Stikkordarkiv: english

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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