Here, in a continuing series, Howard Rheingold reflects on his ongoing experiment in high-end, peer-to-peer, global learning via the internet and social networks.
The more I give my teacher-power to students and encourage them to take more responsibility for their own learning, the more they show me how to redesign my ways of teaching.
At the end of the first course I taught solo, I asked students for their frank opinions of what was working and what could work better. I didn’t want to wait for anonymous evaluations, which don’t afford dialogue or collaboration. The first pushback was a strong request for more project-based collaboration, shared earlier in the semester. The first year I tried this, we discovered that four students work better than six for a semester-long project — division of labor, intra-group communication, assessment, and the nature of the final presentation rapidly grow more complex with more than four collaborators. When teams presented their projects at the end of the term, we were all so astounded that one student astutely asked (to general acclamation): “Why can’t we show each other this kind of collaboration earlier than the last class meeting?” We had learned that learning to collaborate ought to be collaborative — the teams should interact with the other students in the class as co-responsible learners during the collaboration process, not just as an audience for the final product.