I am enjoying reading Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think. His thoughts on public thinking resonate with me at a time when the student use of cloud based tools to document thinking and exhibit artefacts of learning are restricted.
My principal recently asked me what resources I needed for my classroom. My response was whiteboard paint so I can turn my walls into spaces for public thinking. I think she assumed I was joking, but I believe we can all benefit from displaying our thinking. Sadly, we miss out on important learning opportunities when we don’t take the time to share the process of learning. Sharing the process of learning can create a unique bond with the audience. Thinking in public focuses more on the process than the product (Kleon, 2014).
“In this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” (Kleon, 2014)
Public thinking is the epitome of sharing knowledge for the betterment of mankind. Those who share publicly and openly are usually those that are more interested in improvement rather than ownership. Thinking aloud stimulates creativity and facilitates like-minded people to find each other. “Studies have found that particularly when it comes to analytic or critical thought, the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to think more precisely, make deeper connections, and learn more” (Thompson, 2014). Thinking aloud leads to more accountability than thinking internally. Thompson summed this up well when he said, “It’s easy to win an argument inside your head” (Thompson, 2014). Thinking aloud makes me a better writer, reasoner, and thinker because in the back of my mind there is always a voice that reminds me that my work may be critiqued.
Public thinking leads to better quality products because the collective is always going to be more creative than the individual. “Knowledge has always been created via conversation, argument, and consensus” (Thompson, 2014). Take the success of the Mozilla Project. A group of technology minded thinkers and developers who work together to keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people throughout the world can be informed contributors and creators of the Web. The Mozilla Project shares the source code for their projects so others can remix the content and contribute to enhancing the product. Mozilla is an organization who models thinking in public.
Public thinking can also lead to social change. In the spring of 2011 when Egyptians staged nationwide demonstrations against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of protesters were killed as Mubarak and his allies try to crush the uprising. The people of Egypt took to social media to share their thoughts by bringing the crisis to the attention of the world. How many atrocities like this happen in areas of the world where public thinking is seen as an overtly defiant attack against government?
One of the biggest obstacles to sharing thinking publically is people and institutions that are stuck in the mindset of ownership and protectionism. In education, at a time when people are developing incredibly beneficial learning networks, many educators work in highly competitive environments. Movement between jobs, schools, and districts is incredibly difficult and sometimes the only way to get ahead is to develop and hold onto something unique and different.
Privacy is another obstacle standing in the way of thinking in public. In Canada, educators across the country are bound by overly restrictive school district policies. FIPPA was created to make public bodies more accountable to the public and protect personal privacy, not limit student’s creative process because their thinking is stored on a server located outside of the country. These laws are standing in the way of student learning and freedom of expression.
Fear also stands in the way of public displays of thought. The fears of failure or critiques are often cited as reasons to internalize thinking. Thinking aloud makes people vulnerable by revealing intimate knowledge of the way they think. Risk taking is the precursor to public thinking. This can be overcome by realizing that nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved without a long line of failures behind it. In my profession, it is increasingly difficult to encourage my learners to take risks. The fear of appearing to know everything paralyzes my learner’s ability to share their thoughts. To conquer this, I need to create an environment that embraces failure as a part of the learning culture.
Implications For My Practice
My goal as an educator is to design meaningful and authentic learning experiences for students, model practices of lifelong learning, and provide opportunities to (co)create artifacts of learning. After reading Smarter Than You Think, I have realised the benefits of encouraging students to share their work publicly. It is important to engaging my learners in the act of thinking aloud through their learning, and not just at the end of a learning sequence. “Public thinking is messy” (Thompson, 2014), but the benefits can be extraordinary.
As I continue to develop my own craft and strive to be the best educator I can, I plan to not only continue to share my finished work publicly, but also find the means to document the process of my work. In my profession, educators slip into the practice of evaluating the end product, but there are clear benefits in evaluating the process in equal measures.
Kleon, A. (2014). Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Kindle Edi., p. 224). Workman Publishing Company. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.ca/Show-Your-Work-Creativity-Discovered-ebook/dp/B00GU2RGGI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415556772&sr=1-1&keywords=show+your+work
Thompson, C. (2014). Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better. New York: The Penguin Group.