Collaboration, cooperation and contribution are the necessary ingredients for a recipe of enriched learning, knowledge consolidation, and active participation in further and higher education.
I often reflect on the ever-changing world of learning. Our educational institutions have become somewhat vast yet empty; popular yet disfavoured; necessary yet peripheral. Too often, educational institutions model students as vessels that must be filled by pouring in knowledge from the lecturer. This concept is somewhat dying, and in my opinion, needs to. The students most often are recipients of the lecturer’s informing. After 10 or 15 minutes of active concentration, they proceed to text a friend, browse social media, or daydream. There is little collaboration, cooperation and contribution. In fact, there is a contravention of the wisdom of Confucius: “Tell me, and I will forget; show me, and I will remember; involve me, and I will understand.” Furthermore, learning is dissocialised. Students may be brought together to form a class, seminar, group, lecture, however, they are frequently asked to do their own individual work, assignments, projects, and portfolios, with little room for the three Cs.
In our digital world, a world that is rapidly changing the face of teaching and learning provision, collaboration, cooperation and contribution seems to be lacking when in fact this three C engine should be driving learning forward, creatively, dynamically, and successfully. Research indicates that when students learn in a collaborative manner, they gain effective social skills and enhance self-esteem (Whitener, 2016). Collaboration allows for the development of language, thinking and social skills while providing opportunities to learn from each other. Collaboration encourages stimulated thought processes encouraged by other student’s opinions and ideas and brings benefits to students with low self-esteem who might be unwilling to contribute in front of others. There too is a downside to collaboration, as with most things. Certain students may take over. Some students within the group may not get along. Students lacking in confidence might feel pressurised to contribute. Students also learn at varying paces.
I recall many years ago, the crowded corridors, the packed lecture theatres, the well-attended symposiums, the regular meetings, the student union gatherings, and showcase events. Students collaborated often. They shared their knowledge and understanding and asked for clarification and more insight. Their learning was real, exciting, and sometimes fraught. Today, the corridors are not so crowded. Lecture theatres are not so packed. Symposiums are not so well attended. Yet, collaboration is necessary. Collaboration is required in order for effective teaching and learning to take place. With collaboration, we have cooperation. The necessity to cooperate with fellow learners, fellow lecturers, curriculum modules, institution protocols, and timelines. When we collaborate and cooperate we contribute. Contribution is also necessary for effective teaching and learning. Students are required to contribute via project assignments, participation in class, lecturer feedback, and the institution in general. Educators are required to contribute to research and development, impact, knowledge, student learning and achievement, and the institution as a whole. We now live and learn in a virtual world. We have no choice but to embrace the array of digital technologies that are advancing our education systems. We have no choice but to utilise the variety of systems that allow for effective collaboration, cooperation and contribution. We have the opportunity to collaborate in ways that we never thought possible. Our world is now a small place, yet vast in collaborative opportunity. The physical environment of our educational institutions may appear quieter, and lacking in educational richness. Yet the reality is, our institutions offer experiences that enrich learning, promote creativity, enhance knowledge, and promote cultural diversity.
Recently, I had the privilege of participating in an innovative project that involved a diverse mix of music students and a professional string quartet. After many months of collaboration, cooperation and contribution, a world premiere of a composition was performed live, virtually. The string quartet was based in one location, while the music students were based in another. Rehearsals were virtual and the collaboration, cooperation and contribution was outstanding.
Even more recently, an educator, based in a remote village in Uganda, made contact with me. He was asking for support, advice, and knowledge which he could embed in the curriculum of his packed education environment containing 45 learners with varying needs and capabilities. Our digital, modern world allowed us to collaborate. Our technologies provided opportunities to cooperate and contribute. By using the three C model, we were able to learn, understand, and come up with innovative ideas that would benefit the students. His students and my students. The enriched collaborative, cooperative and contributory project allowed us to realise that learning can be deep and meaningful. Educating can be incredibly rewarding and can create impact. Real and long-lasting impact. Most importantly, it has positively impacted lives. The lives of all involved, but mainly the learners. And surely, that is what education is all about – positively impacting the lives of students through collaboration, cooperation, and contribution.
The brains of today’s undergraduates are instinctively collaborative, intrinsically cooperative and highly contributory. They are structurally wired for interaction and innovative development. We should strive for a model which encourages constant verbal exchange, and promotes empathy toward the intentionality of others. It should involve each student in personal learning and actively engage everyone, lecturers and students alike, in advancing achievement of greater knowledge and understanding. By embedding the three Cs, Collaboration, Cooperation, Contribution, this can be achieved.