In 1990, Louise C. Orlando of Teaching and Computers, a long defunct magazine, asked Seymour Papert what most would consider a softball question based on a contemporary education craze of that period.
Interviewer: What do you think of cooperative learning?
Papert: I think it’s very bad when students are forced to work in groups. But, when the collaboration comes around naturally, some of the best things happen.
For example, there was one class that I was involved with that had a student who worked hard to be the very best at everything [particularly math]. As it turns out, when the class received computers, he wasn’t the best anymore. This led him to get together with another student who wasn’t as good in math, but was very good in music. By getting together, what rubbed off in the long run was that they both got a much deeper sense of communication. This was a good example of a collaborative experience in which two kids did something that neither of them could do alone. This was different from making six kids work together who have nothing in common.
Orlando, L.C. (1990) “The Lessons of Logo.” In Teaching and Computers. March/April 1990. Volume 7, No. 5.
Curator’s note: Normally, this site avoids editorial comments and let’s Dr. Papert’s words speak for themselves. However, a stunning piece of research on classroom collaboration and “project-based learning” has been published recently and features conclusions, consistent with Papert’s comments above, that may surprise educators today. Read Problem-Based Learning in K–12 Education
Is it Effective and How Does it Achieve its Effects? for more details.