Whiteboards, round tables and a dash of humanity

OK, I should probably be sleeping right now. I’m cranky and exhausted from a long day of stringing things together that may be better left apart and solving problems that probably don’t exist. The bright spot in my day (the spot that got me wondering) was something that happened while I was listening in to the Educause webinar: Developments in Higher Education Educational Technology: The Horizon
Report in Action. Someone posted to the chat (Sam, I think) that students at his institution were most excited about rolling white boards and round tables – when surveyed about new technology use on campus. A wave of agreement swelled in the chat – and I reflected on my own campus at UBC in Vancouver – yep, it’s the white boards and round tables that students covet here as well. Gateway drugs to discussion and collaboration? (Sam’s clever question) . Mmmm, discussion and collaboration without the use of a chat room, twitter stream, tumbler, Flickr group? Don’t we need to document it, somehow? O.K. the kids are craving something. Maybe it’s a chance to talk and think out loud – with pens and drawings and without the compulsion to represent, hone their personas, hashtag, retweet, like, post and badge it all up with a big digital bow. That can be stressful.

I don’t know, but I’m reminded of something else that came up in the Educause chat – something about complication and complexity. Are we providing learning environments that encourage students to wrestle with the complexity that comes from way finding, questioning, creating, adapting, dealing with conflict and sometimes failing an attempt or two? Or are we complicating them with multiple carefully calibrated and automated assessments, sophisticated and sleek pre-packaged technologies, processes and accompanying policies (for their protection, of course)? When faced with complexity, I think we have a natural tendency to try to figure it out. But when faced with complication, the tendency shifts to want to simplify. Is that what we’re doing in the name of improving our learning environments? We’ve flipped, flexed and automated learning to the point that ( in some cases) we’ve almost excluded any unexpected, chance encounters with wild ideas that often occur around tables with a whiteboard nearby. Not everything can be reflected in an algorithm after all. Algorithms cut out the fat. They don’t account for complexity. You know, like the stuff we humans are made for.

In higher ed these days, it seems we view students as “producers”, consumers, research subjects to be analyzed, tracked and surveilled ad nauseum but do we ever just revel in the fact that they are (like us) complex and fallible human beings with a profound need to figure stuff out together around a table – with a whiteboard, maybe ?