Willingham: How to teach collaboration
My guest today is cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?”
By Daniel Willingham
A small scientific step was just made that could help the 21st century skills movement be a bit more grounded.
I have criticized the movement in the past for, among other things, advocating the emphasis of certain skills without any clear plan for how those skills ought to be taught.
For example, “collaboration” and “working effectively in groups”
are often deemed 21st century skills. Advocates point out that more and more projects in the workplace are team efforts, and businesses need individuals who know how to work well with others.
But you can’t expect people to learn how to work in groups simply by putting them in groups. Plenty of people who have engaged in group work for decades still don’t know how to work well in groups. Despite all of this experience, we find bullies, shirkers, drama queens (or kings), and so on.
Learning requires feedback. These ineffective group members do get feedback on their poor skills--the group doesn’t function well--but apparently that is insufficient.
If we expect students to learn how to become better at working in groups, it’s not enough simply to assign group work. We must teach them how to be better group members.
But do we really know what makes for a good group member?
Researchers just made a significant step forward in characterizing what good group members do.
The researchers randomly assigned people to teams of two to five members, and then asked the teams to solve a broad variety of problems.
Team members wore badges that allowed the recording of conversations while the group worked, for later analysis.
There were two important findings. First, the data showed that the idea of a group “collective intelligence” makes sense. Just as there is a general intelligence or “g factor” in individuals that predicts the likelihood the individual will solve a problem, there is a collective intelligence or “c factor” that predicts group task solution across a broad variety of tasks.
Second, you might expect that the “c factor” would simply be a function of the average intelligence of group members. It wasn’t. The intelligence of individuals mattered, but more important was the social intelligence of group members.
Social intelligence was measured by a relatively simple task
in which one must judge what another person is feeling from a photograph of the eyes only.
In addition to social sensitivity , the other factor that contributed to the c factor was equality in conversational turn-taking. When everyone shared the stage, group intelligence was higher.
It was also higher when there were more women in the group, but this effect seemed to be due to the fact that women had higher social sensitivity, on average, than men.
Several factors you might have predicted to be important were not. For example, group members’ ratings of how cohesive their group was, or how motivated they were, or how satisfied they were with their group—none of these mattered.
This study might be viewed as the first step. The next steps will be greater specification of effective group membership, and then methods to teach good group membership.
Twenty-first century skill advocates, take note.
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| October 4, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories: Curriculum, High School, Higher Education, Intelligence, Research | Tags: 21st century skills, collaboration, dan willingham, daniel willingham, how to teach collaboration, teaching 21st century skills, willingham, working in groups
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