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Success through collaboration

a year ago

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By Yasaara Kaluaratchi Each individual is different from the other; research suggests that even identical twins have their own unique personality, attributes, and traits. This uniqueness each person brings to the table can be utilised to achieve a common goal through collaboration. Some valuable thoughts and insights were shared by the Ladies’ College, Colombo Vice Principal Deepika Dassenaike on the importance of collaboration for students. Collaboration vs. co-operation Collaboration and co-operation are terms which are used interchangeably. However, it is important to note that there is a slight difference between the two. Individuals working together integrating their strengths and values to a group to achieve a common goal, is collaboration. Whereas co-operation is working in a group to achieve one’s own goals as part of the common group goal. Dassenaike noted: “To give an example for co-operative learning in a group; each one has their strengths and abilities and they’re taken together to produce a good result. For instance, it could be a drama; you have a cast and a crew – it depends on each one’s individual talents to make a very good production, led by a director. Collaborative learning is where you provide clear directions as to what has to be done but the group members self-direct and work towards a common goal. For instance, students working on a project would plan, allocate tasks based on each individual’s abilities, and work towards achieving it.”  Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1962) was an advocate for collaborative learning. His theory emphasised that human beings learn best through interaction. Children learn from the environment based on the interactions they have with their parents, siblings, teachers, peers, and the community at large. Teachers’ role as a facilitator Vygotsky further identified that teachers must create a conducive learning environment that maximises student engagement through discussions, collaboration, and feedback. This fosters deeper knowledge construction in a learner.  Dassenaike added: “During the pre-pandemic times we designed class group projects for our children. Younger students can work together to cook something, do research, and build a model for an exhibition; the depth of the project can be notched up, age appropriately. Mature students can come up with a commercial plan or conduct scientific research to find a cure. For instance, I used this method for students who were in the Ordinary Level (O/L) classroom, where small groups of four or five students did a presentation and thereafter produced a transcript together. I found these types of activities very attractive as this type of group work is done in universities as well. As a teacher, I found that students become confident as a group to speak. I also encouraged them to do a practice round, record themselves, and see how it sounds. The group activity was led by the students’ ideas, but I facilitated the process by providing them guidance when needed. In collaborative activities we provide students the freedom and leeway to be independent thinkers but also to work together as a group.” Collaboration in a virtual world Online learning has been a common topic currently as all physical classes were moved to a virtual platform overnight. But how do we incorporate collaboration in a virtual classroom? Various interactive tools, such as Mentimeter, ClassDojo, and Kahoot!, can be used by teachers to assist group activities. Collaborative learning in a virtual classroom can be quite interesting and interactive provided teachers use the tools available creatively. “I was sent to the UK via the British Council to join a programme called Connecting Classrooms. We had to collaborate with some schools in the UK to exchange and share our ideas which was called ‘Culture in the Box’, where we made objects which represent our culture and vice versa. But now, in the virtual world, it’s quite exciting as we can virtually connect classrooms. For example, schools from two different areas in our country can virtually connect to know about how things grow, what sort of food they and you can learn from each other. Two years ago our students in Grades Five and Nine connected with a school in India. The Grade Nine students learnt about food and worked in groups to cook an Indian dish and the Indian students cooked a Sri Lankan dish by exchanging recipes. Each group also provided a review as well. The Grade Five students worked in groups and exchanged folk stories. I think collaborative learning in a virtual sense enables students to work with other segments, in our country and globally, which is now a reality. Although there’s nothing to beat the physical experience, being able to do student exchanges virtually during this pandemic has been an amazing opening for students to learn about each other’s cultures,” added Dassenaike. Collaboration for success Collaboration is one of the 21st Century skills which is imperative to succeed especially in the corporate world. It fosters interpersonal skills such as empathy, conflict management, tolerance, and respect. Thus, children must have ample opportunities for collaborative learning from a young age.  Dassenaike noted: “Sri Lankans are culturally very social beings. Through collaboration we strengthen our soft skills, improve our interpersonal skills, our ability to communicate, and our ability to work with each other. At the end of the day it’s not only about what we know, but also how we put it together and work with each other to solve complex problems. To come up with new ideas is what is important. The more we strengthen collaboration in a planned way, it would be beneficial for us as individuals. It would generate more productive adults in a work environment. We learn to brainstorm together, we learn to respect where we become humble enough to accept criticism. It is everybody’s responsibility to do something to obtain a good result. In the example of acting together in a drama, you work hard to become a magnificent performer but don’t really put effort into building others up. However, in collaborative learning, students learn to help each other. We bring in the pillars of critical thinking, communication, consideration, and empathy in a challenging environment of working together. Each one of us do not think alike. Therefore, we learn to negotiate and compromise. Children learning this at a young age are developing a skill not only for themselves, but for the society as a whole.” Tips for teachers for effective collaboration in the classroom Collaboration is undoubtedly a pillar needed for success. However, teachers face several challenges when including collaboration in the classroom. “If teachers are not planned enough, the students may not be able to make the best out of the activity. We need to manage our time well. Managing the groups effectively is also a crucial factor in collaborative learning. I’m very observant in the classroom and put students who do not get along with each other to work together. As an educator, you must think about what your objective is and what you really expect from the exercise. It’s not just grouping students to do an activity; you must think about what your end result should be. It could be to get different ethnic groups, children from different cultures, backgrounds working together. How a teacher plans the group is important, and how you guide them, inspire them is also very important. Students can actually plan projects by linking virtually,” explained Dassenaike. On a conclusive note, she stated: “I would request from teachers to implement some form of collaborative learning, although we are racing against time. I use a presentation format called PechaKucha for powerpoint presentations, which is actually used by the UN. It presents 20 slides in 20 seconds and the number of slides can be lessened. This is very effective to manage time as students must talk within the 20 seconds before the slide automatically moves to the next. Similarly, teachers can use creative ideas to engage their students in collaborative learning. Think out of the box, look for new ideas, and share new ideas for the benefit of our future generations.” (The writer is reading for her doctorate in education. She has over a decade of experience in the education sector as a lecturer, mentor, and facilitator specialised in educational psychology, currently serving as the Director of Academics at Prospects Academy, Colombo, Sri Lanka)

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