I want to begin my individual reflection with a story. I was going to write lyrics for a rap song “collaboration for education” as my reflection but …

Recently an acquaintance involved with a group of young people told me a moving story about the students she was training. The hand in date came and one of the students hadn’t handed in their work. In the true spirit of ubuntu -which is a complex iXhosa idea- but in this context it means “behaving well towards others or acting in ways that benefit the community” they wondered if she could share their marks so that the student at risk could also pass. Now one could either see this as the typical “chutzpah” of students or be impressed with their entrepreneurial spirit. In a sense their inclusive approach could be regarded as an out of the box collaboration. And at its most empathic.

Empathy defined as “to put oneself in another’s shoes” and not to be confused sympathy which is to acknowledge another’s distress, is one of the keystone of collaborative learning. And I would exchange empathy with curiosity. Why? Because curiosity is by nature non-judgmental and being open to or curious about something which automatically suspends any judgment.

Sadly, my trainer acquaintance was not able to fulfill the students request given the systems that govern outcomes and individual marks. However, would the outcome have been different had she given them a collaborative project?


In the piece Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences? from The International review of research in open and distance learning, collaborative learning is defined as “a specific instruction method in which student teams explore a complex problem by merging multiple disciplines’ concepts, perspectives, and methods “. It’s a succinct definition. Collaboration is all good and dandy. But here’s the rub.

Insights and contradictions

Western society is very much centered on the individual. “My rights, my feelings” all take center stage. Individualism reigns supreme. The rally cry of “be the best”, “standout”, “be noticed”. Get the best marks be original, compete in a dog eats dog way forgetting (or worse still denying) at our peril that nature, the world and our lives simply cannot exist without collaboration whether its hidden or formal. It’s the power behind the individual from the cleaner who cleans the office at work enabling us to work comfortably, the president’s secretary, or Beyonce’s assistant. Life and work are one giant collaborative dance.

On the one hand we are asking students to shine as individuals and on the other hand we are asking them to be collaborative to share which has all the elements of creating a classic double bind situation unless handled carefully. How do we construct a bridge between these diametrically opposed poles? Consider two major considerations 1) assignments built around “cognitive and socio-emotional interactions” and 2) gaining the students buy in.  With regard the assignments these should use the elements of curiosity (in place of empathy) perspective- taking, communication and cooperation as mentioned in The COVID-19 paradox of online collaborative education: when you cannot physically meet, you need more social interactions.

How do you gain students buy in? By making common grounda base line and acknowledging where they come from attitudinally and where they feel they are heading. It’s important to acknowledge that some students are taking a course under duress. Maybe parents want their offspring to get a qualification, but the student does not want to be at the college. This could impact negatively on the individual and on the group in terms of a collaborative assignment. However, once the situation is aired and acknowledged there is a chance of moving forward and a greater possibility of students buy in. Bearing in mind that not all motivation, whether instrinsic or extrinsic is born equal.

My work profile

I’m a lecturer at a privately owned film and media college which offers animation, multimedia, acting, art direction, photography and sound engineering. Like many creative fields these courses require collaboration whether it’s via the hidden curriculum or the formal curriculum to succeed.  Whether it’s staff with staff, student with student, staff and student. While some courses such as film / TV and acting are more collaborative in ethos than animation, not all mark bearing assignments are collaborative or cross curricula based. Sometimes the collaboration opportunity is informal and not mark related but vital experientially for the participating student. Practical assignments are more collaborative friendly than theory but that’s not to say that theory can’t be collaborative too.


As for digital tools in collaborative learning and teaching -I’ve been exposed to a whole cosmos of wonderful possibilities on this course. Some of which I’ve shared with staff and got my students to use by integrating them into assignments and in lectures. But I often feel overwhelmed by the choice and I am not always impressed by them so I limit my toolbox to just a few trusted ones.

The Personal

My whole life is actually one big collaboration, formal or informal. Whether its working with students or staff or freelancing as an arts journalist interviewing people for my articles and discussing ideas with fellow creatives which could be seen as collaborative but when it comes to the writing and thinking I’m a lone wolf.  Howl.

Lucinda Jolly 2022-11-23 13:11:00