One of the great myths of our society is that of the solitary genius, the guy who invents or creates something out of the ether. It is a myth.
We point to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who created brilliant symphonies, but it would have been all for naught without the teamwork of the orchestra (and by extension, the opera houses, symphony halls, and the modern broadcast and recording industries that keep the music alive). We can point to Ernest Hemingway and Margaret Atwood as great authors, but without editors, publishers, researchers, retailers, reviewers, and readers, their works would be akin to trees falling in a forest with no one there. Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most verifiable living genius, and yet without the talents and skills of his collaborators, publishers, university, family, and caregivers, we would know nothing of his insights and lose the human potential he exemplifies.
Genius is not a myth, but invention in solitude is. We not only stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before us, we depend for success on the support and collaboration of talents and teams that expand our own success.
Every child has underexploited talents, potential, and insights … of course, they’re still developing! Their own genius and individual potential needs tending and nurturing and requires the development of the essential social skills that lead to successful collaboration and creativity. This fact can often be lost in educational strategies that overly focus on deliverables that require a mark or score for solo effort such as individual research, single author essays or projects, solo speeches, or anything that assumes society is an aggregation of individual effort. Recognizing that our societies, and indeed all societies since time immemorial, are composed of a diversity of interdependent individuals is essential if we are to frame the goal of educating learners for success in society.
A Few Definitions
Simply put, collaboration is “The action of working with someone to produce or create something.” [Oxford Dictionaries] More specifically, “Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective, determination to reach an identical objective)—for example, an intriguing endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. Most collaboration requires leadership, although the form of leadership can be social within a decentralized and egalitarian group. In particular, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.” [Wikipedia]
Cooperation is the “act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit; joint action: the more or less active assistance from a person, organization, etc.: willingness to cooperate” in activities for shared for mutual benefit. [Dictionary.com]
Teamwork is the “cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause.” [Dictionary.com]
Social is an adjective meaning of or relating to society or its organization.
Schools are social institutions. So are governments, businesses, churches, and indeed nearly any human enterprise—formally organized or not. Social life is the basic way we humans achieve things.
Framing the Conversation
There have been some pressures on social collaboration in the past few decades. Disruptive innovations in technology have taken technology from a mechanical retrieval and workflow context to one that is socially aligned with human needs and behaviors. This has resulted in pressures on social institutions to reimagine the ways their people—employees, learners, customers, etc.—interact, live, work, and play.
With the emerging alignment of collaboration technologies with the goals of society, human engagement, and work, educators need to evolve along with these technologies and prepare students for a world where both good and bad experiences can materially affect their lives and successes.
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