Working together improves a product, whether it’s a dissertation or a magazine.
At a recent cocktail party, I was trying to explain to my neighbor why I felt web 2.0 collaboration tools could potentially change the entire educational process. Just the nature of these tools encourages more real-world projects and the capability to truly collaborate, I told him. Students are already working together and sharing 24/7 on Facebook; we just have to translate their social activities into learning activities. He didn’t get it and I was left to ponder why a locally produced pinot noir could create such lucidity in my brain yet result in such dullness in others’.
In a flash, I recalled a recent conversation with MaryFriend Shepard, who had helped me start my doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati in the 1970s. I had lost track of her until I heard about some research she was doing on the culture of collaboration in online learning. In our conversation, MaryFriend noted that students—and faculty—have worked together on projects forever, but that work typically was cooperative, not collaborative. In cooperative work, she explained, people talk about a problem and divide it into tasks with each person taking one or more of the tasks. As tasks are completed, they get assembled into a completed project. With collaborative projects, whether they involve wikis or Google Docs or other tools, students and faculty work on the same product and, as they come up against each other’s thinking, the product changes—and with that evolution has the potential to improve.
My dissertation was a great example of both cooperation and collaboration. Three of us worked on the same project: a futures-study curriculum for ninth graders. The dissertation consisted of four volumes, with each of us responsible for one volume and the final volume co-written by all of us. The final volume interpreted the results of the study and included personal reflections of the team members about the processes. It was the best part of the dissertation, but thinking about current web 2.0 tools makes me wish we were doing the study all over again. I can’t help but think how much easier—and better—it would have been if we’d had these tools to help us share insights and evolve our thinking.
Which leads me to this final note: This will be my last column for Campus Technology. I am leaving 1105 Media to work on state and federal educational technology issues with the State Educational Technology Directors Association. My deepest respect and thanks to the terrific CT editorial staff, Rhea Kelly, Therese Mageau, and Dave Nagel; the art staff; the team behind the Campus Technology live and virtual conferences; all the folks working on the web side; and our fearless leader, Wendy LaDuke. They have all been my partners and my teachers in the art of collaboration. My thanks to you readers also, whose input and insights only improved my own. I hope to see you at Campus Technology events in the future.