January 05, 2007

Collective dumbness vs Individual intelligence

Kathy's at it again with a brill post: brilliantly written and brilliantly timed. As Will laments the same old discussions taking place in the echo chamber Andy and others feel we all inhabit, it's Kathy who sums up some of what I feel: as the web and the groups within it grow never has it been more important to keep your individuality and continue exploring what you feel is right.

2006 was characterised in the edublogging world by online gatherings of people trying to create the definitive internet safety qualification, the definitive blogging guide, the definitive definition of edublogging, even. Yet all of this seems horribly inadequate. As my mum's not been slow to point out off the blogging record, "people seem to talk a lot about the same thing".

Does this mean that classrooms all over the world resemble each other? If my travels around Web 2.0-ed classrooms are anything to go by almost certainly not. However, when people have tried to gather intelligence of an online educational community what we end up with is what Kathy would categorise "the dumbness of crowds". It's not that the ideas are particularly poor but they aren't sticky, persuasive and certainly have less effect than if they were daring, risky and set an agenda that would be different - truly different - from what we are dissatisfied with in our current systems.

So how do we harness the "wisdom of crowds", collective intelligence instead of encouraging more collective dumbing down?

Edublogging can't always be new ideas - and rarely is
In East Lothian, my current point of reference for how things can be organised, I have been at pains to try and avoid anything uniform. We haven't even got a badge for the project's many blogs (should we ever get one?) and the homepage of the project will not boast about "how great this project is" or showcase any one set of bloggers (and RSS-fed rivers of blog posts from around the Authority tend to favour those who post often, missing out those who post less but are just as interesting). The homepage will, instead, comprise of two buttons. Nothing more.

I don't want people to feel that they are writing along with colleagues on similar issues with fairly parallel views. I want them to feel a little edgy, that they are contributing something that has not yet been said. To do this, of course, you need to know what's already passed under the bridge - not easy/impossible if you're new to reading blogs. This is all part of the learning curve that people like Will have gone through. It's important that we give space to those who haven't been there yet and don't belittle their public self-discovery by saying that things are not moving forward fast enough.

It's not the blogging that matters - it's the desire to question
But the desire to add something new each time and really build on others' work - not just regurgitate it - is where social media can maybe make a change in traditional education management. This is where it's worth asking those who've been there a wee while longer for advice, ideas and pointers. Picture the scene:

You're at a curricular meeting involving employees from across the Local Authority and even some students. Really democratic, looking to get to the bottom of the issues closest to each group.
Now, imagine your thoughts as you sit in that meeting room, with around 20 people, most of whom you respect to some degree for their expertise, knowledge or just because of their level in the hierarchy.
When everyone is saying how A, B and C are the best approaches to the next stage in the project you are about to say:

"Well, actually, X, Y and Z would be better. I don't know why yet, but I have a gut feeling I would like to explore. It's been in several of the 450 blog feeds I read each day but I didn't think it would be so relevant until I heard today what it was you guys were actually wanting. I just need to root it out. Let's break for a few days, we can all have a think and come back Friday. By then I'll know why X, Y and Z are better"

Do you say it?

The chances are that most people would not go against the flow everyone else seems to be expressing, and certainly wouldn't ask everyone to leave the room (for a few days even) to give you time to put your case together. In education we still see most people deferring to their largely valued top down hierarchy more than we value seeing through creative solutions beyond their foetal stages.

In the edublogging world, though, we have this time to put together some great cases, to think through what we believe and test it out in theory. We can also see other people's learning prototypes and work out if the idea has a chance of success or is likely to fail before we do it with 30 kids - or mention it in a school/Local Authority management meeting.

Have your role in Scottish change

And we see my organisation, Learning and Teaching Scotland, along with the Scottish Executive giving the opportunity to teachers to put their kernels forward to the Minister of Education in an online forum (he starts answering on January 12). How many of the kernels actually get a response is another question but I'd love to see the edublogosphere make a considerable contribution to the future curriculum debate direct to the politicians who will decide on it in the end. Even if you can't get your registration approved (I think it's for Scottish teachers only) still make an attempt to register to show the worldwide interest in curricular change.

Write entries in the forum, link back to previous debates on blogs you've been reading or writing, show that the debate has been rumbling for a long time already and that we are impatient to move beyond our kernels and see some full-change (while not throwing babies out with bathwater etc etc etc ;-))

If educational managers choose to disregard this way of deeper longer-term way of thinking then we can expect to see a lot more collective dumbness. If, however, they choose to play a longer game and pick up on those kernels of dissent we have a chance to really create a Curriculum for Excellence, to create a truly collectively intelligent, not collectively dumb, way forward in our Scottish education system.

Pics: Solidaires; Speak up


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I'm going to say here (because I think it's an excellent post) for the umpteenth time that there is much expertise in classroom teaching (the old-fashioned kind) which needs to be used to underpin the new technology. I still skate on relatively thin technological ice, but I know that my teaching was doing good things in the 15 years before I quit. It's just a tad frustrating that other than the open blogosphere there is no way to share this if one doesn't want to work at a "proper" job again (and one doesn't) - because you need to be a teacher (ie working) to involve yourself in some areas.

It'd be a shame if all the technology were to showcase were to be "words, words, words" - some of us are capable of becoming drunk with words and we need to be aware of that. Philosophy is fine in its place - but is it not time to move on to practicalities?

There's a lot of "is it not time to..." but there's a lot of "we're doing it already" in certain classrooms and policy offices, too. Maybe there's a Scottish thing of not singing praises of peers but in this country, at least, there are moves being made here and now to get the profile of new technologies raised with the people in the hierarchies so that they can make the right decisions. In our country, like many others, we can't *tell* Local Authorities what to do, we can only persuade.

I think once we've convinced the people who *can* act we need to work on the politicians and their civil servants so that those people *may* act. It's a long process and is not about one particular technology - it's the realm of social software, gaming, and whatever comes next.

"Is it time to move on to practicalities"? Well, I'd say we are very much in the middle of it.

Ewen, you mention linking in your post. How exactly does one do that?


In the forums you can simply put in a full http://... type link or you can highlight a word by using some basic HTML. There's an explanation how here:
(Jump down to "adding links to other pages".)

Hope that helps!

Very interesting stuff, Ewan. Thanks for the pointer to Kathy Sierra's blog - full of fascinating topics!

Some fascinating stuff here that has really got me thinking. I'm very interested in how the web/blogging/ICT is changing the face of education, and whilst I still believe that there is no replacement for 'face to face' contact in the classroom, there is undeniably a place for web-based teaching and learning. This semester I will be using WebCT for the first time with the literature module I teach, and will be interested to see how it well it performs as both a meeting place and resource network.

Many thanks for the excellent range of resources, thoughts and advice I've found here.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

Recent Posts