I’ve seen quite a few references to James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds of late. In particular is a post by Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users that got me thinking a lot about the meaning of collaboration and the Read/Write Web. She blogged Surowiecki’s presentation at ETech and sums up the premise of his talk with this quote:
“Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible.”
That’s the kind of statement that makes me want to read more. (My stack just keeps getting higher and higher…) Seems to me there are a lot of us teaching our kids to do just the opposite when we ask them to collaborate. We ask them to come to consensus. To negotiate a viewpoint. And we all know that in most cases, the few do the work for the many. Instead, the wisdom of the group is in the aggregated ideas and thoughts of each individual. (Anyone else’s light bulbs going off?) As George Siemens says
A group following a group created ideology has the potential to be dangerous. A group of individuals following an aggregated vision is exciting.
I see this in the system of schooling as well. We have our ideologies, our vision statements, our mission. But once those are negotiated, we stop thinking about them. They’re not purposeful as anything more than quotes on the letterhead. And in most instances the teachers are not truly invested in the ideology to begin with.
That’s not to say that working together, sharing and discussing ideas is a bad thing. But we need to celebrate and nurture the individual ideas of our students (and our teachers) more willingly I think. We need to teach them that there are many diverse opinions and ideas out there, and that as individuals they can negotiate their own truths and bring those back to the group for further thinking. Now I know it’s not a perfect comparison, but that’s kinda what happens in the blog world. Certainly, we aggregate the ideas of individuals, and we don’t seek consensus as much as we seek clarity in terms of what these experiences and ideas mean in our own lives. And once we come to some clear thinking on what those meanings are, we throw them back to the group and say, in essence, “so, whaddaya think?” And the process continues.
I think that this group of educators that I’ve found online is very smart. But we’re smart because we’re not looking for one answer. There are many answers, and those answers push us to more questions and more thinking, and in the end, more learning. Isn’t that what we want for our students?