I argue that some topics, even those which are seemingly innocuous, are better suited to abstract discussions than large collaborative projects. In these cases, the educator can offer both sides of an argument and then encourage an open discussion of it, and perhaps, a later independent response. To support my argument, I endeavor to analyze a collaborative project described by Lankshear and Knobel (2011) and offer a hypothetical alternative:
Schools could enter relationships with organizations, groups, and community leadership to produce knowledge artifacts that would be authentically useful for and usable by their end users. Right from the start, the work to be done was negotiated between the schools and the end users. Moreover, the intended recipients were also seen as sources of expertise on matters of quality, usefulness, standards, relevance, etc., that an artifact would have to honour in order for it to be acceptable. (p. 222)
They share a typical example where groups of Australian sixth-grade students worked collaboratively“… with the local cattle sale yards to produce a documentary about the history of the sale yards for a Beef Expo in 2003” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 222). They then describe how students video-interviewed representatives of the local cattle industry and shot footage of cattle yards. The students later incorporated voice-overs and edited the footage to produce their documentary. The completed documentary was distributed on CD-ROM, which was used at an international beef festival to promote the region and its cattle industry (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 222).
On the surface, this all seems innocent enough. It appears the students did indeed learn a great deal from this large collaborative project. And yet, how might a person who is a vegan, for ethical reasons, feel about their involvement in the production a documentary film about the history of the cattle industry and even worse, promoting it.
Now if the topic of the cattle industry and the consumption of beef were presented in a balanced lecture with a classroom discussion, even those in the minority might be able to express an opinion counter to the majority. In this hypothetical case, our young vegan “might” speak out and offer a heartfelt ethical argument and thereby expose the majority to new knowledge. Although it is doubtful that our hypothetical young vegan would do the same while interviewing those expert adults involved in the local cattle industry, or even be permitted the space to ask critical questions of those industry experts, especially if it is an industry that is crucial to the town’s economy.
Whereas a lecture which includes multimedia followed up by an open classroom discussion of the topic and then a short paper might permit more students to voice minority opinions. A digital story, instead of a collaborative video project should encourage students to share their nonmainstream opinions instead of quietly yielding to class, or herd opinion (pun intended). An independently produced digital story appears to be a good fit here. It would offer the students exposure to, as well as experience with, many of the same the 21st-century tools required to produce a collaborative video. The production of an independent digital story would also require a certain amount of collaboration, by pulling the required information and expertise from the internet, a practice described as a “pull approach” which assumes “passion-based learning” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 228). Supporting nomainstream arguments by reaching out and pulling from the internet is critically important, as members of the leaner’s local group may not be supportive of their stance. This, to me, is where the intent shines as one can most often find an affinity group that will openly share their knowledge and even help support the posited argument.
Industry influence in our schools is not always such a good thing, and as we know even the old industrial model of education has come into question, and now it appears that we are allowing these profit focused entities, to design the schools of the 21st century. STEM is crucial but what about the humanities, are they to be forgotten in our 21st-century model. I certainly hope not and am deeply concerned that an over-dependence on corporations will lead us down the wrong path. A path where ethics, important discussions, and minority opinions will become no more than distracting noise.
Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2011). Chapter 7: Social learning, ‘push’ and ‘pull’, and building platforms for collaborative learning from New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning. New York: Open University Press, 209-230.