In his essay Collaboration and the “Conversation of Mankind,” Kenneth Bruffee discusses the benefits of collaborative learning in the classroom, and encourages teachers to implement collaborative assignments in their classrooms. First off, Bruffee emphasizes the importance of dialogue between peers in helping to shape one’s ideas and develop one’s writing. Although Bruffee sees the benefits of (well-structured) collaboration as profound, he mentions that there are many obstacles standing in the way of effective collaboration. On Page 4, Bruffee cites the example of peer tutoring programs at colleges: many times they go unused. This is because students either do not recognize the importance of collaboration in terms of helping them succeed in the classroom, or because they mistrust it. However, Bruffee sees the discourse that comes from collaboration as beneficial, both in terms of students’ idea formation and writing processes.
Bruffee then discusses the idea of knowledge as a process of negotiation, in which ideas become more developed when they are discussed, especially because not everyone has the same point of view (this is what Bruffee calls “abnormal discourse”). When ideas are called into question, they also challenge the traditional hierarchy of the classroom.
Bruffee also talks about the idea of “knowledge communities.” Teachers, as figures of authority, have the responsibility to pass down some ideas, as well as be open to new ones. In doing so, Bruffee states, teachers should act as “conservators and agents of change.” Bruffee also debates whether knowledge is a “social artifact,” coming from an individual’s own thoughts, or a “socially justified belief,” being determined by those around us. Therefore, for a knowledge community (of teachers and students) to be robust, both teachers and students must be flexible and open to the idea of working towards effective collaboration.