Initially, signing up to Mindlab seemed like a massive adventure, I had known staff who had raved about their experiences in the course and I was looking forward to the possibilities of future learning pathways – unfortunately, life got in the way.
The course, although demanding, really encouraged collaboration. Yet less than a quarter of the way into the programme I accepted a position at another school and suddenly – with conflicting timetables and an increased workload – the possibility of collaborating on assessments went out the door. Consequently, the adventure quickly became a massive grind as I struggled to complete activities on time while performing professionally within my new position.
That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the group activities that were presented in the class based part of the course. In each of these activities I was paired with different groups of staff and it really opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and relationships. This early collaboration around new and inventive IT (though largely irrelevant in a university entrance course), did show me the benefits of collaborative learning and the strength of digital tools as a part of the assessment practice.
The Ministry’s Practicing Teaching Criterea (PTC), number 7: ‘Promote a collaborative, inclusive, and supportive learning environment,’ encourages teaches to implement collaborative learning pathways within their classes. Vygotsky (1978), emphasised that increased intellectual success could be attained through collaborative mediums and it would seem rudimental that teachers include collaboration in their own classrooms. Mindlab has clearly shown this intellectual gain to be the case, and has been instrumental in helping me address my own weaknesses in delivering collaborative learning.
Osterman, & Kottkamp, (1993) note that reflective practice is a key aspect of personal development in a teachers’ pedagogy and forces us to address our own shortcomings. Indeed, when the experience is problematic, it is most likely to ‘lead to behavioural change.’ In this case, I was forced to look at the implementation of collaborative activities within my own class: why was I not achieving the desired results? what were the shortcomings of my programmes? how could I more effectively engage students in the learning process? and, what could I do myself to improve my own delivery of collaborative learning elements?
These questions led me on a path that helped to address Criteria 12 of the PTC: “Use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their [sic] professional practice.” During the online component of Mindlab, I undertook research into flipped classroom practice with a view of better enabling collaborative activities within my own teaching. My work on the literature review quickly identified issues with my own understanding of group dynamics and the implementation of a student led classroom with a facilitating teacher. I quickly discovered that my scaffolding of group work needed a lot more detail, and I had to train my students in collaborative aspects, rather than just expecting them to have a basic collaborative tool kit.
Consequently, my future goal is to really hone the delivery of collaborative elements of my learning programmes. In this fashion, I intend to take greater control of group dynamics and how I assign different people to groups. I also realise that early on in the process, I need to more intensively model, clarify, and guide students through areas of group responsibility. Lastly, I need to improve student accountability to ensure that all students within a group are actively contributing.
Ultimately, Mindlab – despite its frustrations – will undoubtedly create change in my professional practice. Going forward, my biggest goal next to collaborative learning, is to investigate better ways of assessing students and using collaborative forms of summative assessment in NCEA.
Exiting times are ahead!
Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/
Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from http://www.itslifejimbutnotasweknowit.org.uk/files.
Vygotsky , L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.