Disruption or Demand to Learn

Picture of Microphone in the Audience Will Richardson just Twittered reference to March 11 CNN Money.com article, Welcome to Conference 2.0.  The article, by Dan Fost, tell several stories of recent conferences (SXSW), where presentations were hijacked by audiences who were carrying on their own back-channel conversations about the failure of the presentations or panels to deliver what they (audience) had come to learn.

Here is one scenario from the article:

Consider author Sarah Lacy’s disastrous interview of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival here. Lacy, a Business Week columnist and author of a forthcoming book on Zuckerberg and other Web 2.0 titans, drew the crowd’s wrath by asking Zuckerberg too many questions about his age and his company’s outrageous $15 billion valuation and not enough questions about issues more fundamental to how Facebook operates – things like trust, privacy, and accessibility to software developers. On top of that, Lacy interrupted Zuckerberg, seemed to flirt with him, and then grew hostile as the crowd turned against her. ((Fost, Dan. “Welcome to Conference 2.0.” Fortune 11 Mar 2008 26 Mar 2008 http://snurl.com/22on0 [money_cnn_com] .))

Of course this is partly the reason for stripping our students of social devices (cell phones) and our computers of social applications (iChat) as they enter our schools — because of the potential disruption that could occur in our teacher/textbook/standards-controlled classrooms.  I would suggest that we need not fear these disruptions, if we can learn to channel them.

The article goes on to list several practices of audience-empowerment at conferences, and I wonder what each might look like if introduced in our schools:

  • The “un-conference” model, in which people show up for a conference and the participants pick the agenda and run it in an “open space” model.

    I wonder about a social studies class where the students, with some overview of a range of topics, might collaborate with a wiki to write their own syllabus, and then practice and demonstrate learning literacy skills in mastering the items, through research, reading, analysis and synthesis, and compelling conversation, and then report out to an external audience their findings.

  • The “lobbycon” phenomenon, in which people don’t pay to go to conferences, they just show up and network in the lobbies.

    Certainly, this is already happening in the halls.  But I’ve heard of 1:1 schools where it is not unusual for students to spontaneously be gathered around a laptop, discussing an assignment or project.  Of course, the task is to have something going on in the classroom that students walk out continuing to talk about.

  • The “panel picker,” an online forum that SXSW uses in which people suggest panels and then the community votes on what they want to see. The winners get to present.

    This is very interesting.  Ask the class to pick the students who will compile and deliver reports on specific topics at hand, and give reasons why those particular students are preferred.  Now we are talking about a classroom where true conversations are an integral part of the learning, such that students discover each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and passions.

  • Parties 2.0

    Well, I’ll let you work this one out.

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4 thoughts on “Disruption or Demand to Learn”

  1. Hi Dave. I’ve been experimenting with allowing students in my programming classes to chat during lectures and labs, and we’ve found it to be beneficial. The kids get acquainted more quickly, have fun, help each other, and with their conversations help me see where my lectures are weak.

    I give the rules at the beginning of the course, and let them know the chats are recorded, and remind them that their chatting is primarily to support their learning. I monitor the chats in real time, or review the recordings later, and deal with rare problems when they arise.

  2. @Dave
    An interesting post. I recently had a teacher bring me two cell phones because students were texting eachother back and forth about how much in their opinion the class “sucked” and they weren’t learning anything. I asked the teacher what he thought they meant which brought a blank stare. Oh well an interesting concept to allow it as feedback. Probably very valuable.

  3. Hi Dave. I agree with your post that social networking applications provide new choices for students. A couple of years ago, I took a graduate class on “Social Learning Theories” that met weekly for a three hour period. Ironically, the class was 95% lecture. By the second week, the ten or so students with wireless-equipped laptops began meeting together in an chat room during class while using a collaborative editor to take a single set of notes.

    The process was a compelling illustration of the overall topic of the class. As each class progressed, we would do just-in-time lookups based on the prof’s remarks, insert questions, and add answers and references into our shared notes. Because of the intense back-channel work, we actually looked forward to the three hours of “lecture” each week!

    During that semester, I could not help but lament those in the class who could (or would) not take part in our collaboration because I did not think their experience was as rich. I also wondered about the prof’s perspective since we told him what we were doing early on but he never acknowledged our activity or made an effort to incorporate our collaboration into the class.

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