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Triad C
Cooperation - Collaboration - Community of practice? (New corrected full version, as of 28 Oct 2008) In Danish we use different terms when we talk about working together. We use the terms to work cooperatively or to work collaboratively. To me there are some quite distinct differences in my understanding of those two terms.
In a few words I will try to describe this and relate it to the last visit held in P2V school triad #3 (Denmark, Northern Ireland, Norway) at Charlottenlund Ungdomsskole in Trondheim, Norway. To illustrate my thoughts I will use a simple example: We are three persons in a group that must work together. Our task is to deliver a report on pollution in Trondheim.

How do we do that when we work together cooperatively or collaboratively?

Cooperative
When we think and work cooperatively we so to speak split the task into smaller tasks. The “answers” to the smaller tasks will - put together - be the fulfillment of the given task we are working on. If we are three persons working with the subject we can work with separate parts and elements without really knowing what the two others are doing. I could work with pollution in the air. Another could work with pollution in water and the third with pollution in the soil. If we agree upon the division of the task in three smaller tasks we can in the end put our three reports – or what it might be – together, and we are able to present a common solution.

Have we worked together? Yes, we certainly have, we have produced a common report.
Have we contributed to a common solution? Yes, we certainly have.
Have we learned and learned from one another? Perhaps?

Collaborative
If we instead think and work in a collaborative way the focus would not only be on the report, but far more on the process of making the report together. There might still be three focus areas, but I would have to argue for the necessity of describing and explaining what I find important, and so would my fellow students. We would have to communicate; we would have to explain to one another why this is important, and why something else is less important. We would discuss, we would argue, we would listen. In order to discuss, to argue, and to listen you have to have insight in the matter. You have to have knowledge. To get knowledge you have to learn otherwise you will not be able to present and argue for your points of view.

Have we worked together? Yes, we certainly have, we have produced a common report.
Have we contributed to a common solution? Yes, we certainly have.
Have we learned and learned from one another? Yes, we certainly have.

Well, this is a very simple example, and many questions arise by presenting it so simple, but I will not go into that now. Instead I will use it to illustrate what I felt attending presentations and classes at the school in Trondheim.

In Charlottenlund Ungdomskole they have a clear perception of which learning theory they find most valuable. Everyone engaged in teaching and learning ought to make this clear to one self, and perhaps we all do so, but what stroke me most during the visit was, that not only it seems that they agree upon a theory, they also seek to transform the theory into practice. Below the essence of the theory is explained in a quite simple figure illustrating a kind of Learning Pyramid.

When students learn they learn best by:

My free translation and version of the illustration found at http://www.skolenettet.no/moduler/templates/Module_Article.aspx?id=47690&epslanguage=NO

If I compare this illustration of their learning theory to my simple example there are no doubts in my mind that they are going for the wide top of the pyramid, and in doing that they seek to work and learn collaboratively. Both teacher and student teach and in that process they learn. How come?

Several times during the visit the work of Etienne Wenger on communities of practices came into my mind. Wenger’s thinking is quite complicated, so if you will learn more I suggest you study his book Communities of Practice, learning, meaning, and identity (1998) or Cultivating communities of Practice, a guide to managing knowledge (2002). The latter is at bit easier to read and understand.

On his homepage Wenger shortly defines communities of practice like this:
“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm)

In Charlottenlund Ungdomsskole we saw groups of people. There are teachers working in teams, students working in teams, teachers and students working in teams, leaders and teachers working in teams and so on. However working in teams does not automatically form a community of practice. In fact you can easily work in a group or a team without participating in a community of practice as Wenger defines it. To form a community of practice you have to have a shared domain of interests (a concern or passion for something) that leads you to engage in joint activities and discussions in which you as practitioners develop a shared repertoire through collaboration and negotiation in order to do and learn better.

What I saw during our visit was indications of communities of practice. I have to stick to indications, because it is not possible in such a short time really to observe, interview, document and conclude in a well-founded way facts that make it proper to describe teaching and learning taking place in communities of practice. But my impression is that we have indications of communities of practice. I felt there was a deep concern amongst the teachers to do and learn better. This concern leads them to learn and learn from one another, helping each other and benefit from the variety of competences amongst them. This is supported by the management and the way teaching and learning are organized both physical, didactical, pedagogical and methodological founded in the common and accepted learning theory above.

Looked upon in this way the overall impression was that the real concern and common goal is to create the best ways for students to learn. And that also includes ict.

Øjvind Brøgger, UNI-C, Denmark (original post on the P2V Blog-Schools)

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