As a professional developer, I make extensive use of collaborative groups to generate and share knowledge. Stephen Downes says some pejorative things about groups, but I’ve recently seen some positive spin-offs from collaboration involving groups of educators from different institutions.
As part of the DFE project, I’ve seen how a small group of educators from a cluster of institutions can share and compare good practice from within their respective institutions and work together on a synthesis. For example, drawing together systems and tools for managing flexible learning development – individually these have some big gaps, but they can be synthesised to create something much more comprehensive and useful.
Rather than groups being a force which automatically homogenises everything into a bland conformity (Stephen’s ‘metal ingot’), they can build on the diversity of members and their shared goals to produce work of value which respects diversity. The results can be far more effective than the individuals could develop on their own.
I suspect one key factor is the effectiveness with which the group self-manages the tension between the diversity of its members and the shared goals to which they are working. In other words, the institutional capability is partly reliant on the personal capabilities of the individuals within the collaborative group. This illustrates an issue I raised in an earlier post: what is the relationship between individual and institutional capability? Systems and resources alone are not enough, and developing institutional capability must incorporate professional development which helps develop individuals’ capability as well as their skills and knowledge.