Support Collaborative Learning

With the exception of a frustrating citation record keeping issue, I’m rolling now… so I haven’t spent much time re-reading these sections, but here is the next one. I hope someone is reading… but this is motivational to post as I go regardless. I hope it’s not unwise. :)

I do feel a bit silly that this is primarily just demonstrating the research I’ve done, rather than saying anything new… but I suppose the paper is not called a KAM demonstration for nothing. And again, this is a draft. At any rate, here it is…

4. Support Collaborative Learning

Personal learning is a necessary condition for organizational change, but it is not sufficient; there must also be a degree of collaborative learning as well. As Fullan (2001b) stated, “we have long known the value of collaboration and the debilitating effects of isolation” (p. 6). Two more of Senge’s five disciplines support this need for collaborative learning: shared vision and team learning. Evan’s philosophy acknowledges the difficulty of this, and Fullan argues it’s critical importance for schools.

Senge (1990) warns that “if people do not share a common vision, and do not share common ‘mental models’ about the… reality within which they operate, empowering people will only increase organizational stress and the burden of management to maintain coherence and direction” (p. 146). How then do organizations build shared vision? According to Senge (1990), building shared vision “involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment instead of compliance” (p. 9). Senge et al. (1994) identified five stages of shared vision: telling, selling, testing, consulting, and co-creating (p. 314). The further an organization is to the right on this scale, the more likely a shared vision will engender genuine commitment.

Senge (1990) noted that “shared visions emerge from personal visions… [and that] organizations intent on building shared visions continually encourage members to develop their personal visions” (p. 211).However, he also noted that “alignment is the necessary condition before empowering the individual will empower the whole team” (p. 235). The practice that helps bridge the gap between personal visions and shared visions – and that helps to ensure alignment – is team learning.
Senge (1990) writes that “the discipline of team learning starts with ‘dialog,’ the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine ‘thinking together” (p. 10). Team learning is a “collective discipline” (p. 237) that “requires practice” (p. 238). Critical elements of team learning include “the need to think insightfully about complex issues” (p. 236), “the need for innovative coordinated action” (p. 236), and the skills of “dialogue and discussion, the two distinct ways that teams converse” (p. 237).

Evans supported the collaborative development of vision, but recognized the difficulty of focusing shared vision. He noted that shared vision statements, for instance, often fail on account of length, fragmentation, and impracticality – not to mention clichés (Evans, 1996, p. 208). He also identified an organizational dysfunction he called processitis: “a preoccupation with procedure and interaction that affects many self governing groups” (p. 239). Fullan’s new professionalism captured many of the same solutions Evans suggested for dealing with such dysfunctions; it was “collaborative, not autonomous; open rather than closed; outward-looking rather than insular; and authoritative, but not controlling” (Fullan, 2001b, p. 265).

For Fullan (2001b), “professional development is not about workshops and courses; rather, it is at its heart the development of habits of learning that are far more likely to be powerful if they present themselves day after day” (p. 253). Several of these habits (or characteristics) of successful collaborative cultures include fostering diversity while trust building, provoking anxiety and then containing it, engaging in knowledge creation, combining connectedness with openendedness, and even fusing the spiritual, political and intellectual (Fullan, 1999, p. 37). Also, like Evans, Fullan (1993) shared words of caution for those who would support collaborative learning. Collaboration, he notes, “is not automatically a good thing” (p. 82). In fact, “unless one understands deeply why and how collaboration functions to make a difference it is of little use” (Fullan, 1999, p. 40). Without focus (and moral purpose), collaboration may be little more than what Fullan (2005) and others have called “coblaboration” (p. 48).

It is clear from Senge, Evans, and Fullan’s work that change agents who support personal learning must also support focused and purposeful collaborative learning if they hope to facilitate the sort of organizational change necessary to implement video games and simulations as educational technologies in constructivist learning environments. This collaborative learning must build shared vision and exhibit the characteristics of successful collaborative cultures, while avoiding the pitfalls such as processitis and coblaboration.