Thursday, November 20, 2014

Co-learning Models: Meta-Cognition, Democratic Schools, and Entrepreneurs

I have some brief reactions to three of the topics that came up in last evening’s Connected Courses webinar (with Cathy Davidson & 3 of her students, David Preston and a students, Mia Zamora, Howard Rheingold, & Alec Couros), Successful Co-learning Models: 1) metacognition, 2) before higher ed, and 3) start-ups.


Cathy Davidson talked about how she had students write their own letters of evaluation and how the things they wrote surprised and, I gather, delighted her. Starting about 15:50 in:
... self-knowledge, or learning how I thought, Howard would call it metacognition, those introspective words were the words that came up more in people’s self-evaluation or what they learned, even if they were talking about project learning, than I ever in any other way would have thought about, and I’ve never see that in the literature. Where somehow learning how to coll[borate]…putting together what everyone has said. Learning to work with others makes you think about who you are. I mean, that makes sense as social creatures that it would. But it was fascinating to read those letters.
Yes. If you are going to learn to learn, then you need to think about your learning process, you need to think about how you think.

Putting my Piagetian hat on I note that Piaget argued that later cognitive stages bootstrapped over earlier stages through a process he called reflective abstraction. The mechanisms of cognition at stage N become the objects of cognition at N+1. Is that process what those students were reporting in their self-evaluations?

There is, of course, a Vygotskian angle as well, which Davidson indicated when she noted: “Learning to work with others makes you think about who you are.” As students query one another and respond to those queries they come to internalize the query function, which serves as a bootstrap mechanism.

And if, as Davidson suggested, this isn’t in the literature, then here’s a whiz-bang dissertation project for someone ready to take it on.

Before Higher Ed

OK, so this is all fine and dandy. But it’s mostly higher education. How are students coming out of standard-issue secondary schools going to adapt to this kind of educational regime, which is totally foreign to them? When your whole education to this point has been about following the teacher, how do you make the transition to taking over your own education?

It’s tough.

The problem, alas, is that we’ve got a large well-funded education reform movement that’s basically dedicated to more effective versions of the standard educational model. Have students do more work, jump through higher hoops, and pay higher salaries to teachers who train the best jumpers.

But THAT education reform movement isn’t the only one out there. There’s also a movement organized around the idea of democratic schools where students take an active role in designing their curriculum, school governance, and in admitting new students to the school. A number of years ago I visited one such school in Maine, Liberty School (now defunct) and I know the founder, Arnold Greenberg. Here an article he’s written: Counting What Can’t be Counted. Here’s a passage from a news article about Liberty School:
“We need to look at new forms of assessment, new ways of measuring what we do in a school like Liberty,” Greenberg said.

The students also will design, facilitate and evaluate forums on democratic schools and other educational topics, he said.

One proposal calls for students to operate a business and a 1-acre microfarm on which they can experiment with different types of farm technology and become more self-sufficient. Another proposal involves a personal physical fitness component focusing on wilderness survival, rock climbing and kayaking, and other activities that help develop self-confidence and self-esteem which, Greenberg said, can transfer into learning.
The Entrepreneurial Class

At places the discussion sounded like you run a co-learning classroom like a start-up company – I believe there were two entrepreneurs in the discussion (one young, and the other even younger). Start-ups exist in a volatile environment where there’s no guarantee of success. There are no multiple-choice tests you can pass to get at A. No essay questions or labs either.

You have to figure out how to make you produce with whatever skills and resources are at hand and sell it into the existing marketplace. While there are rules of thumb about what to do and how to do it, there’s no guarantee. If you’ve got investors, they’ll give you guidance, but they don’t want to step in and run the company. That’s your job.

Does that make the teacher of a co-learning class something like the lead investor in a start-up?


  1. Hi Bill, I think I misheard your comment and thus mis-answered in that very crowded room. There is in fact an extensive literature on metacognition in online learning. Sorry about the confusion. Best, Cathy Davidson

  2. Well, now I AM confused. What interests me is what you said in the webinar, which I quoted above. That wasn't about metacognition in online learning general, but about metacognition in self evaluation of online learning.