>Image via WikipediaMy wife and I are currently in San Antonio, TX attending the 29th annual National Educational Computing Conference, or NECC, sponsored by the International Society for Technology in Edication (ISTE). This is our first time at the NECC, which I soon discovered is pronounced "neck"!
I have to say I was thoroughly engaged in what the opening keynote speaker, James Surowiecki, had to say and what it means for the classroom. It was also refreshing to hear someone speak about something fundamentally human at a technology conference!
The first part of Surowiecki's address was very similar to a creative radio piece called "Emergence", which I first heard on WNYC's Radiolab. In fact, he was one of many experts interviewed for that show. Surowiecki, a journalist and historian, argues, quite simply, that a collective of human beings is often much wiser than any individual person. Smarter than the smartest person in the room or even an expert in a particular field.
But what was even more interesting to me were the specific circumstances and structures that allow this to occur. The crowd can become 'wise' when the following factors are in place, for example:
- Cognitive diversity
- Thoughtful (and creative) grouping strategies
- Careful placement of "devil's advocates" within groups
Yet the implication for everyday classrooms is momentous. Consider the leveling philosophy and practice in our own school, New Trier High School. Students are grouped (levels 2, 3, 4, and 5) according to their "abilities", so that they will feel successful given a certain curricular challenge. But we are also fortunate to have 9-level, which purports to be a mixing of ALL of the other levels. This particular grouping of students has the potential to produce something far beyond what is accomplished by their peers in the most advanced levels. Is it true that we only need to apply the lessons of Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, either using technology, or perhaps, just our brains?