Chapter 4: Learning in the Collective
“Once a particular passion or interest is unleashed, constant interaction among group members, with their varying skills and talents, functions as a kind of peer amplifier, providing numerous outlets, resources, and aids to further an individual’s learning.”
Thomas and Brown (2011) explain that the social interactions that take place in a collective continuously affect the learning of each individual. This synergy deepens learning in a way that cannot occur within private learning experiences.
“In a collective, there is no sense of core or center. People are free to move and out of the group at various times for various reasons, and their participation may vary based on topic, interest, experience, or need. Therefore, collectives scale in an almost unlimited way.”
How can teachers build collectives in traditional classrooms? How are common “topic, interest, experience, or need” identified and developed within a group placed together based on the criteria of age and geographic location?
“Simply by being among the people around them--in study groups, for instance--students are learning from their environment, participating in an experience rich in resources of deep encounters. ”
In my previous online MA program through Ashford University, I did not have a collective experience--in fact, I was barely even part of a community. I wrote discussions, commented to peers, and submitted individual assignments. I was bored. I spent hours sitting alone reading, writing, and creating digital media projects. None of my peers (or, even professors!), authentically challenged me by responding to my work. It was like I was learning in a bubble that was occasionally nudged by a forced comment or rubric grade. As I began my online MA program, I knew that I needed to push myself to connect with my peers. Thanks to the environment provided through Google + and individual friendships I am forming, I am connecting. Many moments of deep thought and learning are actually occurring when I am not directly working on an assignment. The conversations my professors often do not hear (emails, instant messages, voice messages, texts, and phone calls) are sincerely deepening my learning experience and pushing me to develop my academic, collaboration, and leadership skills. I am already benefiting from the collective we are just beginning to build!
“In communities, people learn in order to belong. in a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation. ”
The term “community” is almost overused on my campus. San Pasqual Academy’s geographically isolated residential campus is a community with a unique culture. Most students are able to figure out how to behave to become a member of the community, but I am beginning to think that this is not enough. After learning about the differences between collectives and communities, I am questioning our focus on community. Instead, maybe we should strive to create a collective focused on helping foster youth learn how to heal and prepare for emancipation. Maybe? My brain is still processing this.
Chapter 5: The Personal with the Collective
“The personal is the basis for an individual’s notions of who she is (identity) and what she can do (agency). It is not necessarily private, though it may be, and it does not exist in a vacuum. We shape and define the boundaries of our agency and identity within the collective.”
Thomas and Brown explain, that contrary to the shared beliefs of western culture, individuals’ identify and agency are not simply developed through private or public conversations. Instead, they are developed through private and public interactions. Participating in collectives intensifies this growth. Additionally, technology creates avenues for collaborative communication, such as blogs, which extend the collective even beyond face-to-face interpersonal interactions.
“Because learning with digital media occupies a space that is both personal and collective, people can share experience as well as knowledge. Here, people are not just learning from one another, they are learning with one another.”
How does a teacher harness digital media to encourage a collective? Can individuals simply form a collective around the shared problem of passing a course? That does not seem like enough. What strategies have educators tried?
“Ryverson’s objections to the Facebook study group, which was nothing more than a digital re-creation of the physical-world study groups that have been around for centuries, were that it made learning easy, allowed students to do whatever they wanted, and as a result threatened academic integrity.”
This week, a multiple-choice and short-answer midterm was assigned to our cohort. The instructions explicitly stated, “We expect individual graduate students to complete this task on their own...This is not a GROUP PROJECT.” However, over the past six weeks, we have been pushed by all three of our professors to use technology to work together, utilizing tools such as discussion board comments, Google+ community, and student-run webcasts. Like the Ryverson University students in the Facebook study group, we have already entered into a collective. Knowing that collective learning exists, it is incredibly challenging and almost unreasonable to expect us to simply snap back into individually completing an explicit learning task.
“And because there is no targeted goal or learning objective, the site can be used and shaped in ways that meet the needs of the collective.”
My district is currently doing the opposite of this! Our current instructional coaches and administrators are heavily pushing learning targets and success criteria. During the last English Language-Arts training I attended, they shared specific learning targets and success criteria for for every little lesson within the California State University Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum. I agree with Thomas and Brown and foresee that I am going to struggle when I am told post daily learning targets and success criteria daily.
Chapter 6: We Know More than We Can Say
“Explicit knowledge, as we have seen, lends itself well to the process of teaching--that is, transferring knowledge from one person to another. You teach and I learn. But tacit knowledge, which grows through personal experience and experimentation, is not transferrable--you can’t teach it to me, though I can still learn it.”
Thomas and Brown explain how explicit knowledge was valuable in “the old culture of learning.” But, technology has made explicit knowledge so easily accessible that now the role of educators is to develop tacit knowledge. The challenge is that tacit knowledge has to be experienced instead of taught; so, now, educators are challenged to create learning experiences instead of just directly teaching explicit knowledge.
“When that tacit dimension is taken into consideration, the value of a university education grows to include the learning that happens when students are immersed in an environment that values learning itself.”
Why do all of the academic examples focus on colleges and universities? Are primary and secondary institutions really that far off? What about schools like High Tech High?
“What they learn in the process has less to do with solving a particular problem than it does with learning the nature of the tools they have at their disposal.”
The word “tools” instantly reminded me of Wesch’s 2010 video, “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able”, in which he makes the case that students needs to “embrace real problems... and harness relevant tools.” I am noticing a recurring message about the importance of helping my students build toolkits.
“Different people, when presented with exactly the same information in exactly the same way, will learn different things.”
I already see this happening in my classroom! My students’ reading reflections provide evidence of it. Even when we read a novel as a whole-group during class and discuss the text together, each student’s reflection shares a unique connection to the text. When they are given writing prompts that allow them to explore any possible thesis with the requirement that they back it up by providing and explaining textual evidence, they are also able to to show their own perspective. I feel like my classroom may support more inquiry than I previously thought.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, Ky.: [CreateSpace?].