Engagement, Creativity, and Non-Conformity: Getting ready for ILED

I’m excited about the ILED Studio session today: Helping Learners Stay Engaged.

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In preparation for that, I’m going to just collect some thoughts (and links) here, specifically thoughts about why I think the LMS is such a dire space for student engagement, and why other online spaces seem to me so much better. These are just rambling thoughts; I’m not going to try to organize… I just want to have some ideas bouncing around in my head for the session when it starts at 1PM my time.

Lisa Lane’s posts on Canvas and cognitive UNDER-load. Lisa has written some really important blog posts about how Canvas is promoting a kind of mindless simplicity in the name of “decreasing cognitive overload” which actually ends up reducing opportunities for student learning. That is my feeling also; the boring sameness of Canvas is a mindkiller in my opinion; the beginning of engagement is some kind of stimulation… and Canvas is about as unstimulating as a space can be. Here are some of Lisa’s posts:
The LMS and the End of Information Literacy
The Pedagogy of Canvas
Complexity over simplicity in online classes

Learning In The Age Of Digital Distraction (NPR). Very useful NPR interview with Adam Gazzaley, coauthor of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World. This looks like a good book, less simplistic and jingoistic than others of that ilk (like the self-aggrandizing angst of Nicholas Carr and Sherry Turkle).

At the same time… I am really tired of the demonizing of digital distractions. The bigger and more dangerous distractions that my students face are not digital eye candy on their screens. Instead, the real danger is the disjointedness of the academic experience and the lack of flow. And it’s not just students. Both students and faculty alike are are overwhelmed with disconnected tasks, and they have very little control over the content of those tasks and the time in which to complete them (see this piece on faculty shadow work in IHE just today). Students suffer from this more than faculty, yes, but we are all suffering, which is good, in a sense. Empathy.

So, I think any discussion of engagement would do well to think about not just on the minimizing of distraction (although that is important), and on the increasing of focus (although that is important too), but the more sublime and inspiring idea of FLOW. I reread Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow this summer, and that is a book that always has a big impact on me: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Here is a graphic that conveys some of the ideas you will find in Flow, you can see many variations of this graphic online; I found this one in an article on happiness, flow, and leadership:

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Another of Csikszentmihalyi’s research areas is creativity, although I have yet to read his creativity book: Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention. I need to read that book!

Of course, Csikszentmihalyi talks a lot about creators and the creative process in Flow, and that is one of my main assumptions in promoting engagement among students: the experience of CREATING something is one of the most highly engaging learning experiences that you can have, and the lack of emphasis on creativity and creative production is a huge problem in our schools.

I truly believe that if you give students the opportunity to create and then to share the things that they create, they will engage. It is not a guarantee of engagement, but it is a better assumption than anything else I see in school. Creativity is better than chasing grades; grades promote superficial, passive engagement. Creativity is better than rote learning; rote learning is boring. Creativity is better than rigor; creativity thrives on uncertainty and experimentation, where process trumps product, becoming not being, the opposite of rigor mortis.

In addition to invoking creative, I would also like to invoke NONCONFORMITY, and this wide-ranging article from Harvard Business Review that, as often, is highly relevant to education: Let your Workers Rebel by Francesca Gino. The tag line: “Employee engagement is a problem. To fix it, encourage your workers to break rules and be themselves. We’ll show you who does it right and how you can too.”

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Here are the headings and subheadings from the article to give you a sense of the territory that it covers:

WHY CONFORMITY IS SO PREVALENT
We fall prey to social pressure.
We become too comfortable with the status quo.
We interpret information in a self-serving manner.
PROMOTING CONSTRUCTIVE NONCONFORMITY
1. GIVE EMPLOYEES OPPORTUNITIES TO BE THEMSELVES
Encourage employees to reflect on what makes them feel authentic.
Tell employees what job needs to be done rather than how to do it.
Let employees solve problems on their own.
Let employees define their missions.
2. ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES TO BRING OUT THEIR SIGNATURE STRENGTHS
Give employees opportunities to identify their strengths.
Tailor jobs to employees’ strengths.
3. QUESTION THE STATUS QUO, AND ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES TO DO THE SAME
Ask “Why?” and “What if?”
Stress that the company is not perfect.
Excel at the basics.
4. CREATE CHALLENGING EXPERIENCES
Maximize variety.
Continually inject novelty into work.
Identify opportunities for personal learning and growth.
Give employees responsibility and accountability.
5. FOSTER BROADER PERSPECTIVES
Create opportunities for employees to view problems from multiple angles.
Use language that reduces self-serving bias.
Hire people with diverse perspectives.
6. VOICE AND ENCOURAGE DISSENTING VIEWS
Look for disconfirming evidence.
Create dissent by default.
Identify courageous dissenters.
STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE

… see what I mean about relevance to education? Just as this is a manifesto for nonconformity, I would also say it is a manifesto for engagement too!

So, to get back to Canvas: the design of the system is all about conformity. And to that I say: we need to rebel! The real engagement killer is not confusion but BOREDOM. We do not need conformity; instead, we need constructive nonconformity.

So, that is where I will leave my brainstorming for now. I am looking forward to the ILED session later today, and will post about the session here tomorrow. 🙂

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

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