My Blog Feed

bla bla bla
bla lba 2

Working together

Today students and their teachers learn together in a world that is changing so rapidly that educational content is obsolete within a few years. For this reason a much greater emphasis should be focussed on skills and collaborative learning as opposed to content knowledge and rote learning.

Sound educational practice should have as its central question ‘how students learn?’ as opposed to ‘what to teach’ using a model which integrates both theory and practice. According to Stein and Nelson [2003] most of the research in educational administration at that point still continued to focus on what effective leaders do, not on how they think about what they do.

For Collaboration to promote the freedom that can be provided by individualised learning any collaborative task should allow members of the group to be involved in a joint intellectual effort; where colleagues share information with one another to accomplish a common task.

The National Institute for Science Education states that "collaborative learning is based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act in which the participants talk among themselves. It is through the talk that learning occurs".
Learning should be an active an active process whereby learners gather and assimilate information while actively engaging with their peers and relate this new knowledge can then be related to their own experiences.

It is also said that "Learners benefit when exposed to differing points of view from people with varied backgrounds"[NICE]. I would suggest that this may be one of the reasons why Bowen and Jackson [1985-6] state in their hints on better learning groups to "Team up with people you don't know". This increases the capacity for group members to be challenged both socially and emotionally while they work with colleagues with different perspectives.

Kenneth Bruffee [1981] describes how to make collaborative learning work as it should , then we teachers should try to test the quality and value of what we know by allowing the opportunity of trying to make sense of it to their peers.

Why Collaborate?

"Collaborative learning has an impact on the emotional aspect of learning in context" [Bruffee], as the group members express and justify their ideas the learners are actively engaged and begin to create their own unique concepts and models and not rely solely on the point of view of the expert or a passive piece of text. For these reasons such experiences would have greater educational benefits than learning by rote.

Knowledge must be placed in a conceptual framework for learners to retain and comprehend it (Cooper, et al., 1997; Slavin, 1995). In the small group setting, learners do indeed have the opportunity to formalise and reconstruct their understanding with others and also expose themselves to the concepts of others.

My work today involves collaborative tasks where professionals need to share information with each other, and learn something from each others' perspective in order to reach a solution to a given problem.
A parallel situation exists in industry; Henry Ford was quoted as saying "Nothing is particularly hard, as long as you divide it into small jobs." Assembly line workers have increased productivity when workers learned from each other how their different individual parts of the task fit together to produce the whole.

According to Pratt, Gordon, and Plamping [1999] all of these different learning workers on the factory floor are also engaging in activities which involve collaboration.

Life-long learning in the workplace is becoming a necessity rather than an ideal. The need for collaboration is of paramount importance. By facilitating collaborative methods of learning, we can help each other acquire individually and collectively the rapidly, changing knowledge required in this ever changing high tech world.

According to the social constructivists, "a social discourse must take place in order for knowledge to be internalised. It is this discourse that leads to the conceptual framework in which to relate the new knowledge"(Bruffee, 1992). Also MacGregor (1990), citing the work of other educational theorists, argues that knowledge is socially constructed by communities of individuals rather than individually constructed. She writes, "Knowledge is shaped, over time, by successive conversations, and by ever-changing social and political environments" (p. 23).

Working with peers who you don’t know personally needs the building up of a level of trust, one way to do this is by doing something that involves self disclosure [Bowen and Jackson]. It is easy to see how learning personal attributes of another human being can help you empathise with them and see them as an equal with the same feelings and insecurities that we all have, it is sometimes the little things and the opening up that can make all the difference in getting colleagues on board and working together.

Some individuals may need to be encouraged more than others and their point of view is just as valid and important as the more vocal members of a particular group so it is important to steer the group in such a way so that everyone’s point of view can be heard.

Advocates of collaborative learning also claim that active collaborative learning where there is an exchange of ideas within a group not only increases motivation among the group members but also promotes critical thinking. There is persuasive evidence that learning in this way does achieve higher levels of thought and any information gathered (or more accurately processed) will be retained for longer than learners who have received information by passively hearing or reading the same information. This form of shared learning gives group members an opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their task, and thus become more critically aware of the task at hand.

Collaboration in Practice

While putting together this essay I decided to try a little social experiment where I attempted to write this paper on a Wiki. A wiki, based on the Hawaiian word "wiki wiki" for "quick,” is basically a simple webpage that anyone can update. My reasoning for this was to write a paper on working and learning together as a collaborative act which in turn might show the benefits and progress of collaborative learning first hand as the actual process could be written collaboratively.

As there would not be enough motivation for colleagues to engage on someone else’s assignment I predicted that the contribution rate would not have been enough to clearly show the advantages of such a group task. It may however work well if two or more colleagues were given such a group assignment for the completion of their own modules.

Imagine the contrast between these two scenarios:

The first scenario I am going to describe is "One way learning". This is the traditional method where a student intends to complete a module on for instance reflection of his work and practice by pulling together various sources and linking these into the text as best as he can with his own experiences.

The second scenario is where the student is given the opportunity to share his ideas and allow others to contribute, change and disagree with these ideas; using for example a wiki for his/her inquiry based learning. The situation has developed into a truly collaborative process. The original author is compelled to work with his peers and continue to reflect on his and others contribution, as and when they arise.

As yet, there is no consensus on its exact meaning of the term "Web 2.0" but the term is often used to refer to a second phase of development of the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web gave us static websites, the use of search engines and the ability to surf from one website to the next. This model is sometimes referred to as "Web 1.0". Advocates of the Web 2.0 concept say that it moves toward a more dynamic and interactive World Wide Web. Others argue that, while "Web 2.0" may add some useful functionality to the existing framework, it does not supersede the fundamental approaches of the Internet.
Some of the recent concepts and technologies that are seen as features of Web 2.0 include:

web logs or blogs are well known and very popular for schools

linklogs or social bookmarking are becoming popular

podcasts are becoming popular with schools

RSS feeds are widespread - a feature of blogs and essential in podcasting

there are some excellent wikis but few used by schools at present
In practice, any of these technologies can be exploited within schools and deployed to support effective leadership and management, professional development and enhance teaching and learning.

At present I am starting to explore, share and encourage the use of Web 2.0 technologies, though for now still largely used mostly by techies, Wikis are poised to become what blogs have turned into — still the new kid on the internet block but widespread enough to have got the attention needed to flourish.

It can be sometimes difficult to encourage colleagues who may even be techno phobic to start using technology in the classroom; however, by pointing out specific technology applications that address precise skills targets or learner outcomes, a colleague may in some instances persuade some who are interested yet hesitant or even afraid to try new things.

Recently I have introduced wikis in several schools as a means for schools to communicate with parents, the link is on the school page and this instantly updatable page can provide real time information for practical announcements. Although this is still a one way web 1.0 use, it enables staff with no coding skills who are also unable to upload sites via the traditional File Transfer Protocol (FTP) the ability to more easily share information using this new push button easy to use technology. I have managed to talk colleagues with relatively little ICT skills through the process in a five minute phone call.

As everyone gets used to the concept I am hoping that it will then develop into a situation where a truly two way communication channel can be opened up between these schools and their communities

The thing to remember though it is not the technology that has the value here, it is our attitude and our creativity in which we can use and embrace these technologies, in order to allow them to work for us to create and bridge communities like never before in such a way that horizons will be greatly expanded.

Wikis are also described as online whiteboards, shared notebooks or group memory. They are forums for sharing knowledge and control — and fostering trust in the process. [seattletimes]

At present the web [web 1.0] is largely used as a one way system in education, "the sage on the stage" [ Alison King 1993]presents their knowledge to their recipients. This is great for the ego of those who are in a position to impart their knowledge but I would argue this is not learning for all.

Figure 1 below shows a "meme map" of Web 2.0 that was developed at a brainstorming session during FOO Camp, a conference at O'Reilly Media.


Figure 1

Web 2.0 can provide content publishing for all as well as an increase in collaboration communication and good old conversation.

With Web 2.0 there is still of course reading and listening but there is also writing and speaking in other words the exchange is two way hence (according to some) the term web 2.0 .

I am currently in the process of trying to encourage web 2.0 technologies such as wikis and blogs, a colleague of mine Ewan Mackintosh outlined for me in a presentation backed up by a podcast some of the principals behind blogging: two heads are better than one, communication equals sharing people like being creative and knowledge is more than knowing and how wisdom must be added to the equation.

One concern about using resources such as wikis and blogs is the risk of not being awarded enough credit for completing a piece of work. But if we are going to make positive changes in education we should be prepared to move away from a culture of justification and evidence based to more formative assessment driven approaches.

As it happens the evidence seems to suggest that due to the increased motivation and purpose while using these forms of communication the quality of the work produced by students is increased. I will now outline some of the reasons why attainment by pupils can be increased by using web 2.0 technologies.

Firstly a goal is easy to establish, there will be a finished piece of work that will be published on the web for an audience of potentially billions of web users, the groups will also therefore have a greater sense of purpose while doing the required work as it will not only be for the teacher. This in turn will make the work more important to them and give them a reason why they should work so hard to master the task.

Even if students or teachers are working individually on blogs there is still cooperative learning taking place through the comments they give on other blogs and receive on their own.

There will also be opportunities for students to peer review other work through feedback given and also a chance for students and teachers to reflect on their own thoughts by looking at the feedback of others. If the teacher has a blog he can more easily review his practice and thus become more part of the learning process.

There will still be a place for traditional teaching methods, most groups of children and adults have a variety of learning styles, information needs to be presented in a variety of ways to cater for the differing learning styles, such as the use of practical hands on tasks, written words, visuals, audio and video etc. There should always be a mixture and variety in every lesson or training session.

If a group can't solve a problem they consult the instructor as a group this minimises the sense of failure of the individual as it is a problem or responsibility shared in the truest sense

Celebrating success the group's accomplishments can be accessed anywhere in the world and shared with the wider community, I know of one instance where Sandaig Primary School had an actual poet as well as other teachers and pupils comment on their poems.

The poem below was posted on the Sandaig Primary blog

The Listeners

“Is there somebody there?” said the traveller.
Knocking on the big, black door.
And the moonlight shattered the darkness,
And lit up the forest’s floor.

And in the silence the trees swayed slowly.
Their trunks gnarled and old.
Beside the statues stood whispering,
About this man quite foolish but bold.

Inside the house stood ghosts,
Of people that lived there before.
But after the terrible accident,
They could live no more.

The traveller was now in a rage.
He put his hat on his head.
He climbed upon his horse,
“ I came, I waited but you broke your promise,” he said.

The ghostly figures listened.
To the traveller who’d waited a long time.
They also listened to his horse,
Trotting through the forest of pine.


three comments:
moonlight shattering the darkness is a powerful metaphor. The poem scans very well and builds up a tremendous atmosphere.
Dorothy - 07 03 05 - 20:59
‘And in the silence the trees swayed slowly.
Their trunks gnarled and old.
Beside the statues stood whispering,
About this man quite foolish but bold.’

I like this verse – it really builds up the tension and atmosphere for me. A lovely poem!
Peter Ford (email) (link) - 19 03 05 - 20:58
We enjoyed reading all your poems and thought they were very well written and included very good description and built up a lot of suspense and atmosphere.
We look forward to reading more of your weblogs and we hope to complete our own weblogs soon.
Primary 6 St.Joseph's, Stepps (email) - 23 03 06 - 09:48

Scott willson quotes these new personal learning environments as:

"the real strength of the software compared with more traditional VLEs is that "much of the control is handed to the pupils themselves", as they get to choose what they write about and whether to share their work with the rest of the class, "giving them a far stronger sense of ownership".

So we can have teachers commenting on pupils, pupils commenting on lessons, everyone is part of the process

Reflection on collaboration

Stephen Downies summarises his vision of these new technologies below:

It's just you, your community, and the web, an environment where you are the centre and where your teachers - if there are any - are your peers. It is, I believe, the future - and where, one day, the next generation of Blackboards and WebCTs and Moodles and Sakais will make their mark. It's totally not what my employers wanted me to create - it's not proprietary technology, it doesn't lock down content behind a subscription wall, it doesn't embed eight levels of access and authorization. But I created it anyways, because I believe in it.

I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumbrance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle.
Where they are able to form networks of meaningful and rewarding relationships with their peers, with people who share the same interests or hobbies, the same political or religious affiliations - or different interests or affiliations, as the case may be.
This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence.
This is what I aspire toward, this is what I work toward. - Stephen Downies

Below is an extract from the late David Squires, it is interesting to see the parallel between the flexible ever changing format and design of these new environments with the "good practitioners" desire to continuously reflect upon change and adapt his own pedagogical strategies and outlooks.

Designers should consider designing for subversive use, recognising that users fit the use of ICT environments into contextually tuned ‘situated’ learning environments. In this sense, good design is volatile design, i.e. design which
changes with contextual use. These ideas are illustrated with reference to a range of ICT learning environments.- David Squires

In the near future I hope to use other web 2.0 technologies to greater effect such as **Voice-Over-Internet Protocol** or VoiP the most famous example of this at present is Skype. Using Skype colleagues can talk for free over the internet to peers and experts from other countries and discuss in fairly large groups the issues that they feel are important to them. The discussions can then be recorded and placed as a podcast for review and reflection and indeed for others to comment on. International communities sharing there practice by either speaking on Skype in real time, posting their comments on blogs which provide a sequential catalogue of the train of thoughts or even working collaboratively and creatively on a wiki are all useful ways of widening ones horizons and searching for the right answer or even the right questions which we don’t even know that we didn’t know.

James Farmer tell us in his blog how he aims to "transform education and training online through the use of genuinely communicative and engaging technologies aligned with socially constructivist pedagogical approaches".

Greater expectations in the quality of education will be better realised by having more opportunities for reflective practice for all teachers and leaders; technology on the web, such as blogs or wikis could provide an easily accessible format for helping to create and disseminate such reflection in the form of e-journals.
Whether it is reflection-in-action or reflection-on-action (Schon 1987), we now have a tool at their keyboard to document their journeys and create a focused direction for the future.

The UHI millennium institute for example supports course ware such as Blackboard or WebCT, a faculty peer in rural studies could explain how discussion lists promote collaboration and community-building by providing a space for students to vent their thoughts and obtain feedback from their peers.

Participating in on-line discussion groups such as the Institute of Physics forum Sputnik, reading journals, and seeking out experienced teachers in other authorities can be invaluable. Sputnik in Scotland is a very well used discussion forum where colleagues regularly share their ideas, strategies and even frustrations. A sense of isolation is removed especially for single teacher departments in smaller rural schools. The information gathered and shared by such a resource plays a key role in developing new approaches to providing solutions in addressing a shared curriculum.

Colleagues may have experience of available resources, subject-matter concerns such as marking or terminology issues have been discussed. One of the longer discussions centered around national politics of what was happening to principal teachers, that particular discussion led to an article being written for the TES. These groups of peers may also be the best allies in approaching technological resource issues.

Sputnik successfuly provided a forum for the sharing of expertise with colleagues providing productive communities with a voice that facilitates growth to help meet the demands of education as it continues to develop. In fact it is the very forum I use to highlight and springboard the uses and benefits of blogs and wikis discussed earlier.

Hamish Budge to All Sputnik 27th March 2006

In the off chance you get some spare time during Easter break.

Get a free wiki space for teachers/students/school at:

Get a free blog for your students at:

and a blog for teachers at:

Find out what all this means by checking the links on my new blog:

Try out the wiki concept for real at:

or try this comprehensive guide at:

Vygotsky and Social Cognition

Bowen, D. D., and Jackson, C. N. (1985-6). "Curing those 'ol 'Omigod-Not-Another-Group-Class' blues". Organizational Behaviour Teaching Review, 10(4), 21-23.

Stein, M. K., and B. S. Nelson. 2003. Leadership content knowledge. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 25 (4): 423-448.

Schon, D. 1987. Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Collaborative Learning, by Kenneth Bruffee College English © 1981 National Council of Teachers of English

Pratt, J., Gordon, P. and Plamping, D. (1999). Working whole systems:putting theory into practice in organisations. London: Kings Fund.

Cooper,& Slavin, Journal of Social Issues Volume 55 Page 647 - Winter 1999 doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00140

Bruffee, Kenneth A. "Comment & Response. 'Collaborative Learning.'" College English 43 (1981): 745-47.

Bruffee, Kenneth A. "Science in a Postmodern World.'" Change (1992):

MacGregor, J. T. (1990). Collaborative learning: Shared inquiry as a process of reform. In M. D. Svinicki (Ed.), The changing face of college teaching. New directions for teaching and learning, 42 (pp. 19-30). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.


Ewan Mackintosh educational blog podcast accessed accessed April 2006

David Squires (1999).Educational Software and Learning: Subversive Use and Volatile Design Proceedings of the 32nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences .

Schon, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflection practitioner: Towards a new design for teaching and learning in the profession. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass Publishers.

[ Alison King 1993 College Teaching v41 no1 p30-35]

Lectures in The Philosophy of Education: (New York Random House, 1966) John Dewey//

Standard for Chartered Teachers

The Standard consists of four key components:
1. Professional values and personal commitments
2. Professional knowledge and understanding
3. Professional and personal attributes
4. Professional action.

1 professional values and personal commitments:

1. Effectiveness in promoting learning in the classroom since teaching is about promoting learning, the Chartered Teacher must be strongly motivated to be effective in securing the well-being and educational progress of learners.
2. Critical self-evaluation and development No matter how effective the Chartered Teacher may be, there is a commitment to enhanced performance. Practice is subject to regular review and there is a continuing search for new and improved ways of supporting pupils' learning through discussion with others and by reading and research.
3. Collaboration and influence The Chartered Teacher will be committed to influencing and having a leading impact in team and school development, and to contributing to the professional development of colleagues and new entrants to the profession. As a member of a wider professional community, he or she will be committed to influencing the development of teaching and learning, and to strengthening partnerships with other professional groups, parents and other agencies.
4. Educational and social values The Chartered Teacher is committed to core educational and social values, such as concern for truth, personal responsibility, equality, social justice and inclusion, and to pupils' personal, social, moral and cultural development.

2 Professional Knowledge and Understanding

The Chartered Teacher should demonstrate through his or her work a critical understanding of:
1. current approaches to teaching and learning
2. current research on teaching and learning
3. changing social and cultural contexts of education
4. the school curriculum, its knowledge base, and how the curriculum relates to life in the community, including citizenship and the world of work
5. educational assessment and its interpretation
6. responses to pupil differences and to pupils experiencing barriers to learning
7. principles and practices of social justice, inclusion, equality and democracy, and strategies to counter discrimination
8. education and the promotion of personal well-being, and community and environmental development
9. teachers as co-educators with parents and other professionals
10. the nature of professionalism
11. current policy debates
12. ICT and its importance in teaching and learning

3 Professional and Personal Attributes The Chartered Teacher
should be able to demonstrate a range of skills and attributes that are characteristics of all forms of professional work:
1. having enthusiasm and the capacity to motivate
2. communicating effectively
3. being resourceful and positive, and adopting a problem-solving approach
4. being creative and imaginative, and having an open attitude to change
5. being systematic and well organised, focused, determined and hard-working
6. demonstrating empathy and fairness, being caring and approachable
7. showing consistent performance across all professional areas

4 Professional Action Effectiveness in promoting learning in the classroom
The Chartered Teacher
should demonstrate the capacity to: effect further progress in pupils' learning and development For example, in relation to:
1. the key skills involved in literacy in the widest sense, numeracy, ICT, problem-solving, critical thinking, being an autonomous learner, the ability to empathise, and collaborative working
2. a variety of abilities, backgrounds and needs (such as learning difficulties, disabilities, talented learners, bilingual pupils)
3. the nurturing of self-understanding, personal effectiveness and social competence in a multi-ethnic and fast-changing society
4. pupil performance in his or her area(s) of the curriculum
5. offering an enhanced and challenging curriculum
create and sustain a positive climate for learning For example, in which:
6. all pupils feel valued, supported and encouraged, and their ideas and suggestions are welcomed and used
7. diligence and progress are explicitly rewarded and learning is a satisfying experience
8. the classroom is conducive to maintaining learning, while fairness to all, consideration for others, good behaviour, and personal integrity are reinforced
9. the cognitive and affective development and cultures of young people are understood
use strategies which increase pupils' learning For example, by:
10. having high expectations of pupils, and empowering and supporting them in setting challenging but achievable targets for themselves
11. being able to relate to and motivate learners
12. providing high quality formative feedback, tailored to individual pupils
13. inspiring pupils and celebrating their achievements
14. relating tasks to pupils' prior learning and existing ways of understanding
15. being able to select, modify and generate curriculum materials
16. helping pupils to identify their most effective learning styles in class and out of school
17. managing effectively class, group and individual activities, and the transitions between them, where appropriate in co-operation with others
18. dealing effectively with disruptive behaviour//