From [Marc Abrams (2004.03.19.1540)]

I would like to propose a unique way of 'moderating CSGnet.

Let each person who begins a new thread become the 'moderator' for that
thread. Each person has different 'standards' and as such each
'conversation' would take the 'personality' of the people engaged. If
you don't like the people involved or the topic stay out of the thread.
Let each person decide what is and is not 'acceptable'.

I would also suggest that each read this piece by Peter Small and that
CSGnet try for a 'collaborative' rather than a 'cooperative' learning

From Peter Small to me:

The starting premise is a proposition put by John Dewey over eighty
years ago: "Education is not an affair of 'telling' and being told,
but an active and constructive process". In explaining that the
acquisition of knowledge is more than simply the transference of
information from one head to another, Dr. Panitz makes a critically
important distinction between cooperative and collaborative learning.
He defines cooperation and collaboration as follows:

Cooperation is a structure of interaction designed to facilitate the
accomplishment of a specific end product or goal through people
working together in groups.

Collaboration is a philosophy of interaction and personal lifestyle
where individuals are responsible for their actions, including
learning and respect the abilities and contributions of their peers.

At first sight, these definitions would seem to be saying much these
same thing, or, at the most, to involve a considerable amount of
overlap. Dr. Panitz's insight shows them to describe two totally
different mind sets. Just as the box like shape in figure 6.1 can
exist in two perspectives, there is a paradigm shift involved here
where it is easy for the conscious mind to get stuck in one of them
and to be totally oblivious of the other.

The old paradigm for teaching and learning was that the knowledgeable
should teach the unknowledgeable: those with knowledge should pass
this knowledge on to receptive students who accepted and absorbed the
knowledge in a passive way. More modern educators are dropping this
approach in deference to much research that has shown knowledge isn't
learned parrot fashion, but, involves individual processing by the
students -; who construct their own internal ordering of any
knowledge or information they receive.

This newer wisdom says that knowledge learned by students isn't
simply put into some kind of neural database to be withdrawn on
demand, but, is used to build cognitive structures that can apply the
knowledge in novel situations. In this way, knowledge is thought of
as building blocks that not only create new cognitive structures but
also modifies and extends existing ones.

In this paradigm, the teaching is not simple a matter of transferring
information but assisting students in the dynamic process of creating
internal mental models. As each student will have individual
abilities, capabilities, brain structures and prior knowledge, no two
individual cognitive structures will be identical, so, no student can
make identical use of any information or knowledge they receive.

Given that learning is very much an individual process it is
incumbent upon each individual student to test out their own mental
structures to ensure that the mental models they are building for
themselves are viable and will lead to rational predictions and
decision making. For this purpose, the modern educators will
encourage students to interact and communicate with each other, so
that they can use each other to test, modify or reinforce the
cognitive structures they are building, during the learning process.

With the teacher also becoming involved in this interaction the
knowledge of the teacher will gradually propagate throughout the
group, in some cases by direct transference of knowledge and
information , but, also indirectly as students learn from each other.

This paradigm then, sees learning as a combination of a personal and
social activity where teachers have to be able to build positive
relationships with students and create the conditions within which
students can establish caring and committed relationships with each

Cooperative learning environments

Based upon the understanding that learning is a dynamic process, many
educators create cooperative, team based organizational structures
within which they can transfer their knowledge to students. The
emphasis is on social interaction, group structure and methods by
which group members combine and unite in the processes of creation,
analysis and application. Fundamental to this approach is that there
should be group managers or team leaders, with the teacher
instigating and directing the activities.

Cooperative encouragement is based upon interpersonal factors and a
joint aspiration to achieve a significant goal. It is assumed that
cooperative efforts are powered by motivations to receive recognition
or rewards. Focus is on relational concepts, dealing with what
happens among individuals rather than what happens within them. The
approach concentrates upon the organizing of social interaction and
relationships, usually involving prescribed behaviour at each step.
Significantly, the concept of the structure is divorced from the
actual activity, such that the same organisational structures can be
applied to any task.

These organisational structures are then put into practice, by
assigning groups of students to work as teams on various projects,
allowing them to practice and refine their team-working skills. In
this way, team member strengths can be fully utilised and weaknesses
compensated for, as team members learn to complement each others
skills and knowledge to create a combined unit that can achieve much
more than the sum of its parts.

Cooperative learning methods concentrate on social skills; developing
self-esteem, responsibility, and respect for others. It is concerned
with social status and the management of conflict and the division of
tasks into various roles. Leadership and management are defined and

Limitations of the cooperative learning environment

Dr. Panitz refers to the writings of Ken Bruffee in observing that
cooperative learning is most appropriate when dealing with foundation
knowledge: defined as the fundamental areas of knowledge that all
agree upon. With cooperative learning, people are encouraged to come
together in groups, where they interact with each other in order to
accomplish a specific common goal or develop an end product.

But, Dr. Panitz also draws attention to Ken Bruffee's concern with
nonfoundational knowledge. This is the knowledge that deals with
uncertain knowledge and questions which have dubious or ambiguous
answers. This knowledge does not come from agreed and accepted
principles but through reasoning and judgment.

In teaching nonfoundational knowledge, it is necessary for students
to be taught how to question and doubt facts and information. Even
the teacher's authority, knowledge and judgment mustn't be taken for
granted. This removes the teacher from the centre of the educational
process and sees them as just another participant in a process of
enquiry: as much of a student as the students themselves.

Removing the authority, the leader or centre of focus of a group
completely changes the nature of the group itself. The rules which
define the all important structure of a cooperative learning
environment no longer apply. Who is to be the determinant of what is
right and what is wrong? Whom should respect whom? Whose opinion is
most valid in a situation where opinions differ? What common ground
can the group members focus on to achieve the group adhesion?

Clearly, the uncertainties and ambiguities, the lack of a central
authority, the dearth of fundamental agreed principles will be
devastating within a structured cooperative environment. This is the
problem that Dr. Panitz sees being tackled more appropriately using a
strategy of collaboration rather than cooperation.

Collaborative learning

To deal with non foundational knowledge -; where there are no
certainties of fact or opinion -; there cannot be a leader or central
authority, so, there has to be a transition from a closely
controlled, teacher-centered system to a student-centered system, where
the teacher and students share authority and control of learning.

This collaborative learning shifts the responsibility for learning
away from the teacher and on to the student. The student is seen as
being responsible for the results of his or her own learning,
knowledge construction and organisation. Learning is seen as a
process of interdependence where solutions and answers are possible
only through accessing the opinions and knowledge of others.

Students are seen as each having a boundary of individual knowledge
and opinion. They have to negotiate at that boundary with others, who
also have boundaries. Groups are not formed through conventions,
rules and protocols, but, by a melding of these boundaries to produce
a common boundary that brings people into association.

In this way, each student draws from a distributed pool of knowledge,
taking from it their own needs to build their individual cognitive
models that they can use to make their own unique judgments and
decisions. There is no compulsion for these models to be identical or
even similar, there is simply the restraint that they must be
compatible or complementary with others in the group.

The role of the teacher in this situation is simply to provide the
right atmosphere and ambience for students to interact in a way where
information, ideas, knowledge and opinions are freely exchanged and
the students are able to test out their cognitive models on each

The essence of this process is that nobody tries to convince or
influence others. Disagreements occur where there is a conflict of
opinion, but, the pressure is not on trying to change the thoughts of
others: disagreement is a signal for self reflection and a
reappraisal of one's own knowledge base and methods of reasoning.
This is in sharp contrast to the cooperative learning process, where
uniformity of thought and thinking processes is important and the
pressure is for people to be brought into common alignment.

This way of learning requires a radical paradigm shift because it is
counter intuitive. Instinctive reactions to a differing of opinions
would see a struggle for the proponents to convince each other of the
error of their ways. With collaboration there is a respect for
differing opinions and they are regarded as something to learn from
and associate with rather than to change.

Disagreement and intellectual conflict in a collaborative learning
situation are thus seen as desirable features of a group learning
exercise. It forces individuals to consider new information and to be
able to apply their cognitive understanding to new settings. It
brings exposure to different points of view to allow students a more
objective examination of an environment and offers the opportunity to
see perspectives other than their own.

Collaborative learning on the Internet

It is only a short step to transfer the collaborative learning
environment of the college classroom to the Internet. In a virtual
world where communication is by email the classroom environment can
be simulated as a list serve. As the teacher in a collaborative
learning environment is not distinguishable from the students, there
is no need for any controlling authority. In fact, any of the
students can become a teacher and any teacher can become a student.

This is exactly the environment that is created in Internet e-mail
discussion forums and special interest groups. These have formed
spontaneously as self-organising groups that function specifically
for the purpose of the subscribers to collaborate in learning. There
is no controlling organisation. There is no pressure for everyone to
have the same knowledge or express the same opinions. Each person in
the group is responsible for building their own cognitive models and
extracting their own knowledge from each other.

It is highly significant that the teaching strategies advocated by
experienced educators have come up with exactly the kind of learning
environment that has evolved naturally on the Internet.