Stikkordarkiv: cooperation

An effort to make students cooperate when discussing «violence».

Springtime. Sunshine. Exams around the corner. Twenty-something students with mixed feelings about going to their English class. And no «set goal» – just what you could call a «good start». OK, I agree that «violence» can be a disturbing topic. It is not mandatory to talk about it in this particular course. Yet this is what I chose to do this morning. First, we watched an 18 minute TED talk called «The surprising decline in violence» by Steven Pinker. He claims that the world today is much less violent today than it has ever been before, and that we must be doing something right. Expanded «inner circles», empathy with more people, knowledge of others and collaborative systems and rules are among reasons that he mentioned. We have already talked about topics such as globalization, cooperation and technology in class, so I wanted to see if the students could make more links.

This is what I did after we had seen the TED talk:

1. To have my students actually cooperate. I split them up in groups of five and gave them five different texts about the topic. The texts were quite different, though. One explained what linguistics is, another described hunter-gatherers, a third was an interview with Pinker, the fourth was a text about crime in Mexico (!) and the last text was a critique of Pinter’s theories.

2. I asked one of the students in each group to draw a mind map during the discussion.

3. We talked about the texts and the video. What was interesting here, was that when they had their own info, they described it differently from what I have heard before. Also, they talked about the texts with varying clarity and accuracy. Some had problems understanding the texts, but could at least talk about the video.

4. In some groups, I saw signs of cooperation. They started disagreeing, they talked about whether or not they thought humans were born evil, does technology promote more or less peace, and so on.

«WE DRIFTED FROM THE TOPIC», one student exclaimed. «Good», I said. After all, there was no set goal and the students had to form the discussion to whatever they found interesting. Some even saw connections that were new to them. I love it when that happens.

Question is: did they cooperate – or even collaborate? We do not use different words in Norwegian for these two concepts, we usually just say «samarbeid» (co-work).


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Today I asked my English class students to do some work using (mentioned in the last post, in Norwegian). I wanted help solving my Rheingold class homework:

«We often implicitly think of cooperation as a positive, but individuals can cooperate in the pursuit of very negative ends too (e.g., genocide, structural racism, etc.). Given that we may be ‘pre-wired’ to cooperate with our ‘tribe’ (understood broadly as any ‘imagined community’), what can be done at the individual-level to mitigate the forces that tend to generate compliance, conformance, or solidarity that are implicated in these ‘dark’ forms of social cooperation?»

THis is a tough one, for sure. I spent some time simply trying to understand the question (as did my teenage students, obviously). At first I thought the question was how we could stop all crime/negative cooperation, so to speak. Then I looked again and saw that it was quite different: it is about «mitigating the forces» – reducing what brings people to cooperate for bad reasons.

I discussed with my students and some said that when people are gang members, for instance, there is usually something «in it» for them there – protection, belonging, survival, escape. We then looked at a short video about «fixed mindset» and «growth mindset» (with Carol Dweck, several videos on Youtube).

By the end of the lesson, I am not sure we got any closer. One student pointed out this, though: «An individual with limited resources, educational opportunities, and a general negative outlook at their perspective future are prime candidates for gang membership» (gangs seemed like an understandable approach to the question, and some students referred to «The Godfather» or «American History X»). Better, still: «Trying to prevent or creating some sort of solution for this type of conflict relies on a massive reform within how we portray the world we live in today».


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Teacher as student

Every teacher should try a course where they are left a little dizzy, perhaps wondering if they are in the right place, stumbling upon weird things, trying to make mindmaps of the kind that she would normally reject from her students as «too little info», «no other ideas you might add there?», or «you haven’t really understood the terms» and so on. I have the following strategies to select from when facing a difficult task:

1. Finding ways to cheat 

2. Finding ways to «cover my incompetence», for instance by applying things to advanced forms or covering it in nice words

3. Leaving the course.

4. Hoping that others will help me (either as parasite, or as catalyst: teaching others is a good way to learn)

5. Accepting that nothing can be learnt in a day and keep trying

6. «Play dead». This was a suggestion from my husband, also a teacher.

Here is my mindmap. It is everything but excellent. Bilde

Again I return to the question of «why» I should learn this. I discover through the forums in this course that different people add different perspectives. Some are caught in details about enzymes, some are religious-like in their approach, others are waiting for more sociology. So far this has opened my eyes to the following:

1. Different fields may add value to each other. Cooperation seems to be natural, we benefit from it and need it. I am waiting for a discussion on how technology adds to or relates to the cultural evolution.

2. Cooperation online is quite challenging, but if you engage in activities, you will learn something. My next goal is to be better at reading other posts and commenting on other stuff.

3. I like videos. They do not have to be very fancy! The content is much more important.

4. Context matters.


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Studying Literacy of Cooperation. Some thoughts before embarking.

penguins: cooperating to keep warm photo by lin padgham on Flickr.



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.





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