Computers are the instruments of collaborative learning and knowledge work

Imagine a jazz band. A guitarist, a saxophonist, a pianist, a bass player and a drummer.

The band is lead by the guitar player. He is the one that is, not only composing the first ideas, but also organizing most of the practicalities with the agent of the band. There are rehearsals, gigs, transportation, catering and of course money.

All members of the band are great with their instruments. Still any of them can play a note or two from each other instruments – even from a saxophone. When jamming they may change their instruments for fun.

Imagine the band on a stage. The guitar player starts the songs. Their style of playing is to start with a theme and then improvise from there. In turns the musicians take the front stage to play a solo. When playing the band members are communicating with body language and glances. From small hints they know what will happen next in the song.

The gig is over. Next day the guitar player is spending his time on practicing and composing new themes. In the evening he goes to jam in a club with some old friends. He is looking for a possibility to start a new project: a band playing jazz fusion. The saxophone player is playing jazz standards in a hotel lobby. She is playing with a pianist, but not the one she is playing in the band. Same time the pianist of the band is giving piano lessons for children. The drummer and the bass player are having a gig with a salsa band. it is their other project.

Doing collaborative learning and knowledge work is like being in a jazz band. The instruments played are computers and software.

All bands — including learning and working groups — should have a leader. Just like some bands may have an agent or management, this can be the case in a collaborative learning and work, too. Important is that the management is not telling the band what or how they should play. This is how it should be in a collaborative learning or work groups, too.

In a collaborative learning group the participants should learn to play their instruments: computers and software needed to create new knowledge. The instruments can be various. They can be tools for searching information, tools to evaluate and validate the information found, tools to conceptualize things in a written or visual forms, programming tools, tools to design models and simulations, tools for collecting data, tools to measure things, tools to create audio and video. There are many and all groups don’t need them all. Important is to learn to be a master of some of them and to be able to play a bit with the other instruments, too. At least for fun.

The natural place, the stage, for collaborative learning and knowledge work is online. A teacher and supervisor should act as the leader of the group. She should participate to the playing, lead the work but also step back when someone is ready to play a solo. Multifaceted communication is a key.

Collaborative learning and knowledge work doesn’t end when the school day or working hours are over. It continues in different times and spaces. People should be encouraged to use the skills they have learned. To start their own group. To learn and to work for fun. To make most out of the skills and knowledge learned in a another project.

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