All schools, in the final analysis, are a Thunderdome. Of course, I mean that metaphorically, although on some of the worst days marauding bands of children and Tina Turner ruthlessly arranging death matches may sound accurate. No, my view is rather one that makes the classroom a marketplace of ideas, where concepts compete for student attention. To discern between competing ideas is the skill of culling, yet another essential 21st Century skill. “Two ideas enter – one idea leaves.”
Culling is where a student learns the ability to refine the ideas that have been curated from the learning process. Collaboration is the arena in which this culling of ideas occurs; where both teachers and students can challenge ideas and be challenged in turn. Fundamentally, collaboration of this nature is a Darwinian process. Students engaged in group work and inquiry-based project learning share all ideas, and through the facilitation of the instructor, the best adapt and grow stronger. Weak ideas appropriately die. Strong ideas get tougher.
While this “only the strong survive,” “wheat from chaff,” “men from boys” talk might sound rough, remember that we are talking about the mental concepts and skills that are competing for our students’ attention here. There is already a lot of competition for that narrow bandwidth of attention as it is – if teachers aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and throw a couple of elbows to engage the students in the learning process, then we’ve already lost the fight before we begin. We must be willing to compete for our students’ attention!
Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
If we truly want to move beyond the Thunderdome to a place where our students are fully engaged of their own volition, then we need to fully appreciate Marshall McLuhan’s predictions once again. The man was born 100 years ago yet predicted the Internet long before it happened – so with its rise as the dominant medium of the age, his works bear serious reexamination.
McLuhan’s vision was of a “global village” – that the advent of new technology will serve as prelude to a return of the collaborative society that used to found in tribal communities. He predicted a social order where communication is both universal and instantaneous. With the evolution of the internet into not only Web 2.0 sharing but Web 3.0 collaboration, we have finally seen the fulfillment of McLuhan’s vision.
Yet, for all the talk of Prensky’s “digital natives” that has finally gotten some traction and been applied to the Millennial Generation, we seem to have completely overlooked the rise of the post-Millennial generation right behind them. They’re like Millennials, only more so. The independence of Millennials has yielded to the groupthink of the new generation, born between 9/11/01 and today. Much in the way the “Silent Generation” lived in the shadow of the “Greatest Generation” of WWII, this iGeneration (iGens) very often demonstrate a hive mind. Some of the common social patterns involve VOIP to chat and group gaming via Xbox. Many iGens read Reddit obsessively, and they gravitate in hordes to Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr-type social media… collaboration of this sort is purely intuitive for them.
As an English teacher I’ve seen it in iGen writing as well. Their inability to divorce argumentation from mere opinion is reflective of the collaborative aspect of their socialization. The iGens have been trained very well to accept everyone’s opinion is valid, and so that creeps into their self-expression. They already know very well how to collaborate – what the role of the educator needs to be in this new landscape is to help train the iGens how to harness the raw power of their collaborative skills to refine their learning and make their ideas even stronger. Using technology to engage students on their terms is the way to help the iGeneration reach its fullest potential.