Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow" and PD

Over the past couple months I've been reading a selection of nonfiction that has applications for education (cf. some reading notes). In just about every single book, including those by Cathy Davidson, Daniel Kahneman, Jane McGonigal, Daniel Pink, and now Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come FromMihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist famous for the study of happiness but underappreciated until relatively recently, and his idea of "flow" is cited, playing no small part in defence of the author's thesis. I suggest watching his TED talk on the idea to get a sense of the concept, if unfamiliar with it.

Simply put, "flow" is that rare state in which one is wholly absorbed in the moment, with a heightened clarity and focus on the task at hand, and it, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is when we are happiest and having the most fun. Flow is precisely what draws us to gather at conferences, converse on Twitter chats, in addition to teaching in the first place.

At ISTE, where I found myself pooled together with 13,000 other invested educators, I thought quite a bit about why some of us are so compellingly drawn to technology (cf. my thoughts), and I can't help but think that flow plays a significant role in the story. I think that one answer to the question of why we should be taking steps to use more technology in the classroom, however difficult and challenging it may be, is that technology can allow us to have more creative fun during the learning process by helping both teachers and students to find flow.

Based on the way our brains work, as a variety of authors have concluded for different reasons, being in the flow includes socializing and collaborating while helping each other, doing meaningful work, and receiving prompt and quality feedback, and this is precisely what technology does for us. Flow is simply having productive fun, when we're intrinsically motivated to tackle a task, and it's becoming more and more clear that we learn best when we're having fun. If used correctly, then, technology (which is only one piece if the puzzle!) can help us find flow because it makes it easier to collaborate, do meaningful work, and receive feedback, among other things.

No one could claim that we need technology to do these things or that it alone is the secret to flow, given that there are plenty of successful teachers who are able to engage their students in the flow without it. But ask yourself if you would rather have one awesome way of having fun and finding happiness in class or five different ways? We need to work to increase the amount of time we spend in the flow.

As we emphasize professional development to a greater extent than ever in education, it could prove to be constructive to consider when we feel like we're in the flow in the classroom. A few days ago, a colleague asked me when I feel like I'm "kicking ass", and to my mind, that's exactly what flow is for me. When we're having a great discussion, with students leading the way by making connections, that's when I feel like we're all in the flow. But one person's individual concept of flow can be very different from another's.

With that, I think it's a great idea to do some reflection this summer, while we're thinking about professional development, and consider what "kicking ass" means to each of us, expecting that we'll likely have different answers (which is ok!) that could help us to better define our own ideas of flow and find more ways of achieving it in class. At some point before the next academic year begins, we should sit down and share our reflections, while having a conversation about what flow means to us and how the use of technology could facilitate finding it. Who's interested?