"In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn."
The authors assert that members of a collective take "an role in helping to create and mold [the collective]" which is defined by an active engagement with the process of learning. Learning takes place through the participation of the members between each other which contrasts to the traditional classroom setting of the teacher unloading knowledge onto a platform of students. This peer-to-peer learning is one of three key aspects of the new culture of learning identified by the authors.
I see this peer-to-peer learning in many different 'shared experiences community' websites. When I was still a pre-med student, I frequented the website www.studentdoctor.net and perused through the forums to find information and guidance through the process of how to get into medical school. What the forums did so well was provide analysis and advice to particular situations that a simple google search just couldn't fully address. I also found that the forums provided huge support and reassurance to pre-med students who were waiting on responses or waitlisted or whatever it was that caused their future medical careers to hang in the balance.
I never actually posted on the forum, but I did constantly go through the discussion threads especially when I stitching together my application. As I was going through this process, the question I had to answer was
"why do I want to be a doctor?"
After several letters of rec, many interviews with doctors in the field, and half-way finishing my personal statement, the question I was trying to answer slowly morphed into
"do I really want to be doctor?"
After wrestling with the question for a long while, I finally came to accept that this path wasn't something I really wanted. This wasn't the change I wanted to affect, this wasn't the work I wanted to do, this wasn't the life I wanted to pursue. And I came to these conclusions with the help of a peer-to-peer collective which will never know who I am or how they helped me make a decision that would forever change the course of my life.
Chapter 5: The Personal with the Collective
"The students in the Ryerson study group were not 146 individuals, each working on one problem; they were one collective working on 146 distinct problems. By working through all the different points at which others became stuck in the their problems, each member of the collective encountered more theories and applications of chemistry than they had eve done in a classroom."
Again, the authors anecdotes remind me of my own experiences as an undergrad at UCLA. I found the most success in classes where I had friends to study with. When I look upon my transcription, I can remember distinctly in which classes I had a study group and in which classes I had to study like a lone wolf. For myself, the classes with higher grades correlated with collaborative learning. For the classes in which struggled, I don't remember much support or working with others - just long isolated study sessions in the cathedral-like Powell Library.
At the time, I knew that study groups were key, but I rarely joined groups on my own accord. Despite knowing success through study groups, why did I not elect to join more? Study groups were often pre-established cliques and induction into the group required vetting via invitation by an established member. Also, we didn't really use facebook or the internet to collaborate to solve problems and discuss topics online. At the time (circa 2004), facebook was a new phenomenon that was only open to college students at select universities and the term "social media" wasn't ubiquitously understood or experienced. Facebook and other forms of online social media was seen mostly as distraction from the "real learning" happening within the lecture hall.
I am glad to have a seen a shift of perspective on how the internet impacts collaborative learning. More and more, classes are utilizing online forums and discussion groups to foster a collective learning environment. While not as organic and, perhaps, genuine as a other online learning collectives, these online class group discussions opens up opportunities to learn collaboratively with other students which creates a more equitable and accessible learning environment for students who might not have otherwise found a way to do so.
So how can I foster this collective learning within my own classroom in a genuine and meaningful way?
Well, for a start, I need to actually utilize online platforms that allow digital discussions and collaboration to take place. I need to create the structure, boundaries, and expectations that the students are to participate. Use of such online resources and structures seem to be the norm at the university level nowadays; however, from what I've seen so far, high schools are still catching up.
Chapter 6: We Know More Than We Can Say
"A student cannot ask his teacher to 'give me your experience' or 'tell me what it feels like to solve a problem' or 'show me how to innovate.' We learn those things by watching, doing, experimenting, and simply absorbing knowledge from the things, events, and activities around us. The skilled student today learns how to watch the teacher very closely and thereby infer what questions will be on the test. She's figured out that reading the teacher can be just as useful as reading the text for getting a good grade, and maybe much more."
This is why some high-achieving classrooms can be a "handful" as some teachers characterize them. Successful students understand almost explicitly the game that is school. How much is the test worth? What will be on the exam? Is attendance a part of the grade? All questions regarding how that final grade will be tabulated, calculated, and parsed. And I cannot fault these students for focusing on that final percentage over "learning" because those grades determine the direction and fluidity of their mobility through the academic world. They know what it means to be successful in school and they are proactively figuring out what the rules are and figuring out strategies on how to win it. These kind of students have an explicit understanding of the systems at play that determine that label of success. Ranking overshadows learning, and the traditional structure of learning fosters this mindset whether it wants to admit it or not.
"Students showed up in Doug's office with no idea of what they wanted to write about. So, in response, he would ask them: 'What is it that you care most deeply and passionately about? What is it that you will wake up every morning wanting to write about?' He was shocked when student after student answered in roughly the same way: 'I don't know. No one has ever asked me that question before.' "
What is it that I care most deeply and passionately about? I am privileged to know the answer(s) to this question: changing education and supporting my family. But I had 30 years worth of living and experience and guidance and education which has helped me figure it out. For some people, this question is still a difficult one to answer.
For example, my cousins struggle with this question quite a bit. Of the cousins who are a few year's younger than me, many of them are facing a "quarter-life crisis" of not knowing what to do with their lives after graduating college. I asked one of them what do they care passionately about, and she cannot, for the life of her, answer it. Her experience has been one of shuffling from class to class, school to school, requirement to requirement. After it is all done, she has her bachelor's degree in Biology, but doesn't care for the topic. She merely got it because everyone told her that a science degree is more useful than a humanities degree. Since graduating a year ago, she has been living at home with her mother and has not found a job or pursued more education. Another cousin works a job he hates with people he despises. He works for a company that creates and sells online ads. Often, these ads are misleading and make the most revenue by taking advantage of people who do not know better. There's nothing explicitly illegal occurring, but it's also something my cousin tries not too hard to think about. I ask him why doesn't he quit and find something he actually cares about, and he doesn't know what to know to say. He just doesn't know what he cares about and how to make money from it. Both of my cousins graduated from top and highly competitive Southern California universities. As far as the narrative of success goes, they both graduated high school and attained their bachelor's degrees which are huge indicators of success, but how successful do they really feel about it? How did their educational experiences lead them to this point in their life, and how could have things been different?
Thomas, Douglas, and John Seely Brown. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace?, 2011. Print.