Quislings and Rogue Collaborators

Collaboration, an easy on the ear term that permeates educational discussions. I wonder though if we might mistake co-operation with collaboration.  Peggy Sheehy was talking in Warcraft this weekend about the dynamics of collaboration in the Alliance citadel of Stormwind.

A striking conversation worth sharing. It again highlights why studies show gamers make better collaborators – and why reading blogs is just the surface of connected knowledge.

Take a Warcraft ‘raid’ for example (a factional battle between players on opposing sides). You can’t win if everyone is a warrior, nor vanquish the opposition if everyone is a Healer. It takes a dynamic. Learning how to construct a dynamic is really hard, as it involves personality, behavior and belief. Group work in school often fails, because the teacher assigns roles to students – or attempts to, because they themselves experience this in their lives.

Not all collaboration is healthy. It is not all positive. Take for example the Quisling class of empire-appointed leaders.

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian who identified more closely with the Nazi Third Reich than with his own nation’s heritage. He tried and failed to become Norway’s leader before the Second World War. After the German occupation of Norway in World War II, Quisling served as Hitler’s front-man and puppet leader. After the war, Quisling was captured and executed by the Norwegians, but he gave his name as the 20th Century definition of a collaborators.

Quislings identify more with occupying authority than they do with the people whom they seek to influence. Most of us are professionals, we are second-tier collaborators who get the job done – as even working with the Quisling is better than mass disorder and uncertainty of having no leader at all.

Leaders understand the value of dynamic-collaboration. Quislings understand it too, but are not true-leaders. They seek to serve the higher authority and in so doing maintain their elite status. We have to be very aware that collaboration is not one thing, but a complex set of behaviours.

‘Working together” is not collaboration per se.

Peggy pointed out another teachable moment in Warcraft. She talked about the importance of defining ‘class’ and ‘race’ structures in the game to promote critical thought – about the dynamics of collaboration itself. (Amazing huh).

To succeed in a group task, typically you MUST have a Healer, a Warrior, a Rogue etc.,  to have a positive, beneficial impact on group success. Being able to select your role is important – to understand YOUR limitations and strengths is even more important. In games, there are extensive, visible ways to measure this. In the classroom – it’s a mystery, and made worse when teacher-assigned dynamics are used. Understanding yourself and others in a group dynamic is critical to it’s success.

A collaborative classroom, is less effective if students are assigned groups and given roles. This is a hypothasis I’m currently exploring with a group of students working in a wiki. In life, some people collaborate negatively – the opportunists who find reward in others misery is natural disasters, warriors  who sell their strength to the highest bidder becoming Corporate Lawyers for Fortune 500 Companies etc., and the masses who simply comply in order to collaborate as they feel disempowered from doing anything radical. “I have bills to pay” etc.,

I love how Peggy was using Warcraft to teach students, not just about collaboration, but about themselves – and in doing so, knows more about them as people – not students. Collaboration is not all positive; forced collaboration is not leadership – and the masses know it. Why do I let my kids play WoW – because they interact with people like Peggy all the time and they can spot a Quisling at 10,000 feet.