Collaboration in Education?

It occured to me today to do some research into what the public education system is doing to better educate children to be more collaborative.  Surprisingly – then again perhaps not – I found next to nothing!  There are a plethora of initiatives and papers written on fostering collaboration amongst departments and teachers but distrubingly little on educating students in this area.

The education system is highly individualistic.  You are rewarded for standing out, for being an exceptional individual and for personal achievment.  I’m not for a moment claiming that these are negative traits or that students shouldn’t be rewarded for their personal abilities, I only argue that there should also be some incentive to collaborate with fellow students as well.

I think we will all agree that group projects were a dreaded proposition in school.  You were assigned a group, assigned a topic and told to go to it and the entire group regardless of who did what was given the same grade.  The individualized point based system does not offer any incentive to collaborate in this situation- especially for the overachiever in the group who inevitably does everything.  As we have discussed in past posts, for collaboration to be effective (at any age) there are conditions that need to be met to make it work, you can’t just throw an assignment at a group and say collaborate – poof!   It just doesn’t happen that way.

Perhaps we could avoid our current situation of needing to ‘teach’ our organizational leaders how to collaborate in an increasingly ‘flat’ world if the education system was designed to reward collaborative behaviour in addition to individual achievment.

I would welcome any comments or insights you have on this topic.

This entry was posted in Collaboration, Group Dynamics, Innovation, Leadership and tagged , , by John. Bookmark the permalink.

About John

“John Abele is a pioneer and leader in the field of less-invasive medicine, For more than four decades, John has devoted himself to innovation in health care, business and solving social problems.” He is retired Founding Chairman of Boston Scientific Corporation. John holds numerous patents and has published and lectured extensively on the technology of various medical devices and on the technical, social, economic, and political trends and issues affecting healthcare. His major interests are science literacy for children, education, and the process by which new technology is invented, developed, and introduced to society. Current activities include Chair of the FIRST Foundation which works with high school kids to make being science-literate cool and fun, and development of The Kingbridge Centre and Institute, a conferencing institution whose mission is to research, develop, and teach improved methods for interactive conferencing: problem solving, conflict resolution, strategic planning, new methods for learning and generally help groups to become “Collectively intelligent.” He lives with his wife and two dogs in Shelburne, Vermont.”

One thought on “Collaboration in Education?

  1. In middle school the entire grade was split into assigned teams to build miniature bridges out of balsa wood that would support as much weight as possible before breaking. It was highly competitive and came with fantastic bridge crashes at the end. Each team was given the same materials in the same proportions, a bit like NASCAR.

    You see, the teachers who had assigned the groups decided to intentionally divide up the students who they knew to be ‘handfuls.’ The teachers did this because they knew that if they had allowed students to choose their own teams the ‘handful’ students would form one team together (becuase they socially gravitated toward each other) and that team would be wild and out of control. These ‘handful’ students had nothing wrong with them, they were simply incredibly strong individuals with dominate personalities.

    The teachers solution however put dominate individual figures in groups that couldn’t contain their presence. Those teams overwhelmingly cheated by sneaking in extra materials or came up with fantasy ideas about painting the structure with glue. The individuals took over the team and thus the team depended on that one person. The value of the team was only that of one person.

    Other teams however did not have those dominate figures and they went about reasoning, discussing and testing different designs. Those teams almost unanimously stumbled upon the age old arcitectural fact that a structure made of interlocking triangles was strongest. This is a concept humans have known for thousands of years, but without having to read it in a book the balanced teams discovered this fact on their own. The teams that were unbalanced and had strong individuals unanimously did not discover this.

    For many the teachers solution makes sense, but what they did was take a large percentage of the teams out of contention immediately. Had all of the strong personalities formed into one group they would have effected less of the whole and perhaps would have themselves balanced each other out.

    What I’m getting at is that the attitude of many primary institutions has to fundamentally change before collaboration will work in education. We are still in a ‘Push your food around the plate so it looks like you ate all your food’ way of thinking. How we get there… Not sure.

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