Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Knowledge Pools --> Social Media --> Collective Cognition

Justin Rogers-Cooper

Classes that think online teach other. Students that learn from each other combine knowledge. Students that combine knowledge perform better individually, but do so while their individual work more openly 'echoes' the work of other students.

Learning Objectives

Knowledge, Comprehension, Analysis

Knowledge Pools: Assignment Description

Last Monday the students in my Language and Human Rights class wrote blogs that summarized the main elements of non-violent theory. Here's how they did it: first, each group was assigned a different essay by MLK, Jr, on non-violence. Each group summarized the main points and found/defined keywords. They all read/re-read the essays and found a consensus about the main ideas.

Then I paired each group with another group: I told them to teach other the essays they discussed in their groups. The students in one group took notes on what the other students taught them. The groups then blogged about what they were taught, *not* about the essay their group first discused.

In some cases, I joined a third group to the these new, larger groups. They all then taught each other the new material in big bunches.

Social Media: How it Went

In the next class on Wednesday, we started off with their blogs. I listed several main ideas from their blogs on the board, and then we opened the MLK text to some of the main ideas they were working with. The point of the day was to move the discussion of non-violent theory into an analysis about how non-violence actually works. So after our discussion, we watched clips from the PBS documentary Citizen King on the Birmingham March in 1963. After pausing and discussing what we saw throughout, we had a brief discussion about the main ideas.

I then told the students to brainstorm on Twitter - and an outpouring of at least 50 Tweets sparked and rippled througth the class. I had the Twitter feed on the projector and we watched the ideas water through. Some of the Tweets overlapped with each other, while others pushed new ideas into the mix. The students were writing and thinking in real-time, but sharing every thought with one another. You could see knowledge as a kind of liquid pouring through the classroom, and see it freeze into different themes.

Collective Cognition: Conclusions

As the students Tweeted, I would yell out insightful examples and exclaim out new ideas. When they finished, I told them to use the Tweets as a basis for a revised blog. Since the Tweets were full of original critical thinking, they were to comb through the ideas and match them into the non-violent theories they wrote in their Monday blogs. Students used the rest of the class time to draft paragraphs that used Citizen King as an example for them to analyze and to develop critical thinking around non-violence.

It has occured to me more frequently and more forcefully of late that the students are sharing both summaries and critical thinking with each other. Yes, each student is authentically conjuring new ideas - but some of the more compelling ideas end up finding their way into student essays (nearly everything they write ends up in an essay). Where does the border between one student and another begin and end? Since they're composing together, they cheer each other on with new ideas and add to and contest each other's work. Plagiarism be damned: this is the knowledge pool organized into social media, and then shaped into scholarship!

In all my classes I've noticed that the students learn more from teaching each other and from learning from each other than any other method.

Social media helps students become teachers.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sounds very Vygotskian: His social development theory. held that "social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end product of socialization and social behavior." Vygotsky. He died in 1937.

  3. Interesting. I'll have to refresh myself!

  4. It sounds like students were engaged and energetic during this class session. I agree that people learn best when they learn from each other while incorporating outside materials that expand their knowledge base. It's also great prep for their professional lives. Glad to hear your session went so well.

  5. This is something we really have to keep at the forefront of our minds as we teach - that students learn most when they teach each other! Thanks, Justin, for showing us a wonderful example of that!

  6. The sense of learning, flow and energy is palpable in your description! This is true engagement. In my experience, work produced by vibrant collaboration is qualitatively better than that of individuals.

  7. "Social media helps students become teachers. "
    And maybe teachers become students, too?