‘Collaborating2Create’: Developing learners’ capacity for collaborative creativity through linking education and enterprise

Twiner, Alison; Major, Louis and Wegerif, Rupert (2021). ‘Collaborating2Create’: Developing learners’ capacity for collaborative creativity through linking education and enterprise. In: American Educational Research Association Conference, Apr 2021, Online.


Collaboration and creativity represent complex competencies some claim are essential in the workplace. Furthermore, many employers report a significant number of students leave education unequipped with such skills. In spite of this, there remains uncertainty of how to teach these competencies. This paper evidences how a conceptual tool to support educational design – Collaborating2Create – was co-constructed through Design-Based Research, to support teachers in responding to this need. C2C is not a combination of collaboration and creativity: rather it focuses on the middle of the Venn diagram where collaboration and creativity intentionally intersect. Through case study analysis the paper illustrates how C2C was developed, integrated and observed in group interactions.

Extended abstract
1. Introduction
This paper outlines the development, implementation and instantiation of a conceptual tool – Collaborating2Create, or C2C. C2C has been iteratively designed to promote a dialogic approach and embed collaborative creativity within educational activities that are aligned to the world of work. The Design-Based Research undertaken to develop the tool will be evidenced, and case study analysis presented to illustrate how C2C manifests within classroom interaction.

2. Objectives of this paper
To respond to the challenge that teachers must develop students’ collaborative creativity;
To respond to the call from employers that many students leave education without the skills needed for the world of work – including the essential skill of being able to collaborate with each other in a way that leads to innovation and creativity;
To offer and illustrate a conceptual tool – Collaborating2Create, or C2C – that can support teachers in developing students’ capacity for collaborative creativity, through an educational programme designed to embed skills that promote effective use of dialogue and prepare students for the world of work.

3. Theoretical framework
3.1 Linking education and the world of work
By the time somebody aged 11 today is 21, it is conservatively estimated around 400 million people globally will have lost their jobs due to technological advances such as automation (Manyika, et al., 2017). However, the same advances in technology will also provide new employment possibilities, new categories of jobs being created and the redefinition of many existing roles (World Economic Forum, 2018). New approaches to education are needed if young people are to take advantage of such opportunities. It is important to note that these figures relate to the outlook before COVID-19. Complex competencies are likely to be even more in demand in the post-pandemic world.

Thus it is all the more true, and broadly recognised (if sometimes disputed), that education in the 21st Century must include education for the skills needed in a rapidly-changing future world (Wagner, 2010). Also commonly referred to as ‘21st Century’ or ‘future’ skills, these are primarily complex cognitive processes and higher-order thinking skills (Greiff, Niepel & Wüstenberg, 2015). This paper is motivated by increasing attention to one complex competency: the ability to work creatively in a team. It considers the value of linking education to real-world contexts to promote ‘group’ or ‘collaborative’ creativity, where group creativity is oriented to authentic workplace challenges. In so doing, it responds to recent calls for schools to better develop learners’ capacity to be creative (Richardson & Mishra, 2018).

Drawing on empirical examples from within the project’s larger and rigorous Design-Based Research approach, it reports on the theoretical development of ‘Collaborating2Create’, or C2C. Through this, C2C is presented as an instrument for teaching group creativity in the context of secondary (high) school provision by linking authentically to the world of work.

4. Methods
The focus of this paper is guided by the research question:
How can a conceptual tool be developed and used to support teachers and learners in promoting collaborative creativity?

To address this question, an exemplar case study is presented from a larger two-year project, to focus on rich examples of teaching and learning interactions and to exemplify the focal concept of Collaborating2Create. The broader project is a collaboration between a UK University and two global industry partners, working initially with students aged 11-14 in schools in ‘Education Opportunity Areas’ where social mobility has traditionally been low. Motivated by the ambition of ensuring all young people have access to high-quality education, training and employment, the project features stakeholders working collaboratively to raise educational standards and aspirations.

As alluded to above, the project’s approach in developing resources and working with teachers is grounded in Design-Based Research, or DBR (Bakker, 2019; Brown, 1992). DBR pays mutual attention to developing a workable design and to extending research – or theory. It responds to demand for rigorous and systematic ways of developing practically-relevant educational materials, activities and environments, through iterative efforts to understand user needs, and evaluation of trials in practice. The project’s DBR approach involved partnership between University-based educational researchers, industry colleagues and participating teachers as genuine teacher-researchers. This paper will particularly explain how a rationale was formed for developing authentic workplace contexts in which students could learn and apply skills around collaborative creativity, alongside understanding of educational contexts and curricular requirements. By addressing this issue of ‘how to teach for collaborative creativity’ from the contextual and required outcomes points of view, the conceptual tool of Collaborating2Create was co-constructed through an iterative process of development, trialling and revision. The importance of being explicit about ‘dialogic intentions’ (drawing on Warwick, et al., 2020) was also foundational to project aims, and strongly influenced the development of C2C as a conceptual tool. Thus in laying the groundwork for C2C in classroom interaction, teachers and students needed to be shown why a focus on group ground rules for talk could support effective collaboration, in order to support sharing, exploring and combining ideas to feed creativity.

Contextual details for the specific case study are outlined in the next Section. Informed by the Scheme for Educational Dialogue Analysis (SEDA: Hennessy, et al., 2016), qualitative discourse analysis (also drawing on Mercer, 2004) has enabled C2C as manifest in the observed lessons to be explored. The study has been submitted to and approved by the University’s ethical board.

5. Data sources
Working closely with Design and Technology (D&T) and Computing teachers during the 2019/20 academic year, prior to the disruption by COVID-19, data collected in four ‘lead research schools’ includes 12 video-recorded lesson observations, post-programme interviews and workshops with eight teachers, five focus groups and 81 surveys with over 200 students. Participating classes followed a challenge-based learning intervention (drawing on Apple, 2010; Nichols, et al., 2016) in small groups over six weeks. Groups explored a ‘global challenge’, conducted research around user requirements and material properties, and designed, modelled or built a solution. Embedded throughout the programme lessons and activities was a focus on developing C2C: teachers introduced it to students, facilitated how to put it into practice, and demonstrated its relevance to the world of work. This paper focuses on one observed D&T lesson, to present a particularly rich case study example of one group as they worked on their design and discussed underpinning ideas and rationale. This lesson and group were selected primarily for practical reasons: clarity of audio data, and scope to ‘follow’ one group through a number of linked activities in order to track interaction over time.

5.1 Context and Participants
The Year 7 class (students aged 11 and 12) were seeking to develop a local solution in their groups to address the global challenge of climate change. In the focal lesson, groups were designing a logo to represent their idea or product. There were 14 students spread across five groups in the class on the observed day (a relatively small number for a UK class). One group was selected for close video-recording.

The focal group (one boy and two girls) were designing a charging unit that could charge six devices simultaneously, claiming also that devices would hold their charge for longer and that this charging unit would be more energy efficient than others currently available (note: the group were focusing on the design and idea of the product, not on the technical capability to be able to do this). As a group they discussed what they considered important in their design, that needed to be portrayed in the logo.

The complex interweaving, ‘interthinking’ (Littleton & Mercer, 2013) and ‘Collaborating2Create’ is made salient through microanalysis of dialogic interaction between students amongst themselves and when facilitated by the teacher, and around their paper drawings of design ideas. Presentation of extracts and analytic commentary will highlight how the students demonstrated C2C in their naturally-occurring interactions, mediated by the teacher, and how such practices are relevant to the world of work.

6. Results
During the presentation, extracts from the case study will be presented. This includes embedded analytic commentary to evidence features within the group’s unfolding interactions that exemplify C2C and links to the world of work, and how these are promoted. Notably, it will be shown how group members switch between individual and group identity or identification, moving between what ‘we want’, expressing that ‘we need something unique’ (for their product idea); to stating that ‘I’m still going to do my leaf because it’s my own idea’, and ‘I just thought of that idea’. Data exemplifies how the group effectively used talk to move from being seemingly polarised in their views, potentially struggling with fixation having thought of one idea, and being perhaps impervious or unwilling to accommodate peers’ critique or alternatives. Data also evidences how one group member drew in examples from industry and from his wider knowledge of existing, successful logos, which on their own are not transparent but become known through familiarisation, to support his position in sticking to his initial idea. Thus awareness of C2C as a ‘dialogic intention’ offers a valuable conceptual tool to teachers and students: to monitor that they are listening to each other, checking their understanding, and genuinely working together to pool and develop threads of ideas.

In spite of some apparent polarisation however there are moments – as will be shown – where the students engage with each other’s arguments and critique, and invite suggestions, in order to design something together, combined with the teacher’s engaged facilitation encouraging them to consider each other’s views and offer rationale for their ideas – reaffirming the group’s ground rules. A playful interpretation and discussion amongst the group, ‘it almost looks like you're promoting that you can charge straight from the leaf’, leads them to consider something none of them had thought of independently in terms of product design and capability. Such spontaneous ‘sparking’ of ideas off each other vividly exposes the value of collaborative creativity. One group member summarised the power of C2C, and her awareness of it as a dialogic intention, by stating: ‘ours are both great ideas, so putting them together creates one amazing great idea’. As indicated by the drawing in of existing successful logos, analytic commentary will highlight various alignments the group make within their discussion between their ideas and the world of work, in embracing the authentic nature of their project.

7. Scholarly significance
This paper presents analysis of a case study within a larger DBR project, to offer and illustrate Collaborating2Create as a conceptual tool to support educational design for promoting creativity within classroom interaction. Of course, and as will be illustrated in the presented examples, it is how contributions are taken up by the group, collaboratively and in context, that influences whether such contributions and responses are deemed to be creative or feed creativity. The paper and presentation will outline a focussed tool that can help design pedagogy for group creativity. It will illustrate how the tool was developed and how it works, and how it can be encouraged and observed in naturally-occurring classroom interaction – through explicit attention to C2C as a dialogic intention. Through this work, we have developed a tool to promote a classroom culture where group creativity is accepted, encouraged and nurtured; where students take ownership of the creative process and products in exploring solutions to challenges that are understood, meaningful and important to them – in preparation for the world of work. It is argued therefore, as a key contribution of this paper, that C2C offers both a useful conceptual tool for teachers wishing to embed group creativity within interaction – through understanding of what promotes or hinders such patterns; whilst also equipping students with understanding and application of key skills required as they enter the world of work. This reflects a view that it is our collective educational responsibility to prepare students not only for their immediate academic context, but also to open doors and equip students for often-unknown future work opportunities in the post-pandemic world.

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