“It is incredibly empowering”

This morning, this blog article by Gary Hamel of the WSJ, “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500“, caught my attention.  Even though he wrote this list in with a focus on the management of companies in the coming years, one could easily adapt this list for education. Laura Blankenship had the same thought and posted her take on Hamel’s list in the context of education.  It’s a good list, I’ve pasted in below.  Item #8 is one that is rattling around my head this morning: 8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. As far as teachers go, I think they are not necessarily hoarders but if they aren’t connected to other teachers online, they haven’t seen and experieinced the power of sharing content and ideas – it’s fast, it’s easy, and it works.  Read this great post by one pre-service teacher who experienced sharing through her blogging and twitter – here’s a great quote:

I have never learned so much in my entire life until taking this class, and it was through sharing. Just like teaching, learning needs to be wide open and full of networking. Instead of handing in that assignment to one teacher, I am handing it in to the world and saying, “Take a look at me and what I think”. It is incredibly empowering when you think about it.

In addition to encouraging our teachers and students to share, schools, specifically independent schools, need to become more transparent to parents, faculty, and the community.  In the past, schools have tried to limit parent contact with teachers and administrators to certain times and certain avenues of “appropriate” communication.  (It took our school a long time to agree to post faculty email addresses on the school website).  Reasons for these limitations were to prevent the “helicopter parenting” syndrome, to help the students become self-advocates, and to prevent parents from questioning the ways and means of the school.  These are valid reasons but limiting communication and sharing is not the only way to achieve these goals.  If schools provide parents with more information and ask for more input, they become more transparent and provide parents less opportunity to question because the answers are all there.  Schools should provide more forums for parents to share and connect (this will help build and sustain the school community); they should have a informative website that is easy to navigate; and they should provide curriculum descriptions and assignments so parents can keep up with what their kids are doing at school.   The communciation needs to be “wide open” and I think schools will find that “it is incredible empowering”.

Here’s Laura Blankenship’s list and comments – see which ones resonate for you:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.

Instructors should value what students bring to the class and try to create an environment where the teacher isn’t the only expert in the room.  Both student and teacher bring value to the class on equal footing.  I try to point out when someone posts something interesting on our class blog that I didn’t know about or has an idea that didn’t occur to me in order to encourage the idea that student ideas are as important as mine.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.

The teacher at the front of the room obviously has more credentials than the students in the class, but teachers can work to encourage contribution from the students so that that is what’s valued in the class.  This is similar to #1 above, but  can be harder to overcome since students often look at credentials as a way of authenticating that the teacher’s contribution is more important.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.

Again, because of the received dynamic of the teacher as the expert, this is a hard one to aspire to, but it is true that certain students seem to rise to the top of in-class or online discussion.   The thing to watch out for is that the ones who don’t get an opportunity to contribute.  I think in a classroom, one actually wants to eliminate hierarchies as much as possible.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

Approaching teaching as something your doing for the students rather than as some kind of power mongering (I’ve seen this very rarely anyway) can really make your classroom a thriving place for your students.  Offer articles for papers, offer to meet to discuss ideas, and come to the classroom expecting to learn something rather than teaching something.  There’s a balance to be struck, of course, in that you have a limited amount of time, but being generous with what time you do have can go a long way.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.

I actually try to do this in most of my classes.  I don’t give topics for papers and sometimes give rather vague directives about page length, about image inclusion, etc.  I simply ask that it be argumentative and lean toward the academic rather than the casual.  This is very difficult for most students.  They’re used to doing what they’re told.  While assignments are generally necessary, giving students as much freedom within those assignments can help them learn how to choose tasks for themselves.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.

Anyone who teaches has watched groups of students form–those who sit together every class, who comment on each other’s posts or in-class comments.  One can capitalize on this by assigning those students to group projects.  I’ve heard feedback from my students about our small groups that they like to choose their groups.  Sometimes it may be necessary to organize groups for a particular kind of experience, but consider at least trying to let groups form on their own.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.

In a classroom, this probably doesn’t apply, but in the larger context of an institution, it would be nice if resource allocation were open to an extent that allows people to gravitate toward interesting ideas.  Instead, there’s still a top-down allocation process.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.

In the classroom, I always try to be as open as possible and I encourage my students to be as well.  That’s why we blog in public.  I think it’s important for students to see each other’s work and ideas.  At the institutional level, it would certainly be good to have that kind of sharing of information.  Technology could help with this process, but most institutions I know of haven’t yet gotten to the point of being able or willing to share information across the institution.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.

I’ve done this in many classes, posted potential readings and assignments and let students choose.  I’ve also allowed them to change the direction of the course by voting on it.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.

I’ve done this in class too.  It’s great when the students feel some ownership over the class.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.

This is a value I try to impart, but it’s very hard since many students are used to external rewards such as grades.  I, myself, like external rewards, but those can be very simple and usually I receive the greatest external rewards for projects that have had an instrinsic value for me.  I don’t have grades on individual assignments and I have students evaluate themselves, mostly focusing on what they learned from the class.

12. Hackers are heroes.

I celebrate the student who presents a contrary view–as long as they do so without hurting someone.  Class and blog discussions are most interesting when someone says, “I disagree and here’s why.”

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