As I have recently joined a course in «Literacy of Cooperation» lead by Howard Rheingold (author of the before mentioned book about how to thrive online – Net Smart), I would like to share some thoughts on what I am about to dig into. I have just watched a taped lecture about cooperation in biology and evolution: The lecturer, Peter Corning at Stanford University, explains how cooperation and synergies are part of, and not contrary to, evolution. He aslo claims that this was acknowledged by Darwin, but overseen by many after him. Before the first online meeting this week (!), I need to organise some thoughts on this. Hopefully, new knowledge and new perspectives will clarify a few things, too. You can find a lot of free material if you visit Rheingolds wiki.
OK, so what do we have here. I can pick out a few key words from this material and see if it makes any sense to me:
– are humans competitive to the extent that we only act according to self interest?
– the struggle for survival is ongoing – not a singel event
– competition may also involve cooperation
– synergy is the effect of, not synonyous with, cooperation. Synergy is «responsible for cooperation in nature, not the other way around» (this part I really did not get)
– cooperation is any kind of relationship between two or more parts, and it produces combined effects
– does cooperation then exist within species, or also between species?
– there are different kinds of synergies, such as scale, division of labour, functional complementarity
– cooperation is a survival strategy, and a multi-level phenomenon
– the sum of the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts, but it is different
– the future; cooperative effects is a key to understanding our evolutionary future
I have been wondering why this biological, evolutionary perspective has been added to a course about cooperation. Does this have consequences for us, does it explain some of our behaviour? What can we learn from this? I am not sure yet. I have just assumed that technology is an aspect in the future of cooperation.
What I do know, though, is that it has sparked some new ideas in how I view cooperation in the classroom: When I went to school, I usually dreaded any kind of cooperation as it usually ment a lot of cost on my behalf, and very little added effect. (Peter Corning also talked about costs and benefits to all the participants.) When my students are asked to cooperate, the usually seek the same partners, and some prefer working on their own most of the time. They avoid risks. Many students even find that their individual work gives excellent results in terms of grades. My question is, then – why should they cooperate if they are successful on their own? Do we need it for the future? Is group vs individual orientation something cultural, something taught, or something genetic?
Lots of very vague questions here. I have decided to try reading more material and look forward to meeting with my co-learners. Also, I am quite nervous as I have very little experience in this kind of work and have absolutely no clue who 28 out of 29 co-learners are (education, work, age, nationality etc). During 6 weeks there will be live video sessions, forums, blogs and so on. As well as learning new stuff (theory?), I am curious about the work methods and realise that the organisation and co-learning aspect must be entwined with the content and topics, too (so maybe this is where the technology is brought forward).
A last thought: I am working on an exam paper at the Smart learning course and one of our perspectives there is to what extent teachers and leaders (in school) see themselves as learners, or even co-learners. What can teachers learn from students? If a teacher sees herself as a learner (as well as competent, educated), what effect does that have on her students?I think just the very idea of «not having all the answers» is crucial here. If we seek new knowledge, more interesting things can happen. Right now, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to widen my horizons, and I am confident that it will help me develop as a teacher, too.