I find the concept of cooperative learning to be very fascinating. I certainly agree that as an instructional model it provides countless benefits to the overall learning community. It promotes social skills, group accountability, an overall desire for knowledge and progress, and shared goals. As long as it is well facilitated and responsibly managed, cooperative learning can be the cornerstone of a democratic classroom. After all, as cooperative learning theorists argue, what is the purpose of the American classroom if not to prepare students to live and thrive in the society into which they will graduate? As Dewey states in his Pedagogic Creed:
I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. […] The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it; or differentiate it in some particular direction. I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. (Dewey, J (1897). My Pedagogic Creed. School Journal 54. p 77-80)
As Dewey explains, an individual lives within a greater social community, and to educate that individual separately from that community is futile. Education and social living cannot be separated; they are one and the same.
And yet, this idea leads me to question the current world in which we live, and the future for which we are preparing. In most of the United States we are dominated by technology, constantly recording and receiving feedback on every minute detail of our lives through the internet and social media. This virtual domain has become our new society. While perhaps it has not replaced our physical community, it has certainly become integral to it. So what are the implications, if any, of this on cooperative learning? Are the traditional skills of sitting with a group and verbally discussing problems and solutions still just as valuable? Or do we need to be focusing more on teaching ‘netiquette’ and how to collaborate in a virtual classroom? And are these two skill sets reconcilable, or do they require very different lesson plans? I know that many colleges are succeeding in preparing students for virtual democracy through online classes and discussion platforms, but I am not aware of the extent to which this happens in the K-12 world. I know some high school teachers who use online programs such as Canvas to post assignments and receive individual and group assignments (see Figures 1 and 2), but that is all that I have heard about.
I hope that as a future educator, I will be able to reconcile the two essential skills of in-person collaboration and virtual collaboration, without weakening either in the process. Indeed, as the world gets smaller with increasing ability to connect humanity across the globe, the need for citizens to collaborate productively has become as vital as ever.