This is a second post looking at the student’s role and the academic skills and dispositions needed for success in the active classroom. The first looked at active listening. Here, I suggest active co-operativism is an attitude and an ethos that needs to be developed to promote successful learning in the active classroom. I will conclude with some pointers for developing student skills for co-operative learning.
Note, the term ‘co-operative learning’ has been used, especially in the US, to refer simply to group work. I use the term ‘active co-operativism’ to refer to the attitudes and behaviours that are conducive to promoting peer learning for mutual benefit. One of my ways into this was by considering Chickering & Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education in which good teaching both ‘encourages active learning’ and ‘develops reciprocity and cooperation among students’.
Active co-operativism is much more than collaboration however, though learning through collaborative activities is a key approach to thinking about how active co-operativism can be achieved.
Active co-operativism embraces all active learning pedagogies including problem-based learning, enquiry-based learning, connectivist pedagogy, and so forth, where it is axiomatic to say “two heads are better than one” or “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” As such, the principle reflects ideas including Actor-Network Theory, Assemblage Theory, and Distributed Cognition.
The fostering of active co-operativism is a valuable learning outcome in its own right. Having co-operative skills and knowing how to work with other people constructively, and possibly creatively, but always effectively, leads to the development of social capital and resilience, for example. For this reason, it needs to be made explicit to students.
Pointers to developing active co-operativism
Explaining why active learning methods are being used, not only how to perform them, is fundamental to engagement with active learning. First, it is naive to think students should just do as you say because you are the teacher. I have had many conversations with academics who complain about lack of learner engagement. The obvious riposte is, “Are you engaging them?” In other words, engaging students in an active learning context is an act of learning itself – it is putting the class into the ‘first gear’, orientating everyone including the teacher-facilitator through negotiation and clarification of the why, what and how.
Active co-operatativism is part of any such discussion. It’s not about using the jargon, but about communicating the value of working together for achieving the goals of the activity, as well as in terms of co-operative learning outcomes. A metacognitive approach that involves talking about, and negotiating, the ‘how’, and then later reflecting on the activity is key to developing understanding of the active co-operativist ethos.