repeat the argument'. Of course, I do not assure in this way real or complete understanding. What I assure is that the students at least remember the main points of the argunment, so that we can discuss it. But I don't call what I do `collaborative learning'. Why? Because my manner of teaching is too flexible to be labeled. Sometimes I do quite different things, according to the situation.
>From: Sylvia Edwards <sedwards@KCMETRO.CC.MO.US>
>I spent today (and will return tomorrow) and a workshop using a
>collaborative approach to discover ways to improve quality in my >classroom. I've been a "group groupie" since I started teaching in 1969. I >expected to come home filled with new ideas and energy. Did I? NO. I >came home upset, uptight, and downright angry. I first concluded
>that I am a bossy person and I don't play with others. I got frustrated
>because no one listened to one another, no one confessed to being
>confused and most everyone whined about "what are we doing?" The >group membership changed for each new skill, but my group was always
Could those of you who are more skilled at this offer some friendly
advice. I'm seriously confused and confounded. What went wrong? Am I
really the problem? Why did I disengage and what can be done when the
students only go through the motions, but resent every minute of the
From: Crawford Kilian <firstname.lastname@example.org>
First, I think it's very healthy to be a student now and then. It gives you
new appreciation for good teaching, and new resentment of bad. I started
teaching college while still taking university courses towards a master's,
and the bad instructors taught me more than the good ones did. So good for you, Sly, to put yourself back in the class--but don't assume that you behave as a teacher the way you behave as a student.
Second, you mention that everyone was whining "what are we doing?" Doesn't sound as if they were asking the instructor, or (if they were) that they were getting useful answers. If the teacher can't explain the purpose and value of an activity, students have a right to feel upset; they can't even tell when they're doing something "right," because they don't know what the outcome should be. Of course, a subtle teacher may know the outcome but leave the students to discover it...which works if the teacher knows the students as well as she knows her subject and her teaching techniques. If not, it can backfire.
Third, the causes of a conflict are always more interesting than the conflict
itself. If your groups were always confrontational, how did the confrontation express itself? Who expressed it, and how? How did you react, and why? What was at stake that made you first confrontational, and then withdrawn? Did anyone encourage discussion of the process you guys were experiencing? (In hiring interviews, I love to ask applicants "How do you think this interview is going?" ... and then watch them physically relax as they go into no-BS mode and the interview proceeds much more fruitfully.)
Students tend to flourish when they expect success--and even a failure can
recharge them if they understand its causes and refuse to accept those causes as being beyond remedy. You went into this class expecting success, but didn't get it...and went on not getting it until you became an "internal
emigre, " a dropout who stays in place, like so many students who cut their
losses and settle for a grade instead of an education.
Lately I've been paying attention to the proxemics of my classes (cool word, huh?). Proxemics is the use of space to communicate nonverbally (that's why your college president has a bigger office than you do, and why you get more classroom space than your students do). My Infotec students, in particular, were very reticent to take part in class discussion. They sit at their workstations like eggs in a crate, physically isolated from me and one
another, with their computers serving like a shield.
Two weeks ago I got fed up with trying to carry them for three long hours,
and hauled them all up to the front of the lab to cluster face to face. We
talked about how the course was going (and not going), and cleared the air.
Everyone was a lot happier...so this past week, I repeated the process and we had a knockout discussion on persuasion, propaganda, and the Web. (Their big project is to create persuasive Web pages before Christmas.)
So I'd be interested to know how your collaborative-learning class was set
up: in buzz groups around tables, in separate areas or even rooms? Did
participants have equal space (= equal status)? Did they have physical
barriers between them, like tables? Were you within arm's reach of one
another? (The Infoteckies have a couch in the lab, which is so popular I want to order four more plus some beanbag chairs.)
Crawford Kilian Chair, Media Technology Division Capilano College
North Vancouver, BC Canada email@example.com
From: Dave Miller <d_miller@OPHLEY.MV.COM>
To: Teaching in the Community Colleges <TCC-L@uhccvm.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
I have found that many of the "new" approaches to collaboration involve
doing exercises and role play. It sounds like your session relied on these
approaches. IMHO, they don't work.
I use the Odyssey of the Mind approach to collaborative management. This
involves simply stating the problem and the boundary conditions and letting the group work out the details. It is scary the first few times that you try it. Letting go of the controls does not give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. That comes later when the results become apparent.
It is amazing how all of the necessary roles get filled. Without direction,
people tend to do the jobs that need to be done. It's analogous to how
beavers build dams. They don't start out with a full set of plans, job
assignments, and bill of materials. Rather, they simply can't stand the
sound of running water. By plugging up the loudest sounds, the eventually
build amazing structures.
People naturally have the intent to do good work. I don't know of anyone
who wakes up saying "I think I'll do a lousy job today!" Working
collaboratively is necessary to do good work in most instances. You need to have faith that they will do the right things. Like the beavers, they will
create amazing things given the opportunity.