Understanding and coping with knowledge Gaps
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 judgement.
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 judgement 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.