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Connecting, Cooperating & Collaboration

June 28, 2011

This post was inspired by Beth Sanders who blogged about PBL and collaboration. Beth’s blog is a unique blog in that it serves the purpose of initiating dialogue. I am cross-posting my response, here, as well because as we work toward a truly 21st Century learning model, it is important to purposefully move projects to a more collaborative level.

I am working through the creation of a wiki for a new course I’m designing called 21st Century Global Studies which is a convergence of participatory citizenship, both authentic and digital, and digital literacy. I will share wiki links once I have more put together. Still trying to work through the tools, as well.


Before a classroom can cooperate or collaborate, teachers, students, & classrooms must first make a connection. Typically, connections come through a PLN. Yesterday I experienced a great example of simple connection, while attending the ISTE ’11 conference in Philadelphia, PA. While in a session about What it Takes to be a Tech-Savvy Principal, a friend within my PLN, David Truss, who is currently in China tweeted that he wished he could listen in on the session. Within two minutes or so, I skyped David in on my iPad and he was able to listen to the entire conversation and contribute to the conversation. This is powerful stuff. David blogged about the experience immediately following. This is the basis on which collaborative learning is built.

Collaborative Learning vs. Cooperative Learning

It is important to make this distinction. From my experiences, true collaboration means students working together to explore big ideas and create a meaningful product. In a recent Twitter #sschat (Social Studies Teacher Chat), this was discussed in terms of group work, however, cooperative learning is often interchanged with collaborative learning. Granted, during the chat, it got me thinking about other instances wherein many have casually interchanged the two.

For the most part, cooperative is a type of collaborative, if that makes sense. Collaboration is a bit higher on Bloom’s taxonomy on the creation scale in most cases wherein collaboration requires wide-scale efforts, often online. Students have equal responsibilities versus leadership, etc. and then they work together to make something cohesive from everyone’s input. The significance of the learning occurs through the process of collaborating; the journey along the way. The end product does not necessarily reflect all of the learning that has occurred throughout the process. Cooperative learning is more structured, specific duties and roles, and often face-to-face in small groups. Both are important and both beneficial. Ultimately, though, if we want to incorporate 21st Century purposeful skills, we need to take cooperation to the next level: collaboration.

In other words, when I group students in class for a small activity and they work on it together, it is cooperative. When my students are building a wiki, online, based on a broad-based inquiry topic with students (either in another class period later in the day, or with students in other states and countries), it is collaborative. Wes Fryer gives a good distinction of this here in this visual:

Image by Wes Fryer on Flicker

I never understood this until participating in projects like Digiteen and Flat Classroom. These projects offer a level of authenticity that makes the learning so much more meaningful. When Beth asks, “How do we make these projects purposeful?” My personal experiences would again offer up authenticity.

Authenticating Collaborative Learning

When students created their own Interest Groups and corresponding, propagandized media campaigns via a collaborative wiki, they authenticated their work by writing to our local state representative. One group made an interest group called Xterminate Cuts to Education. Another group did an amazing wiki on Climate Change The representative visited our classroom. Purposefulness comes full-circle.

When students worked on the Digiteen project (with students in China, Qatar, Houston, Oman, to name a few), based in part on Mike Ribble’s Digital Citizenship in Schools, the project co-founders were able to have author Mike Ribble participate in an Elluminate Q/A session with the students. Some of the things my students asked blew me away. And they logged in from home, on their own time, with no graded ‘requirement’ to be there. Assessment in these instances becomes self-evident. Listening to students question and discuss on this level needs no additional assessment ~ it is transparent and it is self-evident. This is where I believe standards-based practices miss the boat (just IMHO).

Some consider this practice unfair. But really, is ‘equal’ EVER ‘fair’? Why are we still trying to equalize humanity? There is nothing equal about who we teach. Our students are richly diverse in so many ways and we need to capitalize upon it, not extinguish it in the name of standardization. Collaboration and PBL allow diverse aspects to flow. Most importantly, the students truly learn something.

When students were learning about Congressional powers and taxation (which can be incredibly boring for adolescents), they each did their own W-4 and 1040EZ form based on a variety of W-2’s with which I provided them. I made sure there were vast differences in income and at the end we graphed a comparison of how much more in taxes some folks had to pay. The light bulb went on. Several returned to school to relay that instead of paying H&R block, they helped their parents do their taxes (the simpler cases). So, purposefulness? Make it relevant to something in the real world.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2011 12:28 PM

    Suzie, was that you who was able to keep from getting kicked out of the Tech-Savvy Principals session by the fire marshal because you were skyping to China? I remember someone there telling me that! If that wasn’t you, this would be even crazier, because then there would have been TWO people doing that! LOL!

    Thanks for sharing David’s blog post. Very, very powerful!

  2. July 2, 2011 1:30 PM

    Hi Angela!

    Yes! That was me nearly removed from the room by the fire marshal during the Tech-Savvy Principals session with Dr. Scott McLeod and panelists. I know David through the Flat Classroom Project. I’d met Dr. McLeod before at TEDxASBunplugged in Mumbai in 2010 and have interacted some on Twitter with the other panelists. I really wanted to stay in the room, too, as I’ve just begun my Administration Certification program. David ended up making for the perfect excuse to beg to stay in there as that room was jammed!

    I was tough to miss… I was holding my iPad up a bit over my head to get the best reception for David. 🙂 LOL! So, not so crazy, it was me. At least, I don’t think anyone else was Skyping at the same time.

    Thanks for visiting. Have a great holiday weekend!

  3. March 9, 2012 10:35 AM

    You add to my thinking on collaboration in two ways: one, primarily we think of using collaboration to tackle big ideas or big projects; two, you mention purposefulness, a key component I overlooked in my piece for Getting Smart, “How to Work Together to Build Capacities for Collaboration” (


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