Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pink's Drive and Motivation

Thanks to a bit of extra free time over spring break, I finally had some time to read Daniel Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, since I've been lately thinking about the sometimes tenuous relationship that faculty have with professional development (PD.  The first half of the book focuses on the problems of motivation mainly from the perspective of the the business world, but it has clear applications to other fields, especially teaching (Pink offers suggestions for parents and educators later in the book).  The book is fantastic, and Pink is able to articulate much of what most people know from intuition but don't put to practice.  I'll briefly underscore only a few of Pink's points that I found salient to me:

Pink argues compellingly that now is the time for "motivation 3.0", which is based on intrinsic nature in humans "to learn, to create, and to better the world" (225), to supplant reward vs. punishment-based motivation 2.0.  His arguments are all based on scientific studies, which he cites fully in his rather convincing attempt to prove that motivation 3.0 is a real phenomenon that the world just hasn't yet adjusted to.

Pink criticizes the "carrot and stick" model for motivating people to complete tasks in that it simply doesn't work.  While it may have some positive effect for more "algorithmic" tasks, it does nothing for "heuristic" work that requires creative and independent thought (27ff.).  Unfortunately, much of what we do in education is driven by algorithm (e.g. excessive lecturing, needless homework, standardized testing, etc.).

To break from this model, Pink underscores the role that autonomy plays in creating the intrinsic motivation that drives people both to be productive in a given task and to feel fulfilled in their work (83ff.).  He then offers several examples of the "results-only work environment" (ROWE), in which companies have given employees "FedEx" Days (e.g. Atlassian; cf. p. 91) and "20% time" (e.g. Google; cf. p. 94) to use for whatever creative projects they wish to work on, and the results have spoken volumes.

Ch. 6 discusses purpose and the "most underused word in the modern workplace: Why" (137).  I wholeheartedly agree that we don't often enough discuss the "whys" of what we do.  Failing to do so, I fear, can prevent the formation of a strong community, when the goals of a given project aren't immediately clear to those asked to support it.

While considering these ideas, I've been trying to think of ways to implement more 3.0 strategies in education.  My focus right now isn't in the classroom, however, but with faculty ourselves, given that it's very difficult for me to believe we can continue to be strong teachers if we're not doing regular PD.  We're too often busied with administrative tasks (albeit many of which are self-imposed) that we don't have a chance to explore, create, and stay "fresh".  Consequently, even potentially exciting PD work can seem like drudgery for some, rather than creating a sense of "flow" (a somewhat opaque "Zen" concept discussed on pp. 114ff.).

Based on these points, I've listed some ideas I've been churning:
  • I'm interested in giving a "flow test" (153-4) or doing an "autonomy audit" (166-7) for both faculty and students.  I will be heading the Student Workload Committee at our school next year and will certainly incorporate some of these ideas.
  • I'm thinking about ways to give faculty a periodic "FedEx" day to use as they please.  How would this look?  Is it even practical?  It's important, to my mind, to give faculty as much autonomy and freedom as we would like to give to our students.
  • How could faculty then use "FedEx" days inside the classroom while simultaneously supporting their curriculum?  Cf. Mike Jackson's blog post on his own thoughts for giving students more autonomy.
  • How can we restructure our current "team" models to give faculty more autonomy in what they do in their classes?
  • Finally, we need to have more "why" conversations to foster community. They need to happen frequently and in small groups, where people can ask questions and feel open in voicing their opinions, even if dissenting.  The lack of teacher collaboration is well known (cf. this article from the Atlantic) and needs to be addressed.
I have more questions than answers right now, but I'm also optimistic that we have the opportunity on the horizon to do some interesting things.  I'd love to hear other reactions from those who have read Drive.  Alternatively, I welcome suggestions for other books.  Find me at @mosspike on Twitter to start a conversation.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What Digital Literacy Means to Me

I've been excited to share my thoughts on digital literacies for #ETMOOC, but I've had trouble thinking through the questions and framing them in my own experiences.  It's one thing and a relatively easy one, at that to restate the communis opinio on "digital literacy", but it's been quite another thing to write down my own take on what the term means to me.

The last question for #ETMOOC topic #3 and its connection to "participatory culture" struck me as the most important and most difficult to write on:
"What are the problems inherent in defining literacy, fluency, skills, and competency today (e.g., using terms like 21st century literacies, digital fluency), and how do these affect curricular development, pedagogy, and the work of teachers and students?"
The inherent problems that exist for defining the term "digital literacy" are rooted in familiarity (cf. the LCL MOOC's Session 2 "Gears" assignment).  Because there are so much technologies that one can be "literate" or "fluent" in, let alone some many types of fluencies, it's hard to give a simple definition of the term, and I understand the frustrations that arise in discussions of them, especially my own.

Along those lines, I was recently thinking about a statue of Buddha that belongs to the Norton Simon's permanent collection in Pasadena.

Buddha Shakyamuni from Gandhara c. 200 CE at the Norton Simon Museum
What makes this particular Buddha sculpture interesting to me is it's Greek influence.  This Buddha, found in Gandhara (modern Pakistan) and dating to around 200 CE, is one of many examples of the well-know class of Graeco-Buddhist art that shows influence from Greek art, which is a result of the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th c. BCE, who introduced Greek ideas into the East.  Unlike the standard examples, his gown resembles the flowing garments common to Greek sculpture, as do the curls in his hair. 

Alexander's impact on the world was profound.  By conquering such a large area of land at the time, he was able to spread Greek culture much farther than it ever extended.  Likewise, he was able to bring foreign ideas back to the West, which led to an explosion in new thinking and creativity throughout the empire.  And what he left behind was radically different from Classical Greece.  With the newfound increase in communication, the Hellenistic period became smaller but much more exciting and vibrant, with unprecedented cultural borrowings and sharing that made new ideas possible, like the "Greek" Buddha above.

This is what digital literacy is for me.  Right now, we're experiencing a similar telescopic enrichment in education and pedagogy, thanks to digital technologies that make it possible for us to communicate in ways we'd never thought were possible 50 years ago.  The new "Silk Road" has been paved by blogs, Google+, Twitter and other forms of social media that people from all over the world use to share old ideas and build new ones.  Much like the Graeco-Buddhist art, our new ideas built using these channels represent a syncretism of thought, rather than unilateral movement.

With that, what I think it means to be "digitally literate" is critically dependent on what's been called "participatory culture" (cf. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture), and it's not unlike Buddha Shakyamuni wearing a Greek himation, but still displaying his customary mudra, and with a Greek haircut, but with his usual ushnisha.  What makes this sculpture extraordinary and novel for its time wasn't the technology that was used to carve it, but the confluence of different ideas that were put into it.

Returning to the second part of the #ETMOOC question above, namely how the problems of the definition of digital literacy affect curriculum development and pedagogy, I think, in my professional development role, that the frustrations that some feel in engaging with the ideas of literacies has to do, at least in part, with the belief that tools are being forced on them.  Moreover, some may feel that new modes of thought are unwelcome, in that they want to be the ones disseminating ideas to students, or just aren't yet comfortable putting their own ideas in public view, and I understand that.  But that's not what Alexander did in the East, and that's not what social media is doing to education.  In order to overcome these problems and assuage the fears, we've got to prove that the results are more powerful than ever.

Sure, the competency in technology is important, but competency alone isn't what makes one digitally literate.  I am familiar with various sorts of technology, but it wasn't until I started exploring different paths and engaging with the rest of the world that I really gained a higher literacy and understanding of what we can accomplish with the tools.  I had no idea what sorts of new and exciting ideas were being discussed just beyond my traditional reach, but thanks to social media I am now having fantastic conversations about blogs and digital storytelling, for instance, while making new contacts and blending new ways of thinking with my own.

To be "digitally literate", to my mind, is to take the necessary steps for exploring the many communicative paths that technology provide for the sharing of information and ideas.  It's dependent upon a sense of adventure and an openness to different ways of thinking.  And it also requires a willingness to embrace new ideas, especially challenging and difficult ones, while integrating them with established ideas.  One must be competent in using specific technologies to find and share ideas, but there's also a necessary component of culture "awareness" that belongs with using them.  I want this for students, as they learn to navigate this world.

I don't think I've done much here to simplify the definition of digital literacy or disambiguate any of its problems.  But that's how I've come to an understanding of it in my own terms, and I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation.