Collaborative education

Via Snarkmarket and Digidave, Michael Wesch talks about harnessing the collective intelligence of the classroom:

Huge, huge thoughts here. It’s worth watching the entire 10 minute interview. First, he flips conventional wisdom on its head, arguing that large class sizes actually allow him to teach better. More nodes to the network means greater capacity of the network to achieve specific objectives. Michael also hints as using the classroom as a platform for the students to do what they’re best at, instead of a one-way broadcast medium.

I think he misses one critical point, however: the collaborative environment doesn’t need to happen in geographical proximity. Michael’s assumption rests on the competitive advantage traditionally held by universities; that you need all of the students in one place to learn from each other, and that’s where the university can make their profit. On the contrary, I would argue that, due to the increasing capabilities of the ‘net to bridge physical distance, the community critical to collaborative education can exist digitally in the network.


DJ Strouse December 7, 2008 Reply

I always found it odd that in a room of 400 people supposedly studying the same thing, only one person talks. Most of those 400 students will never talk to each other.

During our last two lectures for my physics class this semester, my professor sent us to the board, had us collaboratively solve problems, and asked us summarizing meta-questions like “What is the Dirac delta function, how did we ‘discover’ it, and where do we find it in electricity and magnetism?” (This last question is so cool because it touches on theory building and scientific creativity which is banished from most classrooms.) Afterwards, I told him these were my two favorite classes of the semester and asked why we didn’t do this more often. Furthermore, why didn’t we spend class time discussing theory building and scientific creativity?

He told me that many students would love and benefit from this, but that there is also a great many students who are simply here to get a degree and a job and would hate it.

Partially, I agree with him. There certainly are students with these goals. But might they still enjoy a chance to discuss and express some creativity?

Or should the small contingent of students more deeply interested in science simply move the conversation online and bring together other small contingencies of future scientists to discuss such things?

Daniel Bachhuber December 8, 2008 Reply

I think I’m with you on idea #2, DJ. It’s not worth it to reform the system when you can accomplish so much more on your own.

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