I was facilitating a workshop and one of the participants said Daniel Pink’s Drive was the most powerful and influential book she has read this year. I immediately ordered it on Amazon, and I’m thrilled I did!
Pink explores human motivation and makes the argument that “for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose” (218).
The economy is rapidly changing and jobs are more heuristic - demanding that employees learn, discover, understand, and solve problems on their own. This shift from algorithmic tasks, which follow a predetermined set of directions, to heuristic tasks requires students leave classrooms confident and able to think outside the box, tackle formidable challenges and be creative problem solvers.
As I reflect the current state of education, I wonder if this generation, which is being labeled the “lost generation,” is developing the skills needed to excel in a country that no longer needs factory workers, but rather innovative thinkers.
I wanted to experiment with an idea I had while reading Pink’s book. He talks about open sourcing, which he says is the “most powerful new business model of the twenty-first century” (20). He discusses the success of Wikipedia, which made me wonder if a similar approach could be used to engage students in a classroom to collectively compile, or “crowdsource,” information.
Crowdsourcing Information Instead of Lecturing
In a continual effort to circumvent the traditional lecture model, I decided to try crowdsourcing information about Shakespearean sonnets.
Step 1: Challenge Students to Generate Information in Collaborative Groups
I explained that we would be exploring Shakespeare’s sonnets and gave each group “Sonnet 116.” I told them all sonnets share the same structure and similar characteristics. I asked them to discuss the sonnet they were given and make a list of inferences about sonnets in general from examining, analyzing and discussing “Sonnet 116.”
After 5 minutes of discussion, I invited students to go to the board and begin collectively compiling the information they had generated in their groups.
Step 2: Encourage Students to Research Using Their Devices
As the traffic to the board slowed, I invited students to take out their mobile devices to “fill in the blanks” with research. I want students to feel confident finding answers to their questions. For example, who were the sonnets written for? What themes were common in Shakespeare’s sonnets?
I want them to become proficient at finding and evaluating information from a variety of resources. In their groups, they researched, discussed and added more information to the board.
It was incredible to watch students who had not gone to the board previously become empowered and excited to contribute when they were able to search for information on their mobile devices.
Step 3: Collectively Review the Crowdsourced Information
I was amazed by the sheer volume of information generated in a 15 minute window by my students. Learning is definitely a messy process and my board was a reflection of that. It was visually overwhelming, but the quality of information was excellent.
The energy in the room reminded me of Pink’s statement that “human beings…have an ‘inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn’ ” (8). How often are we challenging students to drive learning in the classroom? Are we presenting them with “novel” situations to pique their interest? Are they able to demonstrate mastery?
This activity was simple, yet it dramatically changed the flow of ideas in our classroom. Instead of listening to a lecture and taking notes, students had to analyze, discuss, draw conclusions, research and share their ideas. It was an easy way to present them with a more heuristic task.
As our economy becomes increasingly complex, it requires more innovative thinkers to tackle heuristic tasks. Cultivating students who are up to this challenge requires a dramatic shift from the traditional teaching paradigm. It also requires that educators think about how we can effectively tap into our students’ motivation, inherent desire to learn, while capitalizing on their creativity.