Getting Critical about Collaboration

I recently came across the following statement from Martin McGuran:

Technology allows global classroom connections and collaboration BUT the majority of teachers are not taking the plunge. Why? They don’t know how to.

This comment left me wondering, what is it that teachers ‘don’t know’ how to do? Is there something different about collaborating with students as opposed to other educators? What does it mean to collaborate? Is it about tools? Is it about space and environment? Is it about perspectives? Or is it about pedagogy?

Using Doug Belshaw’s eight elements of digital literacies as a guide, it feels McGuran’s focus is on the cognitive, the tools and the processes involved. What feels overlooked is a critical discussion around the conditions required when collaborating. Here then are three other aspects to be considered in regards to communication and collaboration.

Can Everyone Collaborate

It can be easy to encourage everyone to get connect online and complete the circle. However, this overlooks the reality that not everyone is able to openly engage online. This is a point that Chris Wejr makes in regards to educators who for a range of reasons cannot share who they are online. Coming from the perspective of culture, Bali touches on the ignorance of culture and difference online, while danah boyd discusses the challenges associated with gender in regards to all things EdTech. For Graham Martin-Brown one of the problems is that different perspectives are often stymied. Although those like Michael Fullen preach the positives of collective efficacy and professional capital, this is often countered or corrupted by an inadvertent culture of competition produced by a grab for students and results, especially amongst secondary schools. On top of all this, Bill Fitzgerald touches on the inadvertent data and information captured as a part of being online.

Appropriate Attribution

The global collaboration McGuran touches upon is often built upon a culture of sharing. Whether it be sourcing images via Flickr or building upon a project posted on GitHub, there are many spaces dedicated to building on the ideas of others. The problem is that such generosity can come at a cost. Although Alan Levine encourages attribution by default, Maha Bali highlights that this is not always enough. Deb Netolicky in her own reflection wonders if using work without attribution is morally corrupt. Whatever the point of view, there is always a risk to hospitality.

Purpose or Process

David Weinberger argues that the smartest person in the room is the room. The problem is that simply being in the room is not enough. Sometimes the purpose and intent is not always clear. Other times, as Gary Stager highlights, there simply is no need. As Mike Caulfield points, the key is not the technology, but how it is used. An example of this is the DigiPo project. When I think about my collaboration with Steve Brophy, we started with a why. Although it could have been done individually, together we refined our thinking and created something unique.


I recognise that technology has a part to play in regards to communication and collaboration. Surely though this is only one part?

So what about you? Have you had any experiences of collaboration? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

Latest posts by Aaron Davis (see all)

Getting Critical about Collaboration by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

5 thoughts on “Getting Critical about Collaboration”

  1. Hi ,Aaron our poor internet connections and outdated hardware seem to put teachers off much of what we were doing a few years ago. Plus new teachers, teachers off class for PL has led to ack of continuity which is affecting collaboration this year. Thanks for this post. Will need to look into the ‘Why’ we aren’t doing what we were doing more deeply at our school.

    1. Thank you Anna for commenting. Collaboration is such an interesting topic. When I think about your own work, I am reminded of the work that you have done in the past with parents (https://annadelconte.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/where-to-next-with-our-parents-and-community/). Your ‘why’ is clearly stated in the opening quote:

      Parents and families have the most direct and lasting impact on children’s learning and development of social competence. When parents are involved, students achieve more, exhibit more positive attitudes and behavior, and feel more comfortable in new settings. (National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, 2003).

      There are benefits associated with collaborating that we can build upon without technology.

  2. Do the words of Alex Pentland help to explain why collaboration is scant in education? The ideas of natural law that teach us that humans are basically competing all the time?

    https://youtu.be/adhQhzMUor0

    Pentland declares that this basic model of what it means to be human in wrong.

    Let me know what you think.

    simon

Continue the conversation here ...