May 31, 2013

Can collaboration in school ever really be Collaboration?

Today I gave a speech to open A.B. Paterson College's new Collaborative Learning Centre, pointing out the key challenges around great collaboration, as outlined by Morten Hansen (I wrote a series of blog posts a while back sharing these worthwhile lessons). It got me thinking about the nature of most collaboration - even the good stuff - in schools, and the much more complex serendipitous nature of collaboration outside school.

Learning in school is one thing. Heading to university another. Rarely does either truly reflect the incredible pace of change in the world beyond those thirteen years of formal education, where the demands for more complex collaboration and ingenuity test even the best education systems' agility to the limit.

Take the world of fashion, for example. One of our clients, a luxury fashion brand for whom we develop and deliver education programmes in the communities in which it operates, has grown nearly ten times in as many years. Digital teams now operate on a par with merchandising and finance, and clothing designers themselves are acutely aware from their very first sketch how their product will look in a digital store as much as on the runway.

The people in these teams would be unlikely to have ever met had they attended the same school. Slightly geeky computer programmers would hardly be seen creating amazing projects with the fashionistas, the mathematics and science majors wouldn't be seen spending time in home economics thinking about how they could imbue cloth with data-processing technology that will heat the fabric when it's cold outside, and cool it down when summer arrives. 

And in university, these serendipitous, tangential collaborations are made even more unlikely to succeed in anywhere other than extracurricular clubs, as students specialise ever deeper, narrower. 

Yet, in the world outside formal education, serendipity is increasingly what makes the creative, financial, scientific and engineering worlds go around. Tangents, not five year plans, are where the biggest discoveries and creations of the past decade have come from, whether it's developing social networks with billions of users, finding preventative medicine in foods that can help more of us avoid cancer by eating certain foods regularly and cooking them correctly, or developing construction technologies that enable apartment blocks 17 stories high to be constructed in one week in China's expansive metropolises.

Chefs work with PhDs, construction trades work in ways that run against what their forefathers would have said was "right", and individuals in dorms can reach out and find the right team to get the rest done just as well. 

Schools have an opportunity to prepare their young people with the robustness and acuity that is required to survive and thrive in this fast-paced, anything-is-possible world. It involves schools spending time like they've never spent it before understanding what constitutes collaboration, real collaboration and not just 'group work'.

It means the construction of new spaces, and the overhauling of existing ones. Rows of chairs and the same group of students sitting with each other all year long is not preparation for collaboration 'out there'. Students of the same ability working with each other doesn't chime with the notion that, in true collaboration, you reach out to those smarter than you to fill your gaps in understanding - we need more cross-age coaching, joint projects, younger students bringing their different perspective on the world to older students who might have lost it on the way.

And these aren't just great for collaboration. Education research is mounting that it is the skill set for collaboration in the real world that also brings the most to learners' progress in school. 

Now, go and discuss this. In a team. Collaborate on something to rock the status quo of group work and encourage young people to truly collaborate.

This post was cross-posted from NoTosh's fabby Facebook page. Give us a Like there and see more little gems from the whole team.


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Agreed Agreed and agreed...

I want to just throw this in....if these students didn't find their own skill at school such as would then not be possible for these students to collaborate in the work place as they may have never got to the stage where they knew what they were really good at. Collaboration is great once your an adult with your mature ideas.

Not really disagreeing with you just wondered what your view on this would be.

Totally agree with you. We need to focus on creating a "Learning Culture" rather than a " New Education System"

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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