15 December 2012

The Octopus Assembly

In the final two weeks of the semester, The Octopus Garden Project team was given two challenges:
1) create a display to showcase the project to the community on Open Day: deadline: 5 days
2) create a presentation for assembly to showcase the project to the school: deadline: 2 lessons

My learners have come so far in this project that there is no longer the 'cannot lah' attitude evident at the start of the school year; the fact that I have pushed them and coached them into embracing deadlines and challenges sees once-lethargic learners, unable to work without cajoling, now able to pick up and run with anything and everything I throw at them. I am so proud of their progress.

The first challenge was the display space - a week of every free, every break and eveery evening after school was spent creating an under-the-sea foundation suitably created to showcase the work of the learners. My need to not do things by halves can, and often does, mean exhaustion, however it was totally worth it. The display space was a great success at Open Day and visitors were blown away not only by it, but also by the many tools we are using to collaborate and create: Google Drive, Google Sites, Picasa, Edmodo, Twitter, Blogger, Mural.ly and Minecraft...

For more details, check out this team's version of the creation of 'the garden' in their blog post on The Octopus's Garden Blog.

The final week came around and, basking in the success of 'the garden', I anticipated a more relaxing week that would allow me to focus on my final assignments for the two of the online courses I am currently partaking in. I managed to catch up with all the learners' blog posts and my marking - and just as I was about to start on my writing, we were thrown another deadline...

Wednesday 08.20am: please would we think about doing an assembly to share The Octopus's Garden with the school - tomorrow at 08.30am.  Challenge accepted.

Fortunately, I had both classes that day. At the start of the day I had Grade 7s, who mind-mapped all the things we wanted to share with the rest of the school; we created a sign-up to share out the work, and then created a Google Presentation collaboratively. Via Edmodo and their team files, they shared their progress with Grade 8, who in their lesson at the end of the day, picked up and ran with finishing off the presentation. No problem.

I had nine fantastic volunteers who came in early on Thursday morning; we did a run through and decided on speakers and order - and then they went and delivered an awesome presentation to the school. You can view it on our website by clicking HERE.

Not once did they even hint at the fact that they couldn't do it; not once did they complain; not once did they even express concern about the short notice - the critical thinking, time management, communication and creativity that I have tried to instill through this project has truly paid off and they just went and ran and were incredible.

The Octopus Garden Project team ARE 21st century learners and I am so proud of how awesome they are.

01 December 2012

Are two heads are better than one or do too many cooks spoil the broth?

A response to an article about

Collective Intelligence Ratio in Team Projects


“Teams often create novel and unexpected combinations of knowledge in ways that individuals could not”
(Hargadon, 1999, Kim et al, p.44)

As educators, we know that “when we assemble a group, we inherently create other problems and questions” (p.44). I am currently implementing a project-based learning (PBL) unit using a scaled-down version of a Flat Classroom (FC) method that demands a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous opportunities for the team to work towards the common goal. The article’s keywords of ‘Intelligence, Team performance and Communication technologies’, along with Kim et al’s aim to attempt to “analyze the interaction of “people gathered for a specific purpose””(p.42), appealed to me in light of my current practice; what I wanted to learn from this article was if, in fact, a collective intelligence ratio could be gleaned from the sum of the individual intelligences of each team member, as well as the part proximity plays in their success. If individuals within a team have to have the ability “to utilize others’ knowledge as well as develop their own” (Bhappu et al., 2001; Griffith and Neale, 2001, Kime et al. p.57), I wanted to see if this article could shed any light on this - is group work advantageous or is the adage that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ a more likely scenario?

The very notion of ‘intelligence’ is one that is as hard to define as the true location of the ‘mind’. Spearman (1904) argued of a “general intelligence” where all types of intelligence are correlated, whereas Gardner (1983) suggested that we have eight distinct types of intelligence that can be mutually exclusive. In his Triachic Theory of Intelligence, Sternberg (1985) on the other hand suggested intelligence is divided into ‘analytical, creative and practical’ branches. In terms of the diverse nature of the intelligences of groups I teach, it seems less important on settling on an absolute definition of intelligence than in acknowledging that there are many differences in the way individuals think and respond to common tasks; rather it is the concept of there being a ‘collective intelligence’ or a “pooling of team intelligence to attain common goals or resolve common problems” (Hargadon, 1999, Kim et al. p.44) that really interests me. The idea that learners can ‘pool’ their skills is one that I believe is crucial for learning and developing an individual capability and intelligence, however we may define that intelligence, and if, as Johnson and Johnson (1986) suggest, there is in fact “persuasive evidence that people in cooperative teams often achieve and demonstrate higher levels of critical thinking while retaining information longer than people who work as individuals”. Surely then, group work has to have a positive impact on achieving team goals and overall success?

In accordance with the Flat Classroom pedagogy, my project asks learners to collaborate both synchronously and asynchronously. What interested me most from the paper, with relation to my particular project, was the suggestion “that team interaction and collaborative learning at a distance inhibits the development of critical thinking and active involvement because participants often passively assimilate knowledge rather than critically examine and construct it” (Lauzon, 1992; Burge, 1988; Garrison, 1993, p.46). Whilst my mini Flat Classroom cannot be classed strictly as ‘distance learning’, all team members are rarely in the same place at the same time. The suggestion that this could ‘inhibit critical thinking’ worried me. Over the course of the project however, I noticed somewhat the opposite of Lauzon et al’s suggestion that such methodology leads to ‘passive’ assimilation. What I observed was an increase in team members communication outside the classroom walls at break-times and on Edmodo in evenings and at weekends. This eventually led to a request to be able to meet at breaks to allow more synchronous time together, and was positive in bringing disparate groups of learners together, as well as breaking down the whole notion of learning, taking it beyond the boundaries of the classroom walls. On the other hand, It did seem to confirm the importance of physical presence and the need for learners to be together to use “voice intonations, hand drawings and even body language ... to help people understand all the subtleties of tacit knowledge in team projects” (Chiocchio, 2007, Kim et al, p.46). Garrison, (1991), and Newman et al. (1997) looked at various significant differences between “computer-mediated conferences and face-to-face meetings in critical thinking. They concluded that computer-mediated conferencing facilitates higher levels of critical thinking while face-to-face interactions encourage more creative and higher volumes of interaction” (Kim et al p.45), which could confirm why my learners enjoyed a mixture of the two types of interaction.

The paper also made me think about my role as the common denominator between the two groups - who interacts with them digitally and face to face, synchronously and asynchronously. If, “social presence” is a strong predictor of satisfaction with computer-mediated communications” (Gunawardena and Zittle, 1997 p.46), perhaps my presence helped facilitate this somewhat; I know that them being in the same building - even if not for the actual work itself - really helped. I also do wonder if these learners, as digital natives automatically feel at ease in these situations over digital immigrants who are less technologically aware. The subjects of the research paper were all highly educated people; graduates who had been trained in the tools being used, which surely had an impact on the results? They are used to learning, indeed they are used to critical thinking, whereas this is a skill that I want to foster most in my learners through this project. I noted that the team-work in the study was conducted synchronously and limited to real-time interactions. A lot of my team interaction is asynchronous and through notes. This does not allow for the ‘voice intonations’ or body language Chiocchio suggests aids teamwork success. According to Riopelle et al’s (2003) longitudinal case study of six virtual teams, it is appropriate to use “reliable media-rich synchronous interactions (e.g. videoconferencing or groupware), if a task is complex and also requires a great deal of information exchange and reciprocal feedback. When tasks are less complex and more independent, asynchronous communication media such as e-mail and web-based discussion forums may be more appropriate”, (Riopelle et al., 2003, Kim et al, p.47). Perhaps, as was suggested on the learners’ Edmodo forum, we could use video to share each session’s learning; they could create videocasts to share their thinking to allow for more subtleties in understanding.

I was also interested in the notion of a transactive memory (TM). Wegner et al. (1985) came up with the concept of TM as a “shared system which group members develop for learning, storing, and retrieving information from different domains” and which, in the past ten years, has been shown to have a positive impact on successful team outcomes (Kim et al. p.56). The findings of the paper seem to suggest, within their bounds of limitation, that there is a ratio of collective intelligence that seems to grow over time within groups; that the “team demonstrated higher collective intelligence ratios (CIR) as they were moving from the initial project to the final project” (p.53). The implications for this at the chalk-face, is to rethink the notion of mixing teams up. My intention with my current project was to develop five teams of experts in their field who will splinter off and form new teams comprised of experts in each field, allowing them to create a fully researched design. This study suggests that the collective intelligence grows as the team stays together so perhaps instead, I should allow them to stay together longer and develop their ™; however, there were doubts over whether this was due to the teams becoming more familiar and developing the ™, or whether the expectations and outcomes of the particular tasks had more bearing.

The maths part of the research paper not so much interested as confused me. Not being particularly numerate, the idea of taking physical actions and being able to put them into equations is beyond my basic comprehension. The research team was comprised of members from different disciplines and so they allowed their individual knowledge and intelligence to create a fully rounded report; I wonder if they analysed their own collective intelligence ratio? Equally, the time taken to analyse the data is incredible; in my mini-experiments (my units of work), I do not have anywhere near enough time to analyse in any sort of detail how well my methods are being implemented successfully; I do reflect on what has gone well and what I would change; I do reflect at the end of each unit what was successful in terms of the project implementation etc., but this is only within the bounds of what I am capable of doing. I do think about and reflect on the dynamics of the team and whilst the idea of taking physical actions and creating equations is intriguing, it is more the analysis - the words and discussion - that I understand. What was one of the most interesting points to me was the notion of the need to be forward thinking and be up to speed. If, as Takahashi et al. (2009) assert, it is “crucial for practitioners or researchers to identify various roles of not only formal communication media, but also informal online communication channels to understand their implications” (Kim et al. p.47), then we have to have knowledge of the different communication channels that are available and which may be most suitable in any given situation to optimise interaction.

Kim et al’s findings suggest that both individual intelligence and collective intelligence ratios, which they agreed do in fact “influence team performance outcomes in many team project scenarios”, improve by the ability to make “optimal choices and combinations of communicative methods for given cognitive tasks.” (p.57). I truly believe as educators, we need to be up to date with ways of communicating and the tools that are available to enhance our learners’ experiences. Zara (2009) labels such types of innovation as “amplified intelligence technologies.” (Kim et al. p.42) and the “capability of dynamically combining the most optimal media to creatively and effectively respond to communication needs in various problem solving situations is a form of media intelligence” (p.57), certainly, this is a skill crucial to success in the 21st century. In this era of digitally afforded multimodality and highly networked society, people “integrate words with images, sound, music, and movement to create digital artifacts that do not necessarily privilege linguistic forms of signification but rather draw on a variety of modalities – speech, writing, image, gesture and sound – to create different forms of meaning” (Hull and Nelson, 2005, pp. 224-225, Kim et al. p. 42 ). Indeed, one of the most pertinent points made in the study was that of the importance of multimodal tools - the choice of how to present, share and collaborate. This is ‘choice and voice’ (Lindsay and Davies), a crucial element of any 21st century pedagogical thinking. This is what creates collective intelligence, where individual skills and intelligences are allowed to shine, where cognitive interdependence demands that “one member’s output becomes another member’s input” (Thompson, 1967; Brandon and Hollingshead, 2004, p.42). When learners use their individual intelligences to think critically and to figure out for themselves the how and the why, that is when the collective kicks in, that is when we see “groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent” (p. 2, p.42). These communicative intents are the building blocks of the individual’s intelligence, “the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally and to deal effectively with his environment” (Wechsler, 1944, p. 3, p.46 ). The ability to communicate “tacit knowledge requires a complex set of skills (i.e. requiring multiple intelligence or higher critical thinking competencies)” and it is this, the individual input and intelligence that goes into the collective decision making.

I want to be able to harness the potential of group work and provide my diverse learners with the “opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning, and help them become critical thinkers” (Totten et al., 1991, p.45). In the era of “information and intelligence, making a choice among multimodal communication methods can be a challenge for a team” (Kim et al, p.47), what I want to achieve for my learners is the ability to think critically. In a world which changes so quickly, content-based knowledge that is received ‘passively’ is outdated; instead they must be involved in critical thinking, “a process [where they] are encouraged to give reasons and evaluate reasoning” (Dewey, 1919, 1933). I also think this kind of thinking can be applied to teachers; take our field of expertise, our knowledge and our intelligences and let us through our collective intelligence, “enhance and extend the cognitive capacities of own teams” and the learners in front of us (Kim et al., p.42). Overall, it was reassuring to discover that, despite the limitations of the study, the findings suggest that group work is an effective way to achieve common goals and that people with “different traits and preferences, would not be able to best demonstrate most optimal individual intelligence ratios with a mere single type of communication channel” (Kim et al., p.55). Learners in the 21st century must be equipped with the ability to think ‘reflectively’ and focus “on deciding what to believe or do (”Norris and Ennis, 1989, p.44) and my hope is that, as suggested by this paper, teamwork and inquiry-based learning can help foster this.

"Big Think." What Is Intelligence? N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <http://bigthink.com/going-mental/what-is-intelligence-2>

"Daniel M. Wegner's Home Page." Daniel M. Wegner's Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012. <http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/tm.htm>.

Kim, Paul, Donghwan Lee, Youngjo Lee, Chuan Huang, and Tamas Makany. "Collective Intelligence Ratio Measurement of Real-Time Multimodal Interactions in Team Projects." Emerald 2nd ser. 17.1 (2011): 41-62. Emerald. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?issn=1352-7592>.

Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. . Davis. Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.