I just finished a wonderful Kindle book called The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a Terry Pratchett Discworld book at the YA level. A key character is the Big Rat - who is not only big, but a collection of 8 big rats who share a mind due to a sort of tail-melding (sorry to spoil the ending). As I read the book, I wondered if this is not a pretty good metaphor for much of what I see in class. Not intellectual vacuity, not passivity, but a sort of group interdependence.
This is great in a habitat - necessary, in fact - but it's not a human necessity, at least not for thinking through a problem. More independent brains are actually better. That is what collaboration and think tanks are all about.
So, we have students with the habit of mind of "human group think" and we have a problem-identifying/researching/solution scenario. Students should be able to do well.
Today/yesterday was my day for wandering around the class and checking on topic narrowing and research approach (the 1-2 punch). It was also my day for making clear that Research is not the same as Googling; that Fact is not the same as Opinion; that there is a reason for the school's investment in MARVEL! (Academic Search Premier and other online journal databases); and that factual information and/or research reports are necessary support for any point being made.
Here is what happened:
- almost every group has learned that using the Comment (unmoderated) feature in the Wiki provides them with an archived chat room. Many have combined this with the wiki itself to post suggested web sites for research and comments then about those sites.
- almost to a student, real research began; some went to Google, but many also went to MARVEL
- the boys in the PDA group are trying to change the school's handbook so that it has a less restrictive definition of PDA (Public Displays of Affection). On the Brainstorming Topic page, one of them wrote something like "holding hands does not lead to sexual activity." He then went to the Research page and quoted a summary paragraph from a study of teen sexuality. He did his job.
- the next day, our boy and another boy in his group went to add to the Research page. It was blocked by the 2nd level filter (Content Barrier) on student computers. But since faculty members do not have this filter, I could see their work. We worked out a get-around: they will make a new Discussion page, watch their written language (s***), and pre-post filtered material to a NoteShare notebook that the author will share. I can copy/paste the content into the wiki. This was a student idea.
- [this is the cool thing] - The groups (there are 2) focusing upon the filtering of web content in the school, heard immediately about the above because a member of the PDA group wrote a note on the Filters and Research Filters homepages.
- I have begun to access each group wiki and suggest some searches and/or content to include. Many times, I can say "Great job - your research is excellent!" Sometimes I can say, "Pay attention to __'s idea; it is a good idea because _______."
- my comments carry more weight than saying this to kids, even when I write the comment to kids in the class at the same time.
I am thinking that a F2F component to collaboration is important. If I have the opportunity to do a class-to-class (outside of FMS) web-based collaboration in the future, it will be important for Skype or iChat (etc.) to be part of it. The student comfort zone is not broadened by technology, I think (and as many Web 2.0 pundits assume) it is narrowed. Comfort is becoming more personal.
I have to think more about this.