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April 5, 2006

Bruffee. Collaborative Learning and the “Conversation of Mankind�

Kenneth Bruffee proposes Collaborative Learning (CL) as a way to explore new conceptual biases in learning. Indeed changes in the philosophic conception of knowledge create a different rationale for CL. Bruffee outlines this by means of these four key elements:
1. Conversation, thought, and knowledge: In this view, intellectual activity usually takes the structure of dialogue. Thought is not an essential attribute of human beings but rather, “an artifact created by social interaction� p. 398. In simpler terms, “thought is internalized conversation� (p.399). Consequently writing is conceptualized as the re-externalization of internalized conversation, with a sequence: “We converse, we internalize conversation as a thought; and then by writing, we re-immerse conversation in its external, social medium� (p.400)

2. Normal discourse (ND): ND applies to conversation in a community of agreeing peers: “a group of people who accept, and whose work is guided by, the same paradigms and the same code of values and assumptions� (p.401). In Bruffee’s conception, when students work collaboratively, they actually “converse� and, as a result, are provided with the social context, common ground, and the kind of community in which ND can happen.

3. Authority of knowledge: Knowledge is the consequence of challenging beliefs and negotiating paradigms through conversation thus CL is a valuable opportunity that allows students to “negotiate their way into that conversation� (p.406).

4. New knowledge, abnormal discourse, and authority:
CL challenges the traditional structure of the classroom and thereby the authority of teachers: they are no longer defined as people in touch with privileged sources of knowledge, but “those members of a knowledge community who accept the responsibility for inducting members into the community� and, as a result, students have access to the “conversation of mankind� (p.410).
Additionally, abnormal discourse occurs when consensus no longer exists in the community of knowledge. If the disruption of normal discourse is successful, it is considered “revolutionary,� if not it is considered as “kooky� discourse. However, while teachers can only work with tools of ND, abnormal discourse is a device of creativity that could challenge “reliance on the canonical conventions and vocabulary of normal discourse� (p.408). The implication for writing instruction “involves demonstrating to students that they know something only when they can explain it in writing to the satisfaction of the community of their knowledgeable peers� (p.412).