“Alone Together” Vs Group Activity

I’m just completing a fantastic book titled, Alone Together.

The title, while it gives you a sense of our connectedness –and isolation– does not tell you the other half of the analysis Sherry Turkle makes.

I thought of this as a jumping off point for this post because of two things that happened this week.

The first was a class I began on Simple Machines, for 1st graders. They love coming to my lab and trying to get their hands on robots and wires and such. So I decided to take a break from talking computers and introduce some concepts of what makes machines work, what simple machines are part of more complex ones.

I broke them up into three groups, and after a short introduction on three different technologies, gave them a handful of parts and got them to build a machine with wheels. I left the specs open, deliberately. I even randomly left out a few components. Their task was to problem-solve and build a machine in limited time.

Within 10 minutes I had one group complete the task. I then upped the challenge adding a new piece, a lever, and asked them to upgrade their machine. Within 8 minutes, done!

It showed me that the urge to collaborate and problem solving for the common good is not on its way out as some have theorized. With the advent of personal and personalized everything, young people can and will  operate in groups; we cannot give up on them.

The second, was a conversation I had with a new teacher, who commented on the challenge of teaching students how to express themselves in a peer-to-peer setting. They are so used to communicating online, she said, that they seem to not have the right social skills to do it in real life settings.

Students come to my computer and technology lab to connect and to engage with knowledge ‘out there’. But that should not come at the expense of engaging with the those in the same room.

Turkle makes a distinction between the ‘ties that occupy’ vs the ‘ties that bind’.  Education is beginning to experiment with distance learning models, to help students engage with the other. Fine with me –and I do take my students into distance-learning events– as long as we put an emphasis on collaboration, not pre-occupation.

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