Collaboration: as with all learning, is too important to be left to chance

Jane McGonigal presents a great argument here that attempts to demonstrate the potential force for good that could exist within games-playing. Games like World of Warcraft require a commitment on the part of the participants to collaborate with their fellow players in order to achieve their goals.

For me, this brings me back to considering the power of games-dynamics in themselves and of the need for students to get as many opportunities as possible to learn together, in groups. The structure and integral components that underpin interactive games-playing might be translated into a some form of taxonomy of learning design. Here’s a very rough draft of what it might look like:


  • Identifies what needs to be done in order to achieve goals
  • Recognises that attainment of goals cannot be done independently of others
  • Identifies who and/or what can help in the attainment of such goals
  • Adapts own behaviour so as to foster collaboration from others
  • Collaborates with others to achieve own goals
  • Works effectively with others to achieve own goals
  • Is prepared to offer collaborative expertise to achieve goals of others
  • Recognises that working with others is more effective than working independently
  • Actively seeks out further collaborative opportunities with others


And so on.

And what if we created a game-scenario that was intended to solve some of the world’s greatest problems and handed this over to our students? How might this encourage learners to engage with the wider world and begin a process of problem solving from which innovative solutions might emerge? We know it works, after all. Consider the way in which the human gene was finally coded, or the creation of WIkipedia or…well, you know what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we should ditch the curriculum and get students to start playing WoW. What this talk does make me think about, however, is how collaborative skills need to be deliberately practised just as much as skills in calculus, research or reading. As I’ve said before in posts and I’m writing about in other forms at the moment, if we can design learning in such a way that it offers engaging opportunities for students to mindfully practise the skills required to collaborate, then surely that’s one step closer to their readiness to both give and take from the world everything it has to offer?

Other TED Talks on related to this and that have similar connections to learning include Seth Priebatsch and Tom Chatfield.

Engaging learners: games dynamics & lesson design

Seth Priebatsch gives an enthusiastic talk about the way in which business is learning from games dynamics. For me, from the start of his energetic talk, I simply substitute ‘learning design’ for ‘business’ and keep on listening. I write a lot more about this in my book but for now, this talk gives a great illustration of the way in which humans are engaging in Web 2.0 or rather, how Web 2.0 is encouraging engagement from humans.

There’s much here to consider, but the highlights include his explanation of how a simple progress bar can be incorporated into daily activities to encourage us to finish them. I’m working with a school who are doing just this in a project with some gifted and talented learners to encourage them to take the time to actively reflect on their learning and complete a personal learning blog. Before it becomes a habit, we need to practice and get good at an activity. When we do this, we start to experience a greater, deeper sense of achievement and we want to go back back for more. And that’s what we want. A learning addiction. That’s what I want, anyway! There’s some great ideas here that can easily be incorporated into the way in which we design learning. 

Nice if learning became as big as Nike or Adidas or Nintendo or Apple or…well, you get what I mean.

Digital Learners: when potential meets potential

Patte Maes and Pranav Mistry (who has a fantastically designed website btw) from MIT shared this presentation of their work from the MIT lab. This is a great example of what provide us with; an insight into a world of cutting edge research and insightful thinking before it gets into the mainstream. I love this about TED. We get to see some of the raw stuff as well as some of the polished, ready-for-distribution stuff. But at its heart is the ‘Sharing of Ideas’. And isn’t that what schools are all about, after all?

Anyway, we recently used this film as part of a project with a cohort of ‘able but quiet’ year 8 students from 9 participating schools and they loved it. We asked them to research and then present a response to ‘What will the life of an average 15 year old be like in 2025?’. It was a long term project run collaboratively over 7 months. The students ran their own research groups and organised their meeting and deadlines without intervention from their adult facilitator. The effect of this particular film was to really open up their thinking and freed them up to get very creative about what they suggested might be invented by the time 2025 came around. As teachers too, it reinforced for us the fundamental need to develop digital literacy in ourselves as well as in our learners.



Groupwork: Learning together & the power of collaboration

Talks like this one from Charles Leadbeater are really useful. They can re-focus our thinking on how we can deliberately foster the skills required in effective group work. In this talk, the importance of developing collaborative-working skills in readiness for the future is very well argued. I would add here that for learners to succeed right NOW, they need to be effective group worker right NOW. Ultimately, if we are to fully utilise the social dimension of humanity, it is far too important to be left to chance. It, just like our other capacities, needs to be mindfully practised and explicitly developed. Our classrooms and school communities could be the hot-houses for just such collaboration. 

I’ve been doing some work on what we mean by ‘group work’ and seeing what we can learn from collaborative learning dynamics.

When introducing group work, I always involve the learners in the assessment process:

The first question I ask students to consider is…

“What makes a quality team member?” In doing this, I ask them to identify what they would like to see, hear and feel when they are being or working with a quality team member. In this way, they can start to formulate their own quality standards for the challenges they are about to face. This becomes their success criteria for the whole learning process. It also generates a student-led plenary discussion both during and after the challenge. This in turn, encourages the students to reflect on the product of their learning IN LIGHT OF THE PROCESS.

The way in which we design learning needs to be as carefully planned as every other aspect of the lesson. So whenever I’m deciding what groups they will work in, I have these as a quick check list:

What is the purpose of the activity – will this group structure and combination of learners enable them to achieve the learning aims?

What are the pre-existing skills, knowledge and understanding in the group; are these well matched/ balanced within the group?

What roles might the group members adopt to ensure that skills and tasks are well matched? (facilitator; team rep; resources manager; time keeper; scribe etc)

What is the social age of the learners; how can we help learners both speak AND listen to each other?

What is the cognitive age of the learners; are they all at the same level of competency – do they need to be for this task?

What is the emotional age of the learners; how will the group members cope when they struggle or face disappointment?

How will I interact with learners; my language needs to praise effort alongside achievement – post-it notes work really well for this, rather than direct interventions that disrupt the group dynamic.

In what ways will I make the skills and competencies I want the students to develop explicit to them throughout the lesson?

If you have any thoughts on this or reflections on how you organise group work, please leave a comment.