In 1504 Christopher Columbus and his crew found themselves stranded on the north coast of Jamaica. To make matters worse, the locals refused to give them food or supplies because they had been treated so poorly by the crew in the past.
However, being a bright fella, Columbus sat and thought of a solution. He realised that a lunar eclipse was expected within days and decided to use this to his advantage. He summoned the local chiefs and told them the moon would be taken the very next night if they refused to provide the supplies he so desperately needed. They laughed in his face!
The next night arrived and as Columbus predicted, the moon began to disappear. The chiefs rushed the Columbus and begged for forgiveness and promised a plentiful supply of food and supplies. This allowed time for Columbus and his crew to wait for the next Spanish ship to rescue them.
This story serves as a great example of how a small group of isolated people lack the same collective knowledge of a bigger group. The Europeans formed huge communities and generated phenomenal collective strength, which led to the development of a plethora of technologies. On the other hand, the indigenous locals had remained in small tight-knit groups with far less collective knowledge or experience of the world.
However, let’s say everyone in this story had a smartphone, and that Columbus tweeted his threat. If this had been the case, things would have been very different. Thousands of other people would have spotted the fact that Columbus was pulling a fast one. These people would have shared their knowledge with the locals and prevented them from being scammed by Columbus and his cheeky posse! The main point I’m making here is that large groups have a greater diversity of skills, experience and knowledge than small groups. This is one reason why large groups of people can achieve more than small groups.
Wikipedia is a fantastic example of this where over 100,000 people with different strengths, abilities and experiences have worked together to create a resource used by over 365 million people worldwide.
Another great example of a diversity of skills, abilities, and experiences being an asset to a group, is the team of mutants that form the X-Men. Unfortunately, unlike this example where different abilities are viewed as valuable, schools often find this problematic. But maybe we need to see this range of abilities as a resource that will support learning as opposed make learning more challenging.
Today’s most modern schools are being designed around the principal that people learn best when they collaborate. When they share ideas and discuss their learning rather than sit in silence whilst listening to someone standing at the front of a room. These designers realise that real learning happens when a group of people sit scratching their heads as they try to solve a problem or overcome a challenge.
However, even those of us without the flash buildings and open learning spaces are managing to harness the power of collaboration. Wikis, blogs and the like are allowing kids once isolated in their bedrooms to connect with each other after hours. But why are these online learning communities groups usually limited to the students in one class or one school? It makes sense that logistics make it more difficult for kids from different schools to learn collaboratively whilst in school, however, the same barriers do not exist online.
Why don’t we connect all the people together who are teaching and learning the same things? The online classroom is an open learning space in the truest sense of the word, except this space is wide open! Surely if we increase the size of a learning community we will also increase it’s collective strength.
We have thousands of teachers all teaching the same stuff and the same goes for learners. So why aren’t they all helping each other out? Why is a kid from one school not able to post a question to a national or even international community of teachers and learners who are all trying to meet the same outcome? Why are we limiting their audience to their small group of classmates? Surely if there are more people listening to our questions and offering their ideas, all our teachers and our learners will benefit? Maybe we just need to step out of our shell?
Of course, the obvious problems to this idea will surface. School must compete for a finite number of students. Teachers are too busy with their own classes, never mind other peoples? But surely these concerns make us part of society’s problem rather than a solution?
I’m not saying for a second that starting this off would be easy. We would need to consider a wide range of challenges that would make this difficult such as ensuring the reliability of information and making the role of collaborating teacher one that educators aspire to. However – once again our ability to overcome these challenges will be determined by our ability to collaborate and take advantage of our collective strength.
We have the power to ensure that every kid has equal access to highest quality learning opportunities regardless of their location, socio-economic background or ethnicity. We’ll also find it easier working together than competing against each other.
We must start to remove this competitive culture between our schools that is preventing our best minds coming together. Maybe we should compare schools and judge quality by looking at the contribution they make to a wider learning community as well as the outcomes of the students within their walls? Surely it would be likely that more effective collaboration between teachers and learners would lead to improved student outcomes?
Us Kiwi’s (even the ones with pommie accents) pride ourselves on our ability to break the mould and do things better… Let’s take the sheep by the wool and herd our teachers and learners together… Let’s lead the world once again by making New Zealand the first place on Earth that takes a truly collaborative approach to education.
So drop your board markers and plan-book and let’s come together for reasons other than a strike! Imagine thousands of teachers benefiting from the collective strength of a united group and thousands of learners doing the same. We have the technology, we have the ideas. Now is the time.
Let’s JUST DO IT!