The lead keynote at ITEC this year was George Couros, the author of The Innovator’s Mindset. George was a likable, entertaining, and engaging speaker. His message was a re-mix of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research and the musing of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. And, while there were lots of good reminders and reinforcers given in his presentation, there was one particularly interesting anecdote he shared.
Near the end of his keynote, he related a story about a time he was speaking to a relatively large group of both students and staff (well over a thousand) at a school. And, as part of his presentation, he encouraged the audience to tweet at him directly or with the event hashtag with ideas, questions, etc… — a way of collecting back-channel feedback. While on stage, he would periodically check his Twitter feed on his phone to see what was percolating in the audience. In this particular case, he started to see some really offensive tweets. There were a series of profanity laden, vulgar, and mean spirited tweets — directed at him using the event hashtag. It was very personal and very much intended for him to see. He realized he was being cyberbullied in front of a live audience.
So, he assessed his options. This had never happened to him before. What do you do when anonymous audience members are virtually heckling you? Should he call out the accounts/kids responsible live on stage? Should he shut down the event entirely? Thinking on his feet, he came up with a third, better option. He asked the audience to let him know if he was making an impact on them. He gave them time to process and then tweet at him with their thoughts. The positive messages flowed in! Within seconds, the four our five negative tweets were buried by hundreds of positive messages. The realization that came to him from this experience was that we need to intentionally have the positive message drown out the negative ones. While this is a very valuable idea, something else occurred to me as I listened to this story.
I found myself thinking about what I would do in a similar situation. I really don’t know, even now. I would find that experience horrifying and terrifying. I realized what I find most admirable and powerful about this story is not the solution (which is very elegant), but rather the simple fact that he was able to think on his feet quickly enough to devise a solution in the first place.
A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of adaptive understanding. This story is a great example of that principle. George’s years of experience as a teacher, administrator, and presenter gave him the requisite understandings necessary to quickly devise a solution to this unforeseen, complex problem. Adaptive understanding is the high ground skill set that all of our kids will need to be successful in the 21st century global economy. This type of skill set spans all vocations. Successful and effective plumbers, lawyers, mechanics, and engineers are all able to solve these types of unfamiliar, emergent, devilish problems. This is the “secret sauce” that makes people good at what they do.
So, how do we design for adaptive understanding in our classrooms and how do we prepare kids to face these types of challenges? There’s a lot to unpack with this type of question — probably a book in and of itself. But, here are a few quick thoughts…
Task and audience authenticity are central to these types of designs. These “high value” problems that require adaptive understanding to solve are chaotic and sometimes unreplicable. So, as designers we need to embrace these types of situations.
An artful balance is necessary to make failure a safe option while maintaining an appropriate level of concern. Problems that require adaptive understanding are messy and learners will make mistakes and missteps.
While content understanding content has a role in solving adaptive problems, a deep understanding of process skills is even more valuable. Content changes, evolves, and is almost ubiquitously available, and therefore is inherently less value than process skills and habits of mind.
As always, I would be really interested in hearing from others on what we can do as a system to design for and teach the processes and skills necessary to build adaptive understanding skill sets in our kids. I invite you to drop me a note or post a comment here with your thoughts.