Tuesday, 27 October 2015

What does 'collaboration' look like in Big Projects?


This week I am asking our project guides to scaffold opportunities for students to reflect on the quality of collaboration going on in their projects.  But what does collaboration actually mean?  Why is it considered a "soft skill"?   How do you assess or make judgements about collaboration? 

The term collaboration is defined very simply as working with others for an intended outcome.  Often this is producing something such as research, art, products, events, presentations, etc.  But true collaboration should mean more than this - not just working with others, but working in ways that enhance the experience and outcomes for everyone involved.  In recent years I have heard the term 'soft skills' used when talking about collaboration in the classroom.  Soft skills are the top skills employers are looking for in their business or organisations when recruiting new staff.  These skills are not assessed in a traditional school curriculum, even though they are more in demand that ever before.  But our curriculum does acknowledge the importance of collaboration, as the Key Competency  'relating to others' and teaching this needs to be more explicit in our secondary schools.  A thought provoking blog to learn more about what makes effective collaboration is from the Social Change Collective - in particular a blog written by Robyn Lui.  Her narrative on working together and what hinders and helps teamwork is well worth a look.   Another resource is this inspiring Ted talk by Tom Wujec  "tell me how you make toast" which looks at the power of people who contribute to a team when it comes to projects and/or making change 

Something I am pondering...

Most teachers will think they know how to collaborate effectively - it involves communicating with others in the team, supporting them, doing your fair share, etc etc .. but how to we make sure all our students are actually doing this in their projects? More importantly, how do we make sure that they all improve their collaboration skills, to become a more valuable member of a group as each project comes to completion? How do we help structure and scaffold project learning activities that develop these dispositions rather than just let it 'happen' as they move from project to project?

In a recent survey of our HPSS students (completed after their Big Project in August), most felt they had learned team work skills as a result of their projects.  But how did they learn these? What aspects of the Big Project process taught them skills that made their abilities to work in a team seem greater?  This is something worth exploring further and I hope to do so in the near future. 

Students respond to a question about teamwork  - over 80% felt Big Projects helped them develop teamwork skills

Collaboration is assessed by the students themselves...

At HPSS, our students are the ones responsible for assessing the ability of their peers to collaborate effectively in Big Projects by making judgments and evaluating how effective their peers are.  I have generated a rubric on collaboration which is shared with students.  They then reflect on their team members ability to be collaborative during their 15 week project and award a SOLO grade. 

Collaboration: Working effectively with others to contribute to positive project outcomes.

The process involves
 - Students are allocated another member of their team to complete the collaboration report.  
 - Students then collect feedback from others in their team about how well that person has been collaborative during the project - it is strongly connected to perception.  
- Students use that information to fill in a 'google form' that creates a collaboration comment and identifies a level that students are working at.  
- Students receive this feedback in their 'end of project' report. 

I use this 'meme' a lot in my role at HPSS - trying to get students to think more critically about the way their team members are collaborating.  

Big Project team members share a common goal with a common plan to ensure this goal is met.   Collaboration is an important part of that process and the rubric helps unpack for students the different components of high level collaboration: 

role responsibility            communication              purposeful                responsive                critically reflective   
Unpacking the rubric gives us an understanding of what we are looking for when students are completing a group work project.  Students need to take responsibility for tasks, be relied on and take ownership of an element of the project.  Teams need their members to show initiative and be responsive, especially as the project evolves, problems arise and solutions are needed.  Teams work well when members are purposeful and fulfill a range of roles, not just those allocated for a successful project outcome.  But teams also need to be critical and reflective, about the project and with each other, helping team members grow and complete tasks more effectively through constructive feedback and feed-forward.  
Source: Robin Lui 

Moving forward, in 2016, I am thinking that students should generate a 'project team contract' (similar to the one BIE have developed HERE)  whereby the components of collaboration are unpacked and related to the specific context on a team project and the different roles that have been identified.  Student can then see what positive collaboration looks like and aim to work towards what has been agreed on.  Watch this space....

Can students make valid judgement about their peers?  

The simple answer is that many can, and some cannot.  Most students relish this opportunity and take it very seriously, collecting team member voice and thinking deeply about how that translates to the collaboration rubric.  Some students, often working with friends, are rose tinted in their perception of the contribution their team members have made.  There is also a small group who can be overly critical of their team members, focusing on one particularly bad event, rather than the overall contribution that has been made. 

Here is an example from 2014 of a student with the ability to give positive feedback and feed-forward as well as some constructive criticism.  I smile every time I read this because they really get to the heart of the matter - why collaboration is so important.  

Student A, you didn't do much, but did help out with setting up the sound equipment and working together with Student B and C. One thing that you did well was help create the sound track for Save The Epilobium, your part in the Epilobium video was good and it made the video better with the music you added. You should come to the school show rehearsals next time so you can know what we need to do and what we don't need to do, so you can fill in for the people who weren't here. In your next Big Project you need to stay on task and not procrastinate, because that lets the team down and means we have to do more work.

There is still more work to be done in this area - it's important that students all understand the rubric and what collaboration genuinely looks like at each SOLO level.  This is something we are continuing to focus on as we grow project learners in our school.  Unpacking the rubric, with a guide, in relation to a specific project context will prove much more powerful than looking at collaboration in a general way. 

So, what do our guides need to do? A challenge for this week...

Google Doc HERE
This week I have asked our guides to create an activity or scenario whereby students feel confident and secure enough to provide honest and meaningful collaboration feedback to their peers.  For relational and extended abstract collaboration, purposeful feedback needs to be generated and acted on.  Creating a situation or environment whereby honest and constructive feedback can be given, will allow students to see this happening and can be acknowledged when evaluating their peers.  

There are many different ways this could be approached and I intend to share successful activities in this blog as the week progresses - so watch this space :) 

FINALLY - Other helpful places to find insight
Edutopia - http://www.edutopia.org/blog/nurturing-collaboration-5-strategies-joshua-block

Teaching Channel - https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2014/03/25/deeper-learning-student-collaboration/

1 comment:

  1. This is super interesting Sarah and explains the activity that I walked past in the cafeteria where Pete's project group were intensely silent, focussing intently on big pieces of paper which they were folding up gradually - I thought they were playing that story game consequences! But then I realised they were giving feedback to each other and moving around so everyone had commented for each group member. It was brilliant to see just how seriously and reflectively they were thinking. Keep up the inspiring leadership. You rock.