The summer is that glorious time when I get to catch up on all those books I didn’t have time to read during the course of the school year. Along with my beloved escapist novels (at the moment I’m reading Robopocalypse: A Novel, by Daniel H. Wilson) I’ve also started The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age, by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall. During the spring I took an online “Connected Coaching” course with them, (which I wrote about here) and I was excited to learn more about their perspective on the art of education in the new millennium. So far the book has given me much food for thought. Here’s what I’ve started to digest. All quotes are from The Connected Educator, other than the one from Aristotle.
A connected educator is a learner who connects with other learners using all available environments and technologies. A connected learner sees and lives learning as a relationship-based phenomenon. A connected educator recognizes learning and teaching, in the 21st century, as self-directed, interest based and requiring the mastery of new literacies, fluencies and skills. Connected education reflects what Nussbaum-Beach and Hall call the “’do-it-yourself’ mentality” that characterizes the current “shift away from dependency and obsessive consumerism toward a learner first attitude”. But what really got my attention was when the authors, expounding upon the nature of today’s participatory culture, create a distinction between cooperation and collaboration. This kibbutznik-in-a-former-life was intrigued!
Cooperation, it seems, is an individualistic approach to learning and doing. Yes it is group based but, according to the writers, each member of the group can be dispensable. What each individual brings to the table isn’t necessarily unique, or irreplaceable. Yes, information is shared, but only in the context of a predefined cooperative structure. If one person drops out, another can slip in to complete the task. Members of the group work together, but only to achieve a specific and predefined mission. Collaboration is something else. In collaboration, as Aristotle taught: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Collaboration is (in my words) a collective approach to acquiring knowledge or reaching a goal. Each individual’s contribution, according to the authors, is unique, irreplaceable and has a significant impact on the final result. A collaborative effort is organic, which means I think, that it develops spontaneously and has an indeterminate lifespan. Nussbaum-Beach and Hall draw a distinction between the educational model of cooperative learning, and collaboration, to help explain this. While the former is defined by a task that is achieved as a result of a group of individuals contributing to create a product, the latter is more mushy (again, my word), reflecting how each member of the group provides an insight that becomes integrated into a final product, whatever that is. Cooperation is following a blueprint – each member of the team has a specific job. Collaboration may result in some type of building, but there is no blueprint – or rather it is designed as the team members offer their contributions. It is more process oriented. Like I said, it’s more mushy.
Teaching and learning in a collaborative context (connected education and learning, if you will) redefines the role of the teacher, “a major shift in posture from expert to learner”. This is a major change in the way we, as teachers, see how we do what we do. It’ more than just becoming “guides on the side” rather than “sages on the stage”. It’s restructuring how we teach ourselves and, most importantly, how we model this behavior to our students. This is crucial. It’s basically stating “I don’t know everything, but that’s okay, let’s learn together.” How threatening. How scary. How liberating.
So this leads me to my next question: As a teacher of teachers, how do I help my students overcome the resistance to this idea and incorporate it into how they teach? How do I empower other educators to let go of the myth that knowledge is THEIR power, enabling them to embrace the concept of knowledge is a process that we participate in together – that knowledge is OUR power?
My plan is to continue this book report as I continue to read The Connected Educator. I’ll share with you my thoughts and impressions. Maybe some of you will pick up the volume and we can read and discuss it together. Hey, maybe we can make this a collaborative venture!
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