|cc photo courtesy of Keith Allison|
So, what's the difference?
Is it "me" working with others or is it "we" learning together? It's admittedly muddy, and the two are often used interchangeably, but one (cooperative) focuses on individual contributions to a group project or guiding question while the other one (collaborative) focuses on learning & constructing together, regardless of role. With cooperative learning, there is a definite "me" in the team. In collaborative learning, there is only the "we."
Cooperative learning is much easier to quantify, so that may lend itself to our comfort level as teachers (easier to assess, give feedback, establish accountability, etc.). So why does "collaborate" appear instead of "cooperate" in state, national, and international standards for teaching & learning? Could it be that collaborating yields a deeper understanding than cooperating? Does the social nature of learning mean that learning alongside some else is more powerful than simply contributing your part or role? Perhaps it means that the challenges we will likely face on a global scale will require learning together more than it will require individual contributions to a "team" effort.
As leaders and educators, we need to think about how we work with each other as we, in turn, work with students. The two approaches have their place, but are we cognizant of how they are different? Are we focused on the "me" or embracing the "we"?