Margo's World with Leadership In Educational Technology

An adventure of leading and learning technology simultaneously

on October 20, 2013

What are your thoughts about “learning in the collective”?


Collective learning is a complex concept that is variously defined. It is generally conceptualized as a dynamic and cumulative process that results in the production of knowledge. Such knowledge is institutionalized in the form of structures, rules, routines, norms, discourse, and strategies that guide future action. Learning emerges because of interactive mechanisms where individual knowledge is shared, disseminated, diffused, and further developed through relational and belonging synergies. Collective learning can therefore be conceived as an evolutionary process of perfecting collective knowledge.

There are many benefits of working in a collective on a personal level. I am not sure I see the full picture of teaching through a collective, similar to a blog, would translate into an elementary classroom. People who join a blog or other types of collectives participate because they have an interest in the subject. Students typically only come to school because that is the law. Left on their own most kids would stay home and play or pursue their own interest. At the elementary level we teach the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics. These subjects are not kids generally find interesting. Thomas and John review the struggles of grading a group project. Do you grade the group as a whole or the individual’s participation in completing the project? From their perspective it is their personal connection with the project that matters. This is all well and fine, but how do you balance personal buy in and individual accountability of students learning the core outcomes of their grade level. We as teachers are accountable for each student learning the content of the grade level taught. Casual participation does not assure kids will have the basic skills needed in order to become a valuable member of the community when they grow up. Structure and accountability are needed in education on all levels. Thomas and John state traditional forms of education structure this new collective way of learning. I am just not seeing the full picture of how it will all work at this time.


5 responses to “

  1. Tracie says:

    I don’t think “collaborative” in the classroom necessarily only refers to group work and collaborative projects. I do think there are so many opportunities throughout the day for kids to learn how to learn from their peers, and put their minds together to generate good ideas. Even simple things like having students turn to an elbow partner to share when reflecting on an activity, or throughout a scaffolded activity with different partners or small groups can be a real benefit. We tend to make group work a little too ponderous and big, and often teachers get frustrated with it. But I think just small sharing is a great habit to build. “Turn to your elbow partner and tell each other your idea.” As they work, they know that throughout the process they will be sharing their thinking eventually, as well as having the benefit of hearing the ideas of others. I think when you become used to doing things this way – with an audience in mind, you begin to work differently. We already know that kids will often write at a higher level when they know there will be a specific audience -perhaps a blog audience, a class presentation, or for their parents. It’s often the same with any kind of work – even just the process, not the final product, if you begin with the idea that you’ll have an audience, and also that you’ll be supported by hearing how others are working through the process. It builds confidence, and also increases your motivation to do better and to clarify your thinking. I think that these kinds of reflective sharing practices can be built into so many aspects of the school day, no matter what the grade. It becomes a habit eventually, so that they naturally assume as they work that they’ll have someone to share ideas with, and they look for that support. In the reverse, we can also teach kids to work in isolation. When we do this, it means that we are responsible for building in all of the support structures they’ll need. Unfortunately, I think that when we do this, we “train” them that they must go it alone, and that the ideas of those around them have no relevance to them, their learning or their success.

  2. Andrea says:

    I have been struggling with the same concept. Will the students truly learn from a collective if they are not interested or passionate about the concept? I also struggle with the big picture. I feel there would need to be consistency throughout a student’s education so there are not any holes in their learning. In math, if they learn through a collective they will likely be figuring out larger concepts and understanding. If the next year, they have a traditional teacher practicing skill sets, will the concepts learned be lost? And will they find themselves behind for not having the prior knowledge required for that type of teaching? I guess my sequential mind gets me stuck thinking it has to be ‘all or nothing’ when adopting different teaching strategies for the sake of consistency. But really, if students are learning, wonderful. If they are exposed to different teaching styles, probably even better.

  3. Margo, I think you summarized the problem with why collectives are not used often in traditional classrooms. As beneficial as they can be to learning, teachers are still responsible for students learning their content. The element of interest that you mentioned I think is the key. I have seen groups of students as a result of a literature circle get together to do something together that expands what they read about. It is neat when that happens, but it is rare and unusual. It seems that thinking beyond the book or the subject does not occur to most children. I wonder if we need to somehow spark it in small groups and allow it to take shape? The level of collective learning we experience in blogs and learning teams may feel so unreachable to students at the level we work with because they are young and many lack background knowledge, technical savvy,or experience to contribute. I am just not sure how to provide opportunities to develop this type of learning experiences within the constraints of our classrooms yet.

  4. Amber says:

    I too find it so difficult to figure out how to ‘grade’ a group assignment. While I desire to have all members contribute-therefore making the process easier…it is not something that generally happens. So do you give credit to all students, although on child might have not done anything but sit there? And if students know that they are graded individually, does this encourage more of a individual approach to group work? The past few years I have had students work on a few group projects. Generally each person is assigned to a particular portion of the assignment, and then students must put it together as a collective whole. At the completion of the project (normally a presentation) group members rate each other on each of their contributions. I then use this data; with the data I’ve already collected to form the scores. So the overall project gets a score, but individual contribution also receives a score. I’m not sure if this is the proper way to actually score this type of project, but it’s what I do.

  5. alaskanjam says:

    You bring up some really good points that I hadn’t thought of. You are right about students only coming to school because it is the law. If they aren’t interested, how much learning are they going to really do? My thoughts go back to the Teach Like a Pirate text. We need to create those “hooks” to get kids to “buy into” their learning. I too was struggling on how this collective learning would look like in elementary school. I see how it works in our class, but like you, not sure about the students in my class.

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