Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cooperation Is Becoming the Norm

Today is Sunday, October 27, 2013. 

When I started teaching in the United States in the mid-80's, I learned about a teaching technique that had a fairly long history of research to back it up, but which was still new to the public schools.  It was called Cooperative Learning, and it was more than just getting kids to work together in groups.  The object was not just to get the kids to work on content lessons (history, math, science, etc.) together, but to teach them some specific strategies for how to work together.  Cooperative Learning is still noted as one of the most successful models for teaching and leaning, but also one of the most difficult to organize and execute for the teacher.  It does seem to be having an effect in the adult world, however, and that is reason enough to continue.  I'd say it has affected students who were exposed to it, who graduated from high school anytime after about 1995 or so.  That means the people who are "thirtysomethings" now.  

There have been a number of studies in the past few years that have proven that the cooperative model works not only in schools, but also in the world of business.  The old model of competition and Machiavellian ruthlessness has slowly but surely been giving way to a kinder, gentler, workplace, where people are actually rewarded for cooperating with others.

These days, it's harder for people who are still functioning as competitors, rather than cooperators, to take all the credit for a project, or to throw a colleague under the bus to avoid taking the blame for something that has gone wrong.  People are more likely to speak up when one of their colleagues does something wrong, in order to see "justice" done.  They are also more likely to give credit to a deserving colleague who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to further the group effort.  

The late Randy Pausch, who was a professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, once taught an interdisciplinary course in which computer science students were teamed with students in the arts.  The students taking the course were required to work in groups on about four different projects, with a different group for each project.  At the end of each project, the group members were asked to rate each other on how well they worked with the group, and these results were shared with the whole class.  Pausch said he could tell whether a project was going to be successful by looking at a picture of the group. If they were standing close together in the photo, it was a signal that the group members had become comfortable with one another, and that they probably managed to work well together on the project to make it a success.

I think it's a good sign that people are more and more inclined to work together on things, not only in schools and in the business community, but also in life, in general.  Hopefully, this trend can be harnessed to solve some of the world's most pressing problems.  Imagine what we could accomplish if we all worked together to stop the destruction of Mother Earth, to heal the planet and humanity in general, to eradicate hunger and disease, and to build a lifestyle that is sustainable for the future.  :-)

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