Archives For collaboration

There is always talk about preparing students for college and career readiness (CCR), but the recent simultaneous and collaborative news release of the Panama Papers by newspapers around the globe is an example of how preparing students using technology in the classroom can be taught as an authentic application.

The Panama Papers Collaboration panama-papers-820

Under the headline OFFSHORE LINKS OF MORE THAN 140 POLITICIANS AND OFFICIALS EXPOSED, the The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and more than 100 other news organizations around the globe, “revealed the offshore links of some of the world’s most prominent people.”

“In terms of size, the Panama Papers is likely the biggest leak of inside information in history – more than 11.5 million documents – and it is equally likely to be one of the most explosive in the nature of its revelations.”

 The article in the NYTimesWorld|Here’s What We Know About the ‘Panama Papers’ explained the significance of the documents that were part of a cooperative global pact of reporting:

“The papers — millions of leaked confidential documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama — identify international politicians, business leaders and celebrities involved in webs of suspicious financial transactions. The revelations have raised questions about secrecy and corruption in the global financial system.”

How did the ICIJ accomplish this simultaneous and collaborative news scoop? They used collaborative writing platforms.

Collaboration is the Key

In an interview with National Public Radio’s (NPR) Ari Shaprio, titled Panama Papers Leak Is The Result Of Unprecedented Media Collaboration the director of ICIJ, Gerard Ryle explained how the 100 media organizations around the world to were able to read and analyze the 11.5 million files from the Panama Papers leak. Ryle explained,

“We would never be able to do this kind of collaboration even five, six years ago. But technology has advanced so much that we can make all of these documents available over the Internet and pipe them right into all the newsrooms so that, I mean, we can have 10 reporters working in one newsroom. We can have 20 in another. We can have five in another. And they can all see the same documents, and we basically host all of the documents on servers and pipe them down over the Internet.”

The ICIJ was able to use digital platforms where documents could be shared in asynchronous collaborations, where news organizations could partner to connect, to share and to respond across time zones.

These same digital platforms are available in many classrooms today, where students can work in class synchronously or asynchronous with classmates as well.

A key difference between journalists’ practices and students, is that students are trained to be more cooperative and collaborative. Ryle describes how unusual the sharing of information is in the journalism profession:

” I had to unlearn everything I had learned as a journalist to do this kind of work. I mean, most of our careers, we basically don’t even tell our editors what we’re working on.”

In contrast, students today who understand the power of collaboration will not have to “unlearn” to be effective journalists.

Common Core Connections

Educators, especially those at the middle and high school grade levels, have been using these digital platforms to meet the key shifts in College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) as part of the Common Core:

“These standards require students to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and non-print texts in media forms old and new. The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum.”

Screenshot 2016-04-10 08.56.23

Word sift of common words in College and Career Readiness Standards

Within the Frameworks of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) there is also a specific anchor standard for writing for all students:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Today’s technology allows students to mirror the same approach using same skills-as seen in word sift-(reading, writing, evidence, informational texts, answers ) that the international journalists in the ICIJ did in breaking this important news story. Students who use digital platforms are refining the same skills used by ICIJ -“The World’s Best Cross-Border Investigative Team.”

Multiple Platforms Available

Perhaps the best known platforms used in schools for teacher to student or student to student collaborations are on the sites such as Edmodo, WikispacesWordPress (and its companion Edublogs). A quick search on the Internet, however, will produce a multitude of additional options. For example, posts like 102Free (or Free to Try) Online Collaborative Learning Tools for Teachers (updated 2/2016) list the myriad of choices that educators can use to increase collaborations in the classroom. There are so many that, for example, the behemoth Google Drive is listed at #51:

Once known as Google Docs, Google Drive offers a comprehensive suite of collaborative, online tools: word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms or drawing files.

Celebrating Global Collaboration in Education

Moreover, just like the journalists who broke the Panama Papers stories, educators are experimenting with virtual collaborative experiences on a global level. There is a Global Collaboration Day (GCD) (celebrated the 2nd week in September) where the focus is on cooperation and collaboration to enhance global understanding so that students will have practice in both solving problems across borders when they enter the workforce and an appreciation for bringing global ideas to their own local experiences.

The GCD website describes how students can participate in authentic collaborations that are either short-term or long-term using blogs, wikis, or social media tools such as Twitter and Skype.

Next Generation

The next generation of journalists is being groomed in classrooms today, but for now, students and educators are increasing their proficiency with the same methods as the professionals in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The final project known as the Panama Papers has met the Common Core State Standards for College and Career Readiness…they might even get an A+.

I had read the The Rise of the New Groupthink by Susan Cain before its publication in “Week in Review” section of the Sunday NYTimes (1/15/12) because of a link sent to me by a fellow educator. After reading the article, I did several things

1. I made the article into a Reading for Information exercise for my 10th grade students who will read the article online (we have a school subscription) and respond to a series of multiple choice questions and three short answers (see bottom for PDF):

  • What evidence in the article demonstrates the author’s bias towards Groupthink?
  • Do you think the use of Groupthink will expand or contract in the future?
  • What has been your experience with Groupthink? Has this been a positive or negative experience?

2. I sent the link to my principal.

3. I wrote this blog.

In education today, collaboration is the buzz word of significance. Many lesson plans use the verb in generating objectives: “the students will collaborate to….” The recently adopted Language Arts Common Core Curriculum uses the verb in the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard #6 for Writing: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others. 

While collaboration is not a skill of intellectual behavior important in learning on Bloom’s Taxonomy which is the Rosetta Stone for curriculum planning, many websites suggest that learning is enhanced through collaborating.  Andrew Churches’s website Educational Origami notes that, “Collaboration is a 21st Century skill of increasing importance and one that is used throughout the learning process. In some taxonomic levels the collaboration verbs are included as an element of Bloom’s Digital taxonomy and in others its is just a mechanism which can be use to facilitate higher order thinking and learning.”  In big bold letters in the middle of the page is the statement: Collaboration is not a 21st Century Skill, it is a 21st Century Essential.

Susan Cain argues a different position. Her concern about Groupthink is explained in business models; her most important example is in the creation of Apple. She offers one paragraph dedicated to collaboration in education:

“Our schools have also been transformed by the New Groupthink. Today, elementary school classrooms are commonly arranged in pods of desks, the better to foster group learning. Even subjects like math and creative writing are often taught as committee projects. In one fourth-grade classroom I visited in New York City, students engaged in group work were forbidden to ask a question unless every member of the group had the very same question.”
Is it any wonder that one of the questions I posed for the Reading for Information prompt dealt with the author’s bias? I would hope that her experience in that 4th grade classroom is one of anomaly, and I wish that Cain had spent more time in many classrooms and in different schools to test her position. My experiences with collaboration in the classroom is not one of sameness, but one where student strengths and weaknesses are most evident.
Recently, I assigned a creative paper where 9th grade students collaborating in groups of threes needed to update the trials of Odysseus with a new character “Fresheus” (freshman+Odysseus) and the trials he encounters during a school day (Polyphemus =bully, etc).  Watching the students test ideas, find a way to communicate outside the classroom (Google docs was the vehicle of choice), and revising their work, I had a clear sense of who was the “leader” in each team, who was the “aider” in each team, and who was there for the ride. In grading this particular essay, I awarded the project a number of points out 40 according to a rubric (ex: 32/40). I then multiplied that number by three (32 X3=96) and told the team members they had the total points (ex: 96) to divide anyway they wanted between the three members of the team. Most teams divided the points evenly, but two teams recognized the “slacker” and split the points accordingly; the slackers received D grades according to their teammates.The advantage for me was obvious-I had only eight papers to grade instead of 24, which meant a faster response time to the students. In addition, the quality of the papers did affirm that collaboration on this particular assignment was a successful strategy, but not all assignments are appropriate for collaboration.
I also know how painful it is for some of the shy, or marginalized members of the class to work with others. I have seen how a creative spirit or “out of the box” thinker is sometimes beaten down by more ordinary ideas offered by more average students. I work in a middle/high school and the social status of a student is baggage in collaboration…and I suspect social status might be baggage in business collaboration as well. However, educators know their students will be going out into the real world where Cain suggests Groupthink is dominating the corporate culture, where people are “corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers.” Educators must prepare students for this experience and challenge them to have their voices be heard in all forums-business, education, religion, politics, etc.
Cain’s clearest example of  successful collaboration is with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. She writes, “Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.” She notes that, “Mr. Wozniak wants to give his invention away free, but Mr. Jobs persuades him to co-found Apple Computer.”  Collaboration, for Cain, cannot generate an idea. There still needs to be that one creative spark to set other minds going…and that happens everyday in the classroom if the teacher knows how to pose the question and organize the response. The challenge for educators is to allow students the opportunity to work individually and collaboratively.
Interestingly enough, there is a commercial for Apple that I use in a (short) media study unit in order to show how celebrity endorsements impact consumers.  The text states:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.
The people featured in the commercial were (in order): Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson,John Lennon (with Yoko Ono), Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson (with Kermit the Frog), Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso.
I believe that Groupthink would not have adversely impacted any of these individuals; they each confronted the naysayers of their time and proved those who doubted their genius wrong. So, Cain need not worry that Groupthink will stifle the artist because history has proved that the artist prevails-although sadly, sometimes this is post-humous. Cain’s short interaction with collaboration in a classroom referenced in one short paragraph in her article hopefully does not speak for all education. Today’s educator is charged with the responsibility  to develop each individual student’s skills to confront and navigate through the problems of the real world. Perhaps the best way to negate the adverse -or Orwellian-impact of Groupthink is to prepare students to effectively use collaboration as a tool in accomplishing a goal. Fortunately,  this generation utilizes the methods of collaboration as they already communicate on multiple platforms, some that were not available even two years ago.
Cain should also be aware that students, like artists, who know the rules do not necessarily adhere to them. Robert Frost stated, “To me freedom means riding easy in the harness”;  so might our next generation who with a growing familiarity with the rules of collaboration will move beyond the limitations -or the harness-that cause Cain concern. Regardless, there will be a new Steve Wozniak. She will labor independently until she meets a collaborator who will aide in her changing the world. She will have been a student. Educators, look for her!