Promoting Personal Responsiblity Through Collaboration

I understand this seems like an oxymoron. How can collaboration promote personal responsibility? Aren’t we trying to get students to work together, not individually?

Well, believe it or not, when you analyze the best collaborations you have been a part of both inside and outside of the classroom, they all hinge on individuals successfully and willingly taking charge of tasks to move the objectives of the group forward toward meeting a common goal. So why do collaborations within classrooms fail at such a high rate? Why, does it seem, that some students repeatedly do a large quantity of work while others talk, text, tweet or surf the web? The answer, I have found, is in how the collaborative activity is set-up. Yes, I am to blame. We as instructors must frame collaborative activities so that the group members have to reach a common goal, however each individual needs to be held accountable for completing work that moves the group forward. With adult learners it is incredibly important for them to choose how they will tackle the problem and define what work needs to be done, however it is my responsibility as an instructor to manage the process. We need to check in with groups, review plans, and expect (possibly even through grading) individual output that benefits the group’s goal. Skip Downing talks about Personal Responsibility in his book On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life. He talks about two types of students; Creators and Victims. I was reminded of the “actions Creators take: Seek Solutions, Take Action and Try Something New.” Isn’t that what we ask for within our collaborative classrooms?

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