Monday, December 22, 2008

On Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning seems to be a much misunderstood term. This is my take on it: Collaborative learning is not about achieving mastery in a certain subject; it’s about learning to collaborate. The topic or project for learning is only the context within which collaboration takes place.

If learning is only about processing information related to a specific subject, retaining this information and being able to apply the principles of the subject in multiple contexts, then probably collaborative learning is a distraction. Because what you get in collaboration are multiple foci, active and passive players, relevant as well as non-relevant conversations, dominance and reaction, and the many things that group dynamics bring to the fore. Therefore, in a sense, even collaborative learning helps one process certain type of information, except that this information may not strictly be about the subject in question but about how each person in the group was approaching this subject in the presence of a group.

In short, the focus of collaborative learning is on collaboration rather than on “learning” in the brain science sense of the term. And because collaboration is a critical life skill, students will need repeated and spaced practice, context (which is provided by the learning topics and projects), practical application (instead of learning about collaboration in textbooks, collaborate in real situations), and a greater understanding of peer groups.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Watch that Hate

The live TV coverage of the terror attacks on Mumbai that lasted from November 26 to 29 has exposed our children to the horrible face of real terror like never before—unlike the kind they see in cartoons and movies. Children are sensible enough to distinguish between fiction and reality. So we, as parents and educators, cannot avoid answering their questions on terror and the people who unleashed it. But we need to be careful with our answers and admit our lack of certainty, instead of getting caught in our own hate theories.

Emotions have been running high in this city. There is anger, frustration, fear and helplessness. In the process, you also see a lot of hate building up. Hatred towards politicians, towards a country, towards a community. But we need to watch this hate before we pass it on to our children and poison their impressionable minds.

When an event of this scale happens, our immediate response is to react against something. We want the government to act. Tighten our security measures. Do something. This is natural because we fear for our lives. And we want to bring the guilty to justice. That's why we have a government, which is supposed to act and protect the lives of its citizens and visitors. When a government or a system(meaning not just the ministers or the political class but the law enforcers, bureaucrats and other administrators involved in the affairs of the state and central government) fails to deliver, its citizens are usually left with only limited options—talk, write, complain, take out protest marches, express solidarity and hope someone will listen. While it is extremely important for us to react, we must also make an attempt to understand why all this is happening—not to excuse or justify terror, but to avoid jumping to conclusions, to avoid jingoism and communal hatred.

Things are magnified based on which area we focus our attention on. And truths are altered based on the prism we choose (or have access) to look at the world. So much depends on where we are born, where we grew up and where we think we belong—in addition to the various things we have allowed ourselves to be influenced by. This is all the more reason for us to behave responsibly and not hand out our assumptions as certainties to our children.
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