As I approach the final 100 days of my undergraduate career I have naturally started to reflect back upon my time in school. I am happy to report that besides some awkward preteen moments and the occasional all night study sessions (yes I’m talking about you Spring 2013 Finals Week) I have thoroughly enjoyed all my years of learning. Yet there is still one thing that I have never enjoyed and that would have to be group projects. Do not get me wrong collaboration is key in the professional world and I will touch more upon that later, but for as far back as I can remember any time a teacher or professor mentioned a group project the classroom usually felt a little bit more glum.
So what is the reason for this nearly universal dislike of group projects at both the primary and secondary levels of education? My reasoning is that throughout our child and young adult lives we are continually discouraged from actively collaborating while in school, which is arguably our job. Sharing answers is cheating, talking is not allowed and electronic devices are banned. So here I am conditioned to do work by and for myself until about one day a year they decide to stick a bunch of trained non-collaborators together and tell us to collaborate. Cue feelings of glum.
Now I have worked many different places, spanning from fast food, to factories, to offices and farms and the one thing they all have in common is that if you needed help with something you just found the someone or something to help you. In these environments one is not penalized for simply utilizing the resources at their disposal. Imagine what educational facilities could accomplish if they stopped putting every student into an academic silo and instead fostered their collective intelligence? Madness I know.
I cannot sit here and type that I completely understand the finer nuances of the world of education, because I do not. But I can read. And I know how to pay attention. So what I have been reading and paying attention to is that the professional world has been breaking from their cubicles and fostering their office’s collective intelligence. Bravo has been really great at this from an intern’s perspective as I watch people spread out across three different offices function and communicate as if they are all sitting in the same room.
At the end of the day, I believe there is an increasing disconnect between the realities of the classroom and the realities of the workplace and while there is no simple one-step solution the best place to start may be removing the silos that exist within the traditional education model. Luckily, within Pennsylvania, there has been a recent rise in both public and private organizations that address the modern needs of the 21st century student. U-Gro pre-schools and CCA cyber charter school offer programs built around the ideas of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity which are arguably the foundations of any modern work environment. While Pennsylvania State University and The Center for Rural Pennsylvania recently conducted a study proposing new legislative action in order to help ease the financial burdens placed on non-traditional students, opening up education to a much broader audience and thus working to utilize an even greater percentage of Pennsylvania’s collective intelligence. As time goes on I predict that the truly successful people in life are going to be those who have mastered the skills of communication and collaboration compared to their peers whose claim to fame is their ability to do calculus without a calculator.
Nick Furar, Pittsburgh Office intern