Tom Austin, a researcher for Gartner, is interviewed in Fast Company this month and makes some interesting points about the value that businesses can find in implementing and using social tools in their workplaces. I like the idea that we should be hiring more “cultural anthropologists” in our IT departments, people who understand the social shifts that are occurring. It’s a pretty interesting interview throughout, with some points made about how we assess collaboration and what we should look for in our employees.
But here’s the quote that I thought was most interesting:
Look at teenagers today. They’re teamagers. They work on projects as a group and think nothing of doing it that way. I expect to see that kind of thing percolate through the enterprise as an unstoppable force over the next two decades.
Nice twist on the word, but I’m wondering if you agree that teens have group collaboration down as a part of the way they do their business. What are you seeing?
Karl Fisch says
I think that many – but not all – teens are pretty good at doing group collaboration outside of school. I think most – but not all – are not particularly good at group collaboration within school.
i totally agree, everybody at my school trys hard to work together at, and out of school… some of the guys however act like idiots and just wont cooporate with us, but we make it work…
Steven Kimmi says
I do not work with teenagers, so I can not offer an insight about them. I work with ten-year olds. Here in Kansas I can tell you that they have not fully grasped the idea of collaboration. What we see is too many of the kids putting too much of the work on too few. But I think that stems from more than just a lack of responsibility. It seems to me to be a lack of respect for oneself and others. In addition, I think the perameters of our assignments do not full consider the range of students’ talents. If we want good writing, doesn’t it make sense the burden of the work is pushed on the writer in the group. Maybe if we are not seeing the results that we want it is our vision, not the students.
Steve Ransom says
There are different levels of collaboration, I think. I think what we need to look at are the quality of learning outcomes as a result of collaboration. It is one thing to work well as part of a team. It is another to actually learn and learn well while part of that team. There have been too many poor implementations of “cooperative learning” that are simply poor attempts at “group learning”. They are not the same thing. Unless positive interdependence can be achieved and learning outcomes set and assessed effectively (not easy to do well), then the learning of the teamager is likely to be inadequate. But, we should absolutely capitalize on their proclivities for collaboration here.
Art Gelwicks says
Teenagers aren’t any better at teamwork than adults are, but they don’t have the acquired fears and resistances to it. I don’t know if I’d qualify most social sites as teamwork related, but rather examples of online group functionality. Start working in applications where several teens are editing a video for example and you’re much closer to the concepts of “teamagers.”
Diana Kenney says
I agree with Karl’s response. As a curriculum/technology integration coach for my district I have the opportunity to observe teachers and students in grades K-12. Unfortunately, I don’t see students, especially middle and high school students doing enough collaboration…in our district students are still asked to work in isolation, paper+pencil type activities: working to the TEST.
At home my teenage daughter spends a lot of time “connected” with friends.
Sylvia Martinez says
“Team”agers? Oh, please! This is from a researcher? Since when does research consist of snappy sloganeering.
Teenagers are no more or less likely to “work on projects in groups” today than yesterday. Connection is not collaboration and chatting is not a project.
Will Richardson says
@Sylvia You really think that term was “snappy”? ;0)
I totally agree with you about the other stuff, btw. I don’t think kids are very good collaborators at all, and it’s primarily because the things we use to try to teach them collaboration (if we can even call it that) are so contrived most of the time.
Dean Shareski says
Without going all Digital Native/Immigrant on you, I think in general everyone accepts the notion that teenagers are innately social. Without debating whether or not they are good at it, it’s obvious that expectations are that they can be even more social and collaborative than ever before.
Teenagers don’t do much in terms of meta cognition around collaboration. Most of the comments refer to the “schooly” nature of collaboration. The first chapter of Shirky’s book, really points to the seamless and natural ability to collaborate. But I’m not sure those involved in the “phone war” would ever categorize what they did as collaborative. They just were actively using tools that suited their needs.
I think most teachers want to and rightly so, see our students collaborate more effectively and in meaningful ways. I think it’s fairly natural for them and they’ll use whatever. Our perceptions of collaboration may have to be challenged.
Will Richardson says
@Dean Ick. Can we stop using that metaphor already? ;0)
Social, yes. Collaborative, notsomuch. Sounds like us, donâ€™t you think? We share a lot of stuff, but how much do we really collaborate? And the other part is, like I said to Sylvia, we rarely give our kids real, purposeful opportunities for collaboration that are tied to their passions. (For whatever reason, those phone warriors were passionate.)
So, what are the perceptions we have of collaboration that need to be challenged? Thatâ€™s itâ€™s never really been collaboration in the first place?
Suzanne Wargo says
I was prepared to rip this apart a bit as a little too idealistic. It is easy to think this way if you are an early adopting school and only meet teachers that have been fortunate enough to make it happen. Then I read Steve R’s response about levels of collaboration and learning outcomes. I work with a few teachers that are exemplary in setting up team work and when you walk by their room it is truly amazing. Others I see as poor implementors and kids working poorly, socializing too much, and the “smart kid” doing most of the work. I think as teachers we are still not there yet. But it may be not enough professional development and not enough good models. I see it as two different issues. One is working on the dynamics of group work and secondly adding technology to it. Until we still make the use of tech things cool or not more seamless…it will not be implemented for the best use for our students. I don’t think that social networking is mainstream enough to be applied to everyday school goals… yet. It also may be “social” in a different way. The people who I know that hire teens for jobs, find them poorly equipped to work with others, frustrate easily, and want to do as little work as possible. I think that reflects more of teens today than the “Teamagers” as Will speaks. It can change but it’s going to take a huge shift in both education & society.
Will Richardson says
@Suzanne Rip away! I don’t think kids are great at this either. The questions now become, however, should they be, and, if so, how do we teach them? Shouldn’t we be collaborators too?
Steve Ransom says
I think, as Suzanne W. brings up, we must deal with pedagogical issues that need to be embedded in new ways of working, collaborating, learning, knowing… And, as I have commented before, until teachers get a handle on some of these research-based, effective pedagogies (like cooperative learning, problem-based learning, social learning theory, …), they will not be able to model effective use of these social learning technologies or set up related meaningful learning experiences for their students. I can’t tell you the number of times I have watched “cooperative learning” or “inquiry-based learning” and wanted to roll over and die. These pedagogies require highly-skilled practitioners, but sadly, we have a great number of teachers who are in “coping” mode rather than “learning” and professional modes. Messy stuff…
Sylvia Martinez says
Consider the source, too. Gartner exists to sell expensive “research” to companies hoping to jump on the next bandwagon and make a lot of money.
This has nothing to do with kids, teachers, or schools. This guy is just marketing a product.
Answer to your question:
But we’ll all keep trying.
It’s like believing in a lie. Just say it long enough and we’re bound to take it as truth.
Susan Smith says
I just sent an email to the president of our school. Here is the content regarding a google apps implementation in our 5th grade.
I am so impressed with the job these student’s are doing in the google apps “tips and tricks” document they are creating! My hats off to all of them, and to Barb Rogers for wanting to experiment with this and taking the time to make it happen.
If you haven’t already checked out their collaborative effort log in and do so. Remember – they are not getting any credit for contributing to this document. They are doing it because they want to.
When things like this happen I remember why I switched careers and came into the academic environment.
I am not in the classroom much (or enough) but I am impressed with what these students are doing.
Somewhere in the comment stack, someone observed that teens collaborate well out of school, not so well in school. My observation of my children’s current experience is that the teams in school are often set up either randomly or in fixed mixed ability groups. And neither of those constructs necessarily relates to the project goals.
When a team is built in the workplace or community, the team is either built based on the needed skills or shared vision. It is clear to the team members how they contribute. I don’t think that aspect is necessarily translating well into classroom based collaboration groups.
Steve Ransom says
Marianne, you confirm my thinking earlier up the stack here… it is just that we have not implemented cooperative learning structures and strategies effectively and as intended in K-12 education. Every team member is supposed to contribute value to the end goal and if there is truly positive interdependence, it is almost impossible to achieve that end goal without everyone performing their specific roles and contributing their unique skills. I have rarely seen this done well in the classroom – mostly because teachers are not trained sufficiently to be effective at this. It is not just technology where teachers suffer from insufficient preparation. However, even in the workplace folks have to work well with individuals that they do not “connect” with and might not choose to work with. Also, there is often no shared vision – just a mandate to complete the task(s). This is different than a group of friends getting together after school to work in some project. We also need to prepare students to “get the job done”, regardless of who they must work with.
Louise Maine says
I think they could be. Schools are an unnatural place for them to act collaboratively. Most activities are not planned well for collaboration to be effective.
As Will said, we don’t either. Why do we expect more of them than we give? The same goes for other things we want them to learn – like being a life long learner.
Tabitha Fredrickson says
I am certainly in agreement that we are seeing a lot more group work. Many don’t understand that there is a gap between group work and cooperative learning, though. There is more accountability in the latter. Collaborative learning still implies students doing their own thing then putting ideas together rather than working together from the beginning which is what cooperative means. Although I support working with others, I still believe that there is value in independent work. It is not the case that one will always have help when they need it, and so that person ultimately needs to be able to figure out and attack the situation independently. Another thing to keep in mind is that although there should be much importance placed on social interactions, there are many students who prefer to work alone. As teachers are learning about new ways to give tests so that all students have fair opportunities to do well based on their learning/testing styles, teachers need to keep in mind that some students do better by themselves on projects. I personally enjoy being around people but will always find it preferable and feel more successful when I do well from working alone.
Chris Quinn says
With reference to some of Steve’s comments, in my experience as an educator who works to support teachers and principals, I agree that we need to model for students how to “get the job done”. It seems to me that many of our young people know how to “connect”, especially for social networking purposes. So often, however, I see evidence of students being put in group situations and then they are assigned a task. It appears that skills related to cooperative and problem-based learning as just “assumed”. Even worse, I then see students evaluated based on their demonstration of these skills and yet they have not been explicitly taught about such basic elements as positive interdependence, promotive interaction, individual and group accountability, interpersonal and small group skills, and group processing. Little wonder disengagement abounds!
Charlie A. Roy says
One of my favorite things to do on Friday is to stand in the commons as school dismisses for the weekends. I watch our students pull out their phones and within minutes contact dozens of pals and set up the evening plan. Pretty fun. The ability to collaborate well will certainly become a valuable skill in the new conceptual age.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the comment, Charlie. I wonder though if this is collaboration or more coordination. I think they have the means to collaborate, but I wonder whether they have the skills.
Benjamin Baxter says
Very, very silly research. Teens love collaboration because, more often than not, it means kicking back while the smart, or simply bossy, group member does all the work.
Group work and collaboration in the classroom hasn’t gotten much farther than most technology use. Both are misunderstood and woefully misused.
This is becoming an interesting thread as it is clear many, and I would include myself in this group, have tried for years to get kids to cooperate, collaborate, group, share, etc. and have come up short. The short is that kids don’t know how, or why, or to what end the collective effort should be targeted and then all those other social/evolutionairy instincts kick in and you have the few doing the much and the many learning the least, or something like that. It’s not what you hope for and it can be messy to grade and then to justify that grade and so on.
I have worked mostly with teachers and on my own habits the past six years to develop professional collaborative communities within academic and often across academic departments. It takes years to establish a culture, a set of community agreements, an array of protocols, and a purpose for which to maintain a collaborative community. (If you’ve ever worked in a CFG, you know what I’m talking about.) It also requires no small amount of professional courage because real collaboration means revealing oneself to one’s peers. It requires a willingness toward self-examination, and toward the scrutiny, and criticism, and, ouch, change. The application of this into and out of the classroom also requires time and practice. What teens are doing today is a combination of revealing themselves to just about everyone in the world but in ways that are often (and I hope we can agree on this) by means of a cloak they sometimes create by the very nature of the annonimity of the medium. This is not collaboration, or cooperation in the way we need it applied in a learning environment. To be sure, it is a kind of foundation, an infrastructure on which we can build.
If the process of collaboration scares teachers, it is no less difficult for students. Still, the skill needs definition. It is not at all what cooperative learning tried to be and it usually has nothing to do with roles fulfilled within group work scenarios.
Will Richardson says
Really thoughtful reply, Michael. Thanks. I too wonder about how teachers can demonstrate true collaboration in their own practice, and agree that there is a certain amount of courage to take on the transparency of that work that’s needed to do it well.
Ben W. says
I’ve found that teenagers may be excellent at collaborating outside of school, but in school they’ve been pushed toward working as independent individuals. The entire school system bases success on individual grades based on individual work. Students, even when put into “collaborative” groups, often don’t trust their grade to other group members. Basically: The current system promotes individualism over communal effort.
I wrote more extensively on my experiences in my classroom with collaboration vs. individualism in a blog post from last month: Learned Selfishness.
The collaboration we’re trying to create in schools is manufactured to work in a school system that doesn’t parallel real life. In my job I often collaborate, but often I don’t. I learned when I needed to work with others and when I didn’t. I learned who to turn to for what skill and who to not trust to get the work done. None of this was taught in school; I learned from experience. In my classroom, when giving the students opportunity to work in groups or not, many would turn to their friends (those they trusted), but some preferred to do it on their own. Sometimes in my job I am required to work with others, but it’s because we have a common goal and skills needed to make the work successful. If we use those parameters to set up groups in school instead of “everyone wearing brown shoelaces,” maybe it would be more successful. To see what grouping/collaboration should look like check out the Ideo video from Nightline: http://www.ideo.com/media/nightline.asp
Steve Ransom says
Angie, I implore you to find any educational research that supports your “everyone wearing brown shoelaces” cooperative learning strategy and reduces that theory of learning to this one structure that you describe. The work of Johnson & Johnson and Robert Slavin is much more complex than that. That’s the problem – most practitioners are insufficiently trained to successfully employ the strategies in the first place. However, I really agree that most of the time our process of “doing school” does not mirror reality outside of school and does not prepare students for that reality. We spend more time helping students be successful “at school” then we do preparing them for success “after school”.
Steve, that’s my point. When I was teaching, I often heard of “strategies” to group students, including using what they were wearing. The truth is, it’s much easier for teachers to group students this way superficially than to look at students’ levels of ability and/or strengths and weaknesses. In my 13 years in the classroom, I don’t remember one professional development experience that gave me tools do grouping/cooperative learning right.
Steve Ransom says
I hear you and I know what you describe if too often the rule than it is the exception. The same goes in teacher education programs. Often only 1 class is devoted to such a strategic learning structure (also true for differentiation problem-based learning, literature circles, and the like)… in no way a proper equipping. At best, preservice teachers come away with being able to describe cooperative learning in vague generalities. And, the likelihood that they would experience effective implementation of such strategies during student teaching is also slim, as you point out. A sad reality that we MUST address somehow. Ahhh…, the more we change, the more we stay the same in some respects. This makes the need for new learning networks and communities all that more critical!
hi people, i believe that getting students involved in activities together is a good thing to do, they may not realize that they are learning if it’s fun
The original ‘research’ is nonsense; kids don’t collaborate, they chat. They’re no better at it than kids were 30 years ago; they just have more ways to do it. And adults, in my experience, really only collaborate when they are told to or when they are very, very motivated to do so, or when the job absolutely requires collaboration. I don’t collaborate much. For what I need to do, I can usually do it better and more quickly myself.
As such, we need to get over the idea that collaboration is the holy grail. It is ONE mode of working, and often not a very useful one. The fact that we now have access to very sexy collaborative tools does not logically mean that collaboration is the appropriate response to every challenge; we’re letting the nature of the tools dictate the nature of the work.
Surely the ultimate aim should be for students to decide whether a certain task and (to a lesser extent) their own preference demands a group-based or individual approach, and then to source the best tools to facilitate that?
Steve Ransom says
Who is saying that collaboration is the “appropriate response for every challenge” – the “holy grail” for every task? Your thought about choosing the right tool to support the learning goals is spot on and as one approaches adulthood being able to choose a learning approach that is best suited to one’s learning style and the task at hand. There are many jobs that may not require a collaborative approach. But that is changing in many instances today. What would you do if you were asked to complete a complex task that is outside of your area of expertise (knowledge, skills, background…) and which could really benefit from consultation with others to achieve the best final product? Just say, “Well, I don’t like working with others. I’ll slog through it on my own and hope for the best.”?
There is no reason to take an extreme position here to support your comments. I am always amazed when folks defend what they do not really understand by taking such extreme positions. I guess it comes out of ignorance. For example, the Internet is bad and should not be used because of all of the bad stuff kids can access. They will only play games and chat. The best information is found in books. The Internet should not be used in research. Computer (and calculators) are making kids dumb because they no longer have to think. Cooperative learning is a waste of time because all kids do is chat and don’t do any work or learn anything…. All of these extreme positions are usually held by folks who really don’t understand the underlying issues, and yes, research… all that well.
But I would certainly agree that despite the research on teaching and learning, a well-grounded, knowledgeable and experienced teacher is still required to choose pedagogies and strategies that can produce the best outcomes for all students in a given culture – not necessarily the ones that worked best for them when they were in school – which is too often the case.
Tom Ransom, the person cited in the opening post, is saying that collaboration is the ‘default’ when he claims that teenagers are ‘teamagers’. A development, I suppose of the older (and equally faulty, IMO) ‘digital natives / immigrants’ idea.
As such, I don’t think it’s an ‘extreme position’, nor do I think it’s evidence that I don’t understand changes in the way technology is impacting upon education. If I was being bigheaded, I might take it as evidence that I had actually looked beyond the Web 2 hype. But, hey, thanks for the rant. Really.
Carleton Lyon says
Collaboration is important and evident in the schools where I work. Many students, though, due to classroom management deficits, are able to fade into the wood work and become invisible in the group. One way I have seen effective teachers handle this is to work in pairs first. It’s difficult to get lost in a pair, both students are forced to contribute, and there is evidence of each individual’s work. After following this model the teacher phases in the team concept.
As a teenager I think that this is true that we do think team work as just a way of â€œdoing our business.â€ I personally think that team work is harder than individual work, but yet more effective. I think if team work were more common in everyday lives, then things would be better. A lot of times in my classes our assignments are assigned as groups not individuals and I think that teachers today see that this is the way we know how to do things and that it is part of our business