Teaching Based on Collaboration


This post condences ideas from the following sources:
Holmes, J. (2015). Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing. Crown Publishing.
Deb Louison Lavoy’s blog: https://productfour.wordpress.com
Rojas-Drummonda and S., Mercer, N. Scaffolding (2003). The development of effective collaboration and learning. International Journal of Educational Research
Vertiganti, R. (2009) Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean. Harvard Business Press.

In an era when great ideas can sprout beyond the classroom walls, from any corner of the world, it’s good news to acknowledge that the variety of ways to collaborate has expanded enormously in number. Nonetheless, the bad news is that greater choice has created a new challenge: selecting the best options.

How should we group students? Should roles within a team be specific? How can rotation of duties be alternated? What kinds of outcomes are best supported by collaboration? How can we nurture collaborative relationships within the staff and within the learning community? Should collaboration include creating links between cohorts of students in the present and in the future? These are only a few questions that may emerge as one thinks about the kind and quality of collaboration one desires to witness, for we must be aware of the fact that different models of collaboration involve different strategic skills.

Upon trying a wide variety of collaboration models and discussing their effectiveness with colleagues, a couple of papers written on virtual collaboration, and relatively extensive reading on the subject, I could summarize my experience by answering two question:

  • Why do I want my students to collaborate?
  • What do I want my students to explore and experience during the collaboration process?

Why do I want my students to collaborate?


collaboration-headara) Team collaboration

In order to allow students to experience different roles; to support one another in the development of their skills because the members of the group are known; so that through the tasks students experience interdependence, reciprocity, and learn from the shared responsibility in time-lines and goals setting. Team collaboration often suggests that, while there is explicit leadership, the participants cooperate on an equal footing and will receive equal recognition which basically means they have the opportunity to learn how to make the most of time, effort, trust, respect, and shared success.

b) Community collaboration

There are some projects in which the goal is more often focused on the co-construction of skills, understanding and learning, rather than on task; in these projects, participants share and build knowledge and skills rather than complete projects. While collaborating in a community, participants help solve their problems by asking questions and getting advice, by encouraging reflection and looking at a point of view from different perspectives. Reciprocity is an important element when collaborating within a community: we learn from everyone and contribute to everyone’s learning: “You did this for me; so I want to do this for you”.

A great advantage of community collaborations is the fact that they may give rise to more formalized team collaborations, since participants get to know each other through interaction and idea-exchange, they can identify specific affinity among them and draw specific new talent into their teams.


c) Network collaboration

Long gone are the days when the only way to collaborate was face to face or with people in our specific latitude. The modern concept of network and the many platforms that empower their growth cause collaboration to move beyond steps beyond the relationship-centric nature of team and community collaboration.

This form of collaboration is driven by the advent of social media (tools that help us connect and interact online), ubiquitous internet connectivity and the ability to connect with diverse individuals across distance and time. It is a response to the overwhelming volume of information we are creating. It’s impossible for an individual to cope on his/her own. So networks become mechanisms for knowledge and information capture, filtering and creation.

This kind of collaboration starts with individual action and self-interest, which then grows as other individuals contribute to it. Participation, membership and time-lines in this manner of collaboration are open and unbounded. There are no explicit roles, and in many (or most) cases members do not know all the other members.

Networks have many benefits, since they can enhance communication, co-operation and mutual support among participants; encourage the development of new models of work; and provide opportunities to work with different kinds of sources and resources from varied media, hence giving opportunities to explore curation.

What do I want my students to explore and experience during the collaboration process?

When considering the type of engagement I want my students to consider or to design for themselves, I cannot help but observe the correspondence between collaboration and (global/local) learning contexts, whether they are of the local or global kind. In other words, choosing a local/global context on which to base the learning we are planning to unfold also has collaboration implications.

Which kind of collaboration is right for each student and for each learning experience?

a) Creative Collaboration.

 Creative collaboration is collaboration that’s intended to create something. It is goal-oriented, and has a defined team that is responsible for delivering that product. Creative and design thinking skills are usually present in this kind of collaboration, and, considering the strengths participants bring into the game, as well as the multitude of skills or perspectives in a team, this type of collaboration empowers a team to achieve what an individual on his/her own cannot.

When done effectively and with genuine interest in the goal, through creative collaboration teams can form, communicate, get organized, contribute, aggregate and iterate on project, hence creating a culture of collaboration, learning and understanding.

b) Connective Collaboration

 Connective collaboration requires a broad, loosely connected community that can maintain awareness of activity, and ideally, technology that helps them find, discover or get pinged about relevant information, resources, insight and expertise –  that they may or may not have been aware of – elsewhere in the system. This kind of collaboration can be experienced in Facebook groups, Linked In groups, Google+ groups, Wechat groups, or through a wide range of hashtags on Twitter. Esseentially, it’s not the wisdom of crowds that makes it effective, it’s the aggregated wisdom of individuals.

 The goal of this type of collaboration is to connect dots – find expertise and resources as one needs them. Discover unexpected relevance, connections or insights, and maximize the chances that information, resources and expertise find the places that they’re meaningful or critical. As Deb Louison Lavoy has written in Intel clear on ROI of Social Media and Is collaboration enough to connect-the-dots?

c) Original Thinking

Collaboration in the digital age can help spur original thinking with connections happening across locations that couldn’t of previously occurred. By nature, collaboration brings different voices, teams, specialties and opinions together to solve an existing problem or develop something completely new. The collaborative tools of today bring major value to innovative thinkers by echoing their goals, thoughts, notes, discussions, documents and brainstorming sessions to any project.

The choice of tools is broad and changes everyday, and is clearly not limited to blogs, YouTube channels, wikis, Trello pages, Googledocs, OneNote book, Flipboards, Thinglink images, Google+, Google Spaces App, Wechat groups, Wechat groups, Voxer groups, and whatever may emerge tomorrow. By using these types of tools, collaboration encourages sharing, the capturing of knowledge, enabling action and empowering employees to become an active part of the development of new understandings. Essentially, once one becomes aware of the variety and diversity of ideas, one will have the challenge of thinking how a specific outcome can be achieved in a n original manner that has not being considered before.