A Little Proposal: A Work in Progress

Just a blurb from what I am currently working on since I haven’t posted recently:

Collaboration: What could it look like in the K-12 classroom?

Collaboration is a hot word these days in the education field. It is listed as one of the 4 C’s of the 21st Century Skills: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.  According to the Report, collaboration is “defined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as the mastery of content that engages students in critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and self-directed learning” (2017) which is a major focus in education right now.  In professional development for K-12, collaboration is integrated into at least half of the training sessions, if not more. The problem is that collaboration is never really defined in a practical way for the classroom or taught how to actually do collaboration outside of using a tool like Google Docs. In The Horizon Report for Higher Education, collaboration is a listed as one of the “short-term trends” for 2017, meaning that collaboration is helping to “drive technology adoption now but will likely remain important for only one to two years either becoming commonplace or fading away in that time.” The Report goes on to link collaboration to deeper learning claiming that this kind of deeper learning is necessary for “student motivation” and ultimately to understand the “connection between their coursework and the real world” (2017). Surely if collaboration is part of deeper learning then it cannot be a short-term trend that will just fade away. Rather, collaboration is more likely to become commonplace and therefore less likely to draw research. So why is this important to K-12 teachers? The theoretical meaning of collaboration is at best limited and the practical application of it vague. If collaboration is a foundational element of deeper learning, and it is a current trend driving technology adoption, then it is necessary for both teachers currently in the classroom as well as administrators making technology adoption decisions that collaboration be more concretely defined and measureable research be done so that the power of collaboration can be harnessed more effectively.

Over the last two decades, collaboration generally has come to mean creating knowledge together, but that manifests in different ways. One way to do that is to assign more group projects in the classroom where the final product is on where everyone contributes to the final effort. Another is to have some version of an open forum where students work to create a body of knowledge together, where they become an expert and contribute to the end product as an expert like a wiki page or a blog. The goal of both versions of collaboration is to create knowledge together rather than alone. According to Lev Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” theory and his idea that we are smarter together than we are alone, just working together seems to fulfill his requirement for collaboration. However, collaboration is much more complicated than that since Vygotsky’s theory doesn’t account for the social dynamics of collaboration when the social dynamics fail. Vygotsky’s theory only describes learning as social under the assumption that all parties are motivated and engaged. In real classrooms, that is not always the case. It is not hard to imagine a classroom where half of the students are trying to Snap Chat on their phone or watch YouTube videos instead of learn something new. Therefore, a more concrete understanding of the dynamics of collaboration is needed in order to engage them. So, one possible definition of collaboration could be interdependent learning. Interdependent learning happens when all students in the group are needed in order to produce the final product or complete the tasks. But, how do we design lessons and projects to do that? Designing with collaboration in mind has at least 5 key components necessary to create more effective and rigorous collaborative learning environments: creating a culture of listening and communication (Kipp-Newbold, 2010; Atkins,2010; Stacey, 1998), creating opportunities for students to be experts (DeCosta, 2010; Chen, 2017), designing lessons/projects that are role specific (Widodo, 2013; Wilhelm, 2012; Srba, 2014), provide reflective assessments that hold all accountable (Dreamson, 2017; Scalise, 2016; Szewiks, 2011), and providing opportunities to change roles within the group to expand individual expertise (Kipp-Newbold, 2010; Dickey, 2007).  Each component on the list is meant to provide more robust guidelines to support the instructional design when integrating collaboration into lessons or projects.


The end, but also not the end.


The Secret to My Survey Success

Surveys take a lot of critical thinking. You can’t just be in robot mode and “wing it” like it’s the Friday of Homecoming during your high school English class with students going wild. Just like any essay or presentation, you should make a draft or two before you create it in a survey program. Question design can’t just be about curiosity or it just sounding like a “good” question. They need to be questions that actually generate data that can tell you something. If questions are too general or unclear, then there are no real valid conclusions to be drawn. However, if a survey is repetitive and long, you might also lose the interest of your participants. Therefore, creating surveys takes critical thinking, but also discernment. Without much experience creating surveys, discernment is difficult on your own. So, it seems reasonable that when creating a survey,  you collaborate at some point in the process. Collaboration with a coworker or someone with just fresh eyes can help you be more specific, revise for clarity, and pinpoint missing questions.

I think I have it in my mind that as I progress as a professional that I need to be creative and clever all on my own. However, as I grow, I have learned to work smarter rather than harder. In order to actually be smarter, I need more than me. Lev Vygotsky speaks to me more and more the older I get. So, it both surprises me as well as does not surprise me that seeking social validation of questions for a survey is encouraged.  Why not ask my husband if my questions make sense? Why not view my work with a classmate for validation and revisions? Why not do a test run of my survey with fresh eyes? It not just makes sense; it also makes the task easier!

In fact, I think the hardest part of making a quality survey is working alone.