Is Collaboration A Myth?

I can’t believe I’m writing this blog post. I’m a huge supporter of collaboration in the classroom and in education in general. Then on Friday, my step-dad forwarded me a blog post that really made me think. The big question was, “are two heads really better than one?”

Yesterday, Pearson Canada brought 50 educators together, I think somewhat in the hopes that collaboration would make a difference. Pearson was very up front with their reason for the meeting: they wanted to know what publishers could do to “socialize.” Throughout the day, people contributed to this Google site for the Ontario Social Media Symposium #ontsm. There were also hours worth of discussions in person at the event and online through Twitter. It was almost a bit overwhelming to follow everything.

As I participated both online and in person in the discussions, I realized the real power of what was shared in the Monday Morning Memo article.



And that was what was amazing about yesterday. People were not just sitting there nodding their heads in agreement with everything that was said. They were questioning others, wondering about new possibilities, and challenging current trends. We all signed group norms at the beginning of the session, and everyone adhered to these norms, but “discussion and debate” still evolved throughout the session.

Then back to the topic of collaboration, at the end of the day, the 50 of us did not come up with a finalized list of suggestions, but instead, a messy conversation full of lots of ideas. Interestingly enough though, it’s through this messy conversation and lots of reflection, that many individuals have started to clarify ideas through their own blog posts. Maybe it’s through this continued conversation and these blog posts that changes will happen.

So was it the collaboration that mattered, or was it what individuals took from these collaborative opportunities that made (or will make) a difference? How can this learning impact on how we view collaboration in the classroom? How should this learning impact on how we have educators and administrators collaborate?


14 thoughts on “Is Collaboration A Myth?

  1. At the end, when there was discussion about producing some sort of product I reacted negatively. The production of product signifies some sort of end point and traps it in amber. What I wanted most of all is to know that this is a conversation that will continue. Nothing resolved but “la lutte continue”. It’s always a shame when kids are learning but we have to move on. We don’t have to stop this so why would we?

    • A very good point, Andrew! With social media, there’s the potential for all conversations that we want to continue, to continue. This makes me think about what you said about students. Yes, in the classroom, we often do need to move on, but if students had a place to continue the conversation, would they? Should we be ensuring that they have this place? I know this was not the purpose of my post, but as always Andrew, you’ve left me thinking about something else. Thanks!


    • I was thinking this too… that the conversation was just beginning. In my mind it wasn’t the time to start synthesising yet. So many things to wrestle with within the classroom/school before an entity becomes involved in a manner that is more than marketing: privacy, digital footprint, visibility online, to blog or not to blog, open v. walled connections, purpose of curricula, the influence of the tools etc.

      I have to say I loved the debate, the back-and-forth, the question and response. It was fascinating to watch (and be part of) people’s shifting views and beliefs.

      I know when working with the consultants in our board I will be prompting some new ways to look at discourse in our meetings and imagine what Grand Conversations in the classroom could look like!?

      Thanks for the prompting Aviva.

      • Thanks for the comment, Jonathan! It was definitely fun to watch and be a part of these discussions. Your comment actually reminded me of another part of yesterday that I’ve been reflecting about: the need to differentiate the sharing space. It’s funny: I’m not a quiet person by nature, but I was quiet yesterday. There were all of these great ideas being shared, and I enjoyed the time to listen and reflect on them. When I wasn’t talking out loud though, I was sharing in the backchannel on Twitter. It was great how we could collaborate in so many different ways (be it small group, large group, and/or online) and how we can now synthesize what we learned on our own (on our blogs). Maybe this is another element that needs to be considered when it comes to meetings …

        So much to think about!

        • Hi Aviva,
          I have two things to note here. While you may have been quiet in the room, I think you were saying a fair bit through the back channel, which allowed me access the conversation. Also, at one point somebody commented that social media is something we are all just getting a handle on. Until we have a better understanding of its use and potential, and until more people have tried a it and are comfortable with it, it would be fool hardy for corporations to manufacture an educational product. I did jokingly add the hash tag conspiracy, but maybe it wasn’t much of a joke. I’m glad you were all able to come together to discuss the issue of social media in education, but I’m concerned the corporations will use your efforts in an attempt to create the next great educational time saving product.

          • Thanks for adding to the conversation here, Chris! Peter Skillen actually alluded to a similar problem when he spoke about creating the “blackline master” for project-based learning. Can we really turn what we do through social media into a product to sell? I’m not sure.

            I also think that you make an important point here. I was talking to my step-dad on Saturday night, and he said something similar as well. If we think about something like Twitter, was it created for educators to share in the way that they do, or did educators end up using something that was there and turning it into the powerful connection tool that it’s become for many of us? Can we really create a “social media product” when our opinions of how to use social media in the classroom (and in education) continue to evolve? I was amazed by the number of educators in the room, who have blogged regularly with their students, and were questioning doing this. Ideas are changing. Can a product change at the speed of these ideas? I’m really not sure.

            Thanks for continuing to push me to reflect on this!

  2. I wish discussion and debate happened more often, and don’t see why it and ‘brainstorming’ need to be mutually exclusive.

    I think the original concept of brainstorming was developed for an analogue time when it was literally difficult to collect people’s ideas. That’s probably why that norm was developed. It’s very difficult in the digital age to divorce conversation from anything, really.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • I absolutely agree with you, Royan, and I think you share a very interesting point. The big question now: how do we change things? I know it was different yesterday, but it’s not always like this.

      I wish that more brainstorming could involve discussion and debate! These are what allow change to happen.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Aviva, your blog idea reminded me of Skillen’s warning. I fear group think and a mob mentality online, it happens all the time. As I told Tania at the end of the day, this was one of the best intellectual engagements (not a conference, not a symposium evidently) that I’ve attended because it provided just enough focus and then let it go.

    I’ve also been thinking about profit motive. When you treat professionals like professionals instead of errant children (having our time and effort to get there paid for for example), you get a turbo charged kind of brainstorming… professional intent based on respect. Everyone hit the ground running yesterday and they haven’t stopped. The energy has spread exponentially across the net.

    A long time ago I read an article about the Royal Air Force. Rather than use one man fighter planes, they went to larger two person planes. With the right kind of training those two pilots could do the work of three. If collaboration is just group think and forcing people into identical patterns of behavior, then it is indeed dead. If collaboration isn’t a means of management and control, but a means of differentiation and creativity, then it is alive and well. I suspect many educators use collaboration as a means of classroom management, which is sad.

    • Tim, thank you so much for the comment! It’s funny: I was thinking of Peter’s warning as I wrote this post, and I wanted to quote him, but I couldn’t remember exactly what he said. I wish I had tweeted it out. 🙂

      I think you make some fantastic points here about why yesterday worked so well, and what collaboration can really mean (and can really look like). It’s this powerful, diverse discourse that I love!

      It’s your last paragraph that really has me thinking. How do we ensure that collaboration is about differentiation and creativity? How does everyone start to see the value in this?


  4. Oh, and the fabulous conversation continues. Aviva, I thought it interesting that you were a “sit-back” person, as I was yesterday, during the full-group sessions – strikes me that you may not often find yourself in that role (and I don’t either). But there were so many good people to listen to, and so many differing opinions – people kept opening their mouth and saying something, and I’d go “wow, I’m going to need to think about that.”

    I’m intrigued, as Royan is, about when brainstorming became different from creative discussion – I don’t see it that way, and I still encourage my students to keep throwing different ideas out there when we’re brainstorming – they might agree with somebody else’s, or they may not, but we’re still going to share both ideas, and talk about them.

    Yesterday was powerful because it was messy, and because it was a safe space to say what you thought. I know that the Pearson rep at our table in the last session was a little shell-shocked at the level of discourse that was happening, and how fast it was happening….

    ….thanks, Aviva, and everybody else for chiming in. We all are used to taking the road less travelled by – this is another fork in the road.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! I think it was nice to be the “sit back” person for a change, and it really made me realize the importance of listening. That’s a good thing!

      I was also amazed by the incredible thinking, thoughtful conversations, and amazing insights by people in the room, and it actually made me think, “Wow! I’m fortunate to have such smart friends.”

      I learned a lot yesterday. I thought about a lot. As the conversation evolves today, I’m thinking about even more. Maybe collaboration really needs the active discourse and the quiet reflection. So much to still contemplate …


  5. Thanks so much for using your blog to continue this discussion Aviva. I think at the core of the collaboration that took place on Sat, was the same driving force for inquiry-based teaching. We use collaboration to encourage deeper thinking that potentially transforms our questions of inquiry. I think we all (Pearson included) started the day off with a specific focus question that completely morphed into something unexpected because if the nature of the collaboration. So was the f2f collaboration important? Of course. It shaped, stretched, and refocused the discussion that is happening now. The individual reflection is not isolated from the collaboration, but an extension of it. It reminds me that inquiry is a process that is enhanced by collaboration, and we need to continue to leverage the tools to have the collaboration extend beyond the f2f. The question that is rolling around in my head now is how to consolidate all of this? How do we come to some decisive conclusions? Can consolidation be done using social media or to really consolidate this, does it require another f2f?

    • Thanks for the comment, Jon, and for asking many more important questions. I don’t think I have the answers to any of them, but my thought would be that if there is another face-to-face meeting, it has to be done after all of us have had a chance to reflect individually. Maybe then we can consolidate the learning on our own before sharing our ideas together and consolidating on a larger level. I’d be curious to hear what others have to say about this!


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