by Barry Gelston
One concern about homeschooling which makes rounds in the education community is that the educational setting of homeschooling inhibits homeschoolers’ ability to collaborate.
This implication that homeschoolers only work in seclusion doesn’t make sense to me. Here I am working with kids online from around the world, supported by today’s technology and connecting to each other in group settings from online gaming to fan fiction to citizen science. Many people are totally unaware of the rich 35+ year history of families coming together in homeschooling and unschooling groups to explore, collaborate on projects, and co-learn. This comment also tells me that people overestimate the assumption that young people actually learn to collaborate in a school settings where collaboration and collective problem-solving is often discouraged.
Still, as I reflected on this concern, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing online collaborative learning experiences for young gifted teens that supported the development of online collaboration skills as a core experience.
My partner Claudia L’Amoreaux and I agree (as do other creative folks like Vint Cerf and Howard Rheingold) about the importance of collaboration as a central skill today. We are especially aware that learning to collaborate effectively takes real life contexts to practice. I’m in Boston, close to the MIT Media Lab, a hub of collaborative process and inspiration for new styles of learning. Claudia is in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the heart of Silicon Valley innovation. She brings deep experience in online collaborative learning to the project. Our mutual appreciation for collaboration motivated us to join forces and co-found the Collaboratory Zone, an online learning environment that helps teens develop collaborative skills in the context of their individual passions and concern for contributing to the Greater Good.
As we developed our project, one thing became clear: as distributed learners, homeschool and unschool teens can uniquely benefit from a radically transformed learning environment enabled by the internet and mobile technologies. The next generation of leaders will come from people who have developed their own passionate interests and can execute their vision working with others in a connected world.
Programs in the Collaboratory Zone scaffold collaboration skills such as compassionate communication, project management, organization and time design, talking about work in progress, and giving and receiving kind and caring feedback. So we are not “teaching” collaboration: the collaboration emerges in the context of real-world, interest-driven activities. Our initial offerings focus on the new journalism (SoJo Studio), understanding and telling stories with data (Data Lab), becoming self-directed learners (Navigators), and #mathtinkering (Algebra and Programming).
Kids today are aware that the world offers big challenges to solve. We all need to do a better job at giving all young people rich opportunities to practice collaboration about things that really matter. Let’s avoid stereotypes and finger-pointing and celebrate the great examples we see in schools and in homeschool and unschool communities.