Enhanced existence

Picture: Juha Mustanoja

In Sweden, we like working together, having meetings, creating groups for evaluation of group work and creating meetings for evaluation of meetings… This is exaggerating a bit – (and who am I to write this, as I have been living mostly in Finland for the last 30 years?!) – but I want to discuss an important word in this context: the word “samarbete”, which is synonymous to both cooperation AND collaboration. Thus, in Swedish we do both at the same time – cooperate and collaborate. But the two concepts are not identical. Both are important, vital, crucial to creative group work. Where do they differ, is one more elaborate than the other…? During this third topic, it has been interesting to find that there are no clear-cut definitions of what cooperation and collaboration actually mean – and how they are related.

In his sketchy video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr5mAboH1Kk), John Spencer very briskly shows that cooperation means mutual respect, transparency, shared goals, independency and sharing ideas while collaboration means mutual trust, vulnerability shared values, interdependency and generating ideas. He argues that collaboration without cooperation causes groupthink – on the other hand cooperation without collaboration causes disunity. Together they are the basis for deeper work, more innovation and better quality.

In the article Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. by Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/ view/675/1271) the views of George Siemens are accounted for. According to him, there is a four-stage continuum in e-learning, going from communication via collaboration and cooperation to community. Collaboration obviously comes before cooperation. He defines collaboration as “people sharing ideas and working together (occasionally sharing resources) in a loose environment” and cooperation as “people doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose”. Community being the “striving for a common purpose.”                                                                                            Hm. So how does this work… You work interdependently, sharing the same values and then you work independently with your own goal as a priority, and after that you all get together, forming your troop to aim at an agreed target, so to say. This is a bit confusing to me. This third topic – Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning – is intended to make us reflect upon our experiences of real collaborative learning, because this type of learning probably is more creative and beneficial to our development as learners and teachers.

I like using metaphors, and the image that entered my head was that of a meal, and I put this on the activity line of our group. “Cooperation is “knytkalas” (Dutch treat? Potluck?) where everyone brings something that is already made and together the parts become a meal, while collaboration is bringing ingredients of your choice/desire and together you create the meal, using your different cooking talents and imagination, and it is also possible to run to the store or pick things from the garden during the process.” 

I also associated to another pair of words and how they differ: assimilation and integration. Assimilation is conforming to the situation, culture, norms… you adjust, adapt, conform – and the situation is actually not altered. While integration means that your entering the situation or culture affects it – you somehow transform it. It becomes enhanced. Cooperative learning often means that the students work with and learn the same material, that a teacher is the initial source of information and that there is a set goal to reach. The process does not really change the setting. Collaborative learning is, according to Davidson and Major (http://www.lhthompson.com/uploads/4/2/1/1/42117203/comparing_three_ types_of_group_work.pdf), “a pedagogy that has at its center the assumption that people make meaning together and that the process enriches and enlarges them”. Hence my association.

My own experience of great collaborative learning and working is not from the field of education but from my improvisation-life. Improvising together is definitely collaboration – together the improvisors use their skills and efforts to create something unplanned, unexpected. The group agrees upon a starting-point, takes out some sort of direction – but from there on anything can happen and the result is indeed enhanced fiction or enriched reality or a combination of both…

In these wobbly times when we all seem to live in a slough, hopefully there will be more of collaboration – and of integration.

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3 reaktioner till “Enhanced existence

  1. Thanks a lot Elisabeth for your interesting blog, with some “clin d’oeil” how we would say in the french speaking part of Switzerland ( a wink ;o). Liked as well a lot your analysis because we always look up to you Scandinavian countries how advanced you are in your educational system, social systems etc.. and in the end, when it comes to where as well an interesting collaboration takes part, it’s in the improvised life ;o) – I loved it, because I agree with you and I know this as well. For me this experiences flow back into my educational tasks which makes as well on site performances and unprepared actions and improvisations.

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  2. I found the course materials on collaboration vs cooperation also difficult. My own instinct was to rate cooperation as implying a greater degree of ‘integration’, as you put it, partially from reference to the cooperative movement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_cooperative_movement), which was very visible on the high street when I was growing up (in the form of cooperative grocery shops, cooperative alternatives to banks etc), that in the latter case really changed the way the commercial banks had to operate in the UK.

    Plus, it didn’t help that the literature was so split…

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  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about collaborative vs cooperative. In some ways I felt during our discussions on this topic that the most prevalent idea was ”collaboration is good, cooperation is bad” but I think they are both equally important. The video with John Spencer describes my feelings perfectly!

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