October 05, 2005

Collaborative learning, constructivism and the 3rtd Millennial School

Continuing the beta chapters of my current research piece on giving more opportunity for able pupils to engage in higher order thinking through the use of social software. Comments welcome.

The 3rd Millennial school is very different from the school of 100 years ago. A train driver from 100 years ago would not be able to drive a modern train, a surgeon from the same time would not know how to operate in a modern theatre. A teacher from 100 years ago would be operational nowadays within minutes. Chris Yapp's statement is true. This chapter looks at how pedagogy needs to be adapted to teach our children for this millennium.

2.3.1 Collaborative Learning and Constructivism
Felix (2005) states that 3rd Millennial education institutions uphold six distinct learning expectations:
• Flexibility
• Inclusiveness
• Collaboration
• Authenticity
• Relevance, and
• Extended institutional boundaries

Collaboration plays a key role in the Scottish context. In Scotland, these values are reflected in legislation and policy, notably the Curriculum for Excellence, which outlines its ambitions for learning to lead to successful learners (inclusiveness, flexibility, authenticity, collaboration), confident individuals (relevance, collaboration), effective contributors (through extended institutional boundaries and collaboration) and responsible citizens (inclusiveness, collaboration). The importance of collaboration is evident, but collaboration for collaboration’s sake will not work: it is always part of a blended system of learning. Making collaborative work worthwhile and effective therefore requires the other elements in this 3rd Millennial mix to be well applied, and this is not as difficult a task as one might imagine.

The use of the internet has resulted in a flood of authentic (foreign language) materials for the learner of any foreign language. However, the teacher must open this world to their learners. Learners are not always capable of finding authentic, worthwhile resources without the aid of the teacher. Traditionally this kind of support has been provided by creating type-written lists of online resources, subsequently by putting these on the wall of the library or classroom or, at its worst, bookmarked links being kept on the teacher’s computer never to surface again until (s)he deems the resource of interest to a third party and then “releases” this knowledge. In some more advanced stages these links have been shared online as HTML links on a webpage. The technical knowledge required on the part of the teacher has been significant in the latter case; most teachers find writing in the language of the internet (HyperText Markup Language) prohibitively difficult and time-consuming. By making this effort, though, some teachers have managed to begin breaking down the institutional boundaries to education, the same boundaries of classroom and timetabling that have stopped Freeman’s Sports Approach of large numbers of pupils volunteering for extra tuition from taking hold in the time-poor busy life of a modern school.

However, to combine this authenticity offered by the internet with flexibility and relevance there is a change required in the roles of teacher and student. Where the teacher has been the “sage on the stage” there is now a necessity to move towards another model: “the guide on the side” (Bernier, 2003). We move back to the other constant in our model. Global interaction – or collaboration – has been a feature of the business and media world for many years and more initiatives are in place to help educators replicate this in the world of the classroom. This global interaction does in fact facilitate the breaking down of the classroom and school timetable to extend learning beyond these constraints. Negotiated curricula mean that learning is increasingly adapted to the needs of individual pupils (Tudini, 2003; Felix, 2005); learning is personalised leaving more time for the individual student to explore new avenues of learning; learners are being made more aware of how they learn not just what they learn. However, this meta-cognitive knowledge must be better used (Savery, 1995; Felix, 2005); teaching learners how to learn is a methodology widely recognised as being essential if a learner is to know what (s)he does or doesn’t know to construct more knowledge at the next lesson. The construction of new knowledge based on previous knowledge has thus far been in the hands of the teacher’s lesson plans. Our collaborative learning model here puts the onus on the pupils to make the first move in deciding where to move on to.

Collaborative learning therefore represents the key for learners to achieve their best in this 3rd Millennial education generation: it brings together authentic resources, inclusiveness, it extends educational boundaries and brings more people into the classroom, and makes information more personalised and therefore more relevant to the learner. Combined with internet technology – namely social software – collaborative learning means that the image of one teacher and 30 pupils is no longer valid. Pupils are no longer restricted to one point of view and one source of facts – their teacher – as they have primary access to authentic resources and experts from beyond their classroom walls.


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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.

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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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