Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mass Collaboration--Are we preparing our students?

In a world of mass collaboration people combine their different skills to explore and solve problems. According to Charles Leadbeater in his newly published book, We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity, there are five principles for successful mass collaboration: core, contribute, connect, collaborate, create. These creative mass collaboration communities have a social structure. The core group tends to do most of the work, and in the end makes the big decision regarding goals/purpose and projects. There is also the larger crowd of contributors who are less intensely engaged with the project. However their smaller contributions may be as significant as the work done by the core. People thinking in different ways contributing their diverse viewpoints are likely to generate more possible solutions. The larger the group and the more diverse perspectives involved, the greater the benefits. People with different ideas must have a way to connect that allows the free flow of these ideas. Taking this to a virtual world where an open discussion forum, wikis, nings, and even twitter allows these connections to be made. The actual collaboration itself is what presents the greatest challenge. How does a large community of diverse thinkers with diverse knowledge, ideas and values make the most of its diversity without being overwhelmed by their differences? The fifth principle is creativity. The many differing points of view and skills and the ability to think independently come together to form a mass social creativity. Although the lines between expert and amateur, audience and performer, user and producer may be blurred, it is not a free-for-all: it is highly structured.
Wikipedia and Linux are examples. The constant trialing, testing and refinement help to guard the integrity of the project.

How do we prepare our students for a world of mass collaboration?
One of the main reasons I wanted to take these technology courses was to learn what I need to be teaching in my third grade class today to help my students become active and involved members of the society of the 21st Century?

I can see that preparing them to work in collaborative groups is a first step in this direction.

Working collaboratively is not an innate ability. Most children need a great deal of guided practice to be able to develop this skill. The co-operative learning strategies and desired outcomes serve as a basic foundation to prepare students for mass collaboration.

Students practice sharing their ideas verbally with a partner or discussion group learning to listen to what group members say and, take the ideas or thoughts of others and build on them. Working together to solve problems, again having to talk things through, listen to what others are saying and to be able to verbalize their own thoughts. Most importantly, students must learn how to listen respectfully to ideas with which they might not agree and hopefully learn to use diverse opinions as building blocks for new ideas.

My class has been learning to write informational reports. Since we have been studying crayfish in science and have had twelve live crayfish in the classroom for the past six weeks, the students have just finished a collaborative research project about the crayfish. Each student worked with a partner to become the experts for a portion of the research. The whole class then compiled their research results and now each person is writing his/her own report using that information. I can say that this collaboration made the research portion of the project go very well. I was worried that having everyone research the same topic might result in a lack of interest for some students, but having the living creatures seemed to keep a high level of interest and engagement and the students had free choice of the research that they contributed. This research was also used to create a collaborative class Voice-Thread.

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