Are you encouraging students to shelter knowledge, or share it?

As teachers, we’ve got important things to do. We need to develop lessons, deliver those lessons, assess student learning, and provide quality feedback. In reality, we do a lot more than that. One thing we may struggle with, though, is designing quality groupwork. But that’s okay, right? I mean, we have a lot to cover–we’ve got enough to do as it is!

Consider this situation when thinking about whether or not we should spend more time emphasizing groupwork with our students:

A student recently visited me in the library because she heard a rumor that I know how WeVideo works. She wanted to know how to layer sound tracks and change the volume of her video as it played. I showed her what I knew and she applied what she learned to her video. Then, and this is the important part, she turned to her friend and said: “Okay, let’s not tell ANYONE else in class about this!”

Woah! Where did that come from? I asked her why she wouldn’t share what she learned with her classmates, and she had clear reasons:

I want to have the highest grade in class.

If I tell other people how to make their videos better, they might get a higher grade than me.

The student’s thinking is pretty attractive to our culture. We want people to be competitive. We want people to want to be the best, right?

Let’s pretend that was the end of the conversation. This student would go back to class. She would show her video. Students would be pretty impressed that she figured out how to edit the sound in her video. She would have produced one of the best videos in class. A few other students might have good videos, too.

But what if the teacher had placed more emphasis on cooperative learning? What if students knew that one of the primary goals of this activity wasn’t that a small number of students would produce good videos, but that the class would work together and learn from each other in order for everyone to create good videos?

What if that student, after learning her new information about WeVideo, had turned to her friend and said: “Okay, let’s run back to class and tell EVERYONE how to do this.”?

Would we lament that this student was diminishing her own accomplishments by freely sharing what she learned? Would we worry that she was setting herself up for failure in a competitive world? I don’t think most of us would. I think many of us would recognize the value that she was bringing to our learning environment? I think we would appreciate seeing a class full of videos that were better, because one student shared what she learned with others.

Share or ShelterSharing her inside information may run counter to some of our cultural values, but it’s right in line with what we value most as teachers: learning. As we give students group assignments, let’s stress the value of sharing learning and helping each other solve problems.

How are the problems our society faces going to be solved? By sheltering learning to maintain a competitive edge, or by sharing learning to make our world better for everyone?