The Emphasis in 21st Century Schools Will Be on Teamwork

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

When your digital generation daughter is six she may guide you on the interactions on Facebook or show you how to leave a message on Twitter. It is a part of their lives, and it is an uncharted information resource. It is vast and it is comprehensive, but in many ways it is not vetted. Even primary information is not vetted very well. Nevertheless it is here, and the question is how well can we use it?

We are in a transitional period where we are all learning. As with any new technology there are problems of adjusting to this new cornucopia of information. The iPad and other comparable technologies can give a first grader a library of all the textbooks needed for K-12 schooling. It can be upgraded as new information becomes available. Some people reject the new technology and prefer to use the old guidelines and standards of the print on paper world. It is worthwhile to remember that Socrates worried that writing would interfere with memory. With each new technological advance we must adjust our society to its uses. We must remember that the young are more likely to use the new than the more mature. Often the older people reject the new because it is more difficult for them to understand and use. On the other hand it is second nature to the young.

The question I ask is, What will iPads and the Internet do to public education? From the late 1980s when Star Schools became a distance learning experiment, we have very rapidly developed online courses. Today most high school systems offer a blended opportunity for learning that includes some online programs. Colleges and universities offer complete degrees online. There are some virtual high schools that offer the entire curriculum via digital technologies and others that allow parts of the lessons through a distant source. Courses vary from fully digital lessons to combinations of teacher driven courses. Some courses are completely computer based programs whereas others use a live broadcast teacher.

As schools along with other aspects of society are faced with budget cuts, we are likely to see more online courses, especially in science. Science teachers are expensive and hard to find, and the distant-developed courses can often provide more in depth materials.

Digital online classes will not only supplement traditional learning, but also have the potential to alter the very model and concept of what universal public education will be. Much high-level content can be developed especially in science areas that exceed the average class-based programs. This may mean that the role of teacher changes to more of a guide, counselor or mentor.

Team learning will become a more standard activity, with students working together to solve challenges and produce projects. Each team member will contribute their unique talents to the solving of problems. One for all and all for one will become the school dynamic. Peer interactions will reinforce learning. Teams can be composed of students who are physically close, but also through social media teams may include members from distant sites. I emphasize that team learning is more than collaborative learning in that the team is a working partnership where every member is a valid and appropriate contributor to the goals of the team. More and more in the world of work individuals are having to participate in teamwork. NASA is a prime example of team building and teamwork.

Everyone from clerks to scientist to astronauts are vital team members essential to the successful completion of missions. Schools and workplaces of the future will be built on teams.

16 Responses

  1. [...] The Emphasis in 21st Century Schools Will Be on Teamwork By Frank B. Withrow When your digital generation daughter is six she may guide you on the interactions on Facebook or show you how to leave a message on Twitter. It is a part of their lives, and… Source: etcjournal.com [...]

  2. I am of two minds on this piece. Teamwork can be very important in our lives. Individual work also is very important. These two facts have been true since our first forebears operated in tribes in the remote past. They are integral to our beings.

    Yet, team learning is not the same as teamwork. I’ve observed situations where a group gets it better than the individuals, and I’ve also observed the opposite.

    I hope that the emphasis in “21st century learning” (hate that term that suggests that we’re somehow wiser because of a date change) is NOT on team learning. I do hope that students (the learners, right?) can share their insights as they learn. But, haven’t decent teachers always encouraged that?

    Learning is not a job. It’s not work. It does not require teamwork. Team projects in classrooms can be incredibly inefficient. Some team projects can be exhilarating and produce great learning results. As with any learning means, balance will be required. In science, hands-on labs have the most potential to create a real understanding of science. The assumption has been that more is therefore better without regard to quality. I guarantee you that a student could spend an entire year performing hands-on labs every day without getting a clue as to what science is all about.

    Students often do hands-on labs in groups. Frequently, the benefit goes to only one or two of the group members.

    Hands-on labs take too much time to allow complete coverage of even a focused curriculum with them being the only activity. Other learning modes must be employed.

    These facts suggest that overdoing teamwork in learning may be very counterproductive for at least some students and not beneficial to many.

    Leave teamwork to coaches. By all means, have some group projects but not too many. Just because our particular calendar hit the year 2000 does not mean we have to change how we teach and learn.

    Allow me a personal perspective. Ever since leaving school, I’ve worked in teams, sometimes as a member, sometimes as a leader. Yet, all through school, I avoided teams (except in sports and drama). The few times that I was thrown into one, it just slowed me down and distracted me from my learning goals. I went all the way through college and graduate school without joining a single study group. I always studied alone in high school. Yet, I was able to get into and graduate from two of the most prestigious schools in our country as I pursued my bachelor’s and doctor’s degrees. For me, learning simply has never been a group process. I know of others with the same perspective.

  3. Harry, as usual, you make some very thought-provoking points. Frank’s article has a clear message: the social and interactive web makes it not only possible but imperative that people learn to operate as members of a larger team.

    I believe the word “team” is the crux of the disagreement. In Frank’s use, “teamwork” implies the ability to not only work with others but to also be responsible for a specific task that’s critical for the overall success of a project. This is where technology comes into play. Team members no longer have to be together physically. They can be anywhere in the world, yet they can communicate at anytime of the day, synchronously and asynchronously.

    If everyone doesn’t do his or her job, the project fails. With iPhones, email, videos and photos, social networking communities, etc., members can quickly communicate to complete tasks.

    This ability to use the latest personal and social communication technologies to coordinate one’s efforts with others’ is the teamwork that Frank is referring to. It’s like a NASA flight — which is a total team effort. Failure on the part of any member cold be fatal. (Redundancy checks are built into the procedures, but they’re not perfect.)

    Because of this technology, the nature and scope of our projects change. They’re no longer defined by geography, national boundaries, or time zones. ETCJ is a good example. We all live in different parts of the world and most of us have never met, yet we’ve been working together as a team for nearly three years to publish ETCJ.

    Students in the 21st century are inheriting a world in which technology is the primary means to coordinate their efforts to complete projects, and they must become highly proficient in it. Today’s young are connected to an extent that defies the imagination. Twenty-four-seven, they use their smartphones, tablets, and netbooks to plan and coordinate their leisure, academic, and professional lives — texting, voicing, emailing, tweeting, etc., using photos and videos to leverage their text and voice.

    They will take this communication style into the workplace and it will become the foundation for a level of teamwork that’s unprecedented. The electric light opened up the darkness for extended work; personal digital communication devices have dissolved the boundaries of time and space and made instant communication anytime and anywhere a reality, making it possible for us to work with one another as never before.

  4. To illustrate a contrario what Jim writes: last week I participated in a dubbing and subtitling workshop (1) organized by the Babel festival di letteratura e traduzione in Bellinzona (Switzerland).

    We had been told there was no need to bring our laptops as there would be computers, but at the last moment, the school hosting the workshop moved us to rooms with ONE computer and one beamer. So for the first meeting, our dubbing coach asked each of us to sight-adapt into Italian sentences from the script of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, then transcribe what we had said on paper while someone else was sight-translating.

    A bit awkward. So as we were 7 participants, and 3 of us had nonetheless brought our laptops, we asked him if he would give us digital copies of the excerpt from the script of Mamet’s Glen Garry Glen Ross we could collaborate on in groups of 2-3 the following day. He seemed puzzled at the idea of team adaptation, but he agreed. And actually it was more fun – for him too, it seemed – and more efficient this way.

    And it would be even more fun and efficient to do that kind of activity online, asynchronously, using e.g. Critical Commons – or maybe to continue it after a first F2F workshop (2).

    The only point where I slightly disagree with you, Jim, is your statement that “If everyone doesn’t do his or her job, the project fails.” The whole concept of connective learning, as illustrated in Stefanie Panke’s reviews of Plenk 2010 here, is that the project does not fail if someone doesn’t to his or her job, because the network is self-mending, as it were. This is how Wikipedia works: as Miikka Ryokas wrote to Noam Cohen in an e-mail:

    “As the popular joke goes, ‘The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work.’ ” (3)

    (1) See Workshop di traduzione per il cinema (PDF)

    (2) However, there might be copyright issues in some countries for that: Critical Commons is based on the US Fair Use exception, and many countries do not have something as broad as Fair Use, even though they have some exceptions for education: it is so in Switzerland.

    (3) From: Cohen, N. (2007, April 23). The latest on Virginia Tech, from Wikipedia. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/23/technology/23link.html on Sep. 22, 2011.

    • Claude: The only point where I slightly disagree with you, Jim, is your statement that “If everyone doesn’t do his or her job, the project fails.” The whole concept of connective learning, as illustrated in Stefanie Panke’s reviews of Plenk 2010 here, is that the project does not fail if someone doesn’t to his or her job, because the network is self-mending, as it were.
      Claude, the context of the article and my comment is the classroom and, by analogy, NASA — not a wiki. In a classroom project, one student doesn’t deliver, and the entire team suffers the consequences. In a space flight, the consequences can be even more severe. Yes, a wiki is set up to be self-correcting. but, again, that’s not the point of the article and comment.

      • Point taken. I had understood the NASA part to be only an analogy, not a model. Yet if it is to be a model, then wouldn’t it hamper educators in following it when preparing online learning activities, compared to the more flexible, connectivist model?

  5. [...] The Emphasis in 21st Century Schools Will Be on Teamwork By Frank B. WithrowWhen your digital generation daughter is six she may guide you on the interactions on Facebook or show you how to leave a message on Twitter. Source: etcjournal.com [...]

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  8. [...] The Emphasis in 21st Century Schools Will Be on Teamwork By Frank B. Withrow When your digital generation daughter is six she may guide you on the interactions on Facebook or show you how to leave a message on Twitter. It is a part of their lives, and… Source: etcjournal.com [...]

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