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10175081_704085139655151_8564558905749992192_n“You can make the whole room smarter than any of the individuals in the room alone, including the instructor. There’s a radical shift in this way of doing things — it’s built on trust, and I think our existing school structures are built more on dependency and control than trust.” Brad Ovenell-Carter

Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobsand a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, Digital Journalism and VirtualCommunity/Social Media, where he teaches a course in Participatory Media/Collective Action, has interviewed dozens of teachers for his blog on DMLCentral.  The common theme, he found, is “student empowerment.”

In his most recent blog piece, Co-Inventing the Curriculum, Rheingold looks at the work of  Brad Ovenell-Carter , a CanadianKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA educator who teaches a course on Theory of Knowledge to an 11th high school class, Knowledge Ethnographers as he calls the students, whom he has tasked with observing ” how knowledge was stored, moved and processed during a (10th grade physics) lab.” 

Ovenell-Carter’s students are digitally literate, familiar with blogs, spreadsheets, and social media.  But he takes them a step further in ownership of their education.

“… instead of banking received knowledge in their brains, “notes Rheingold, “which assumes that the creation and testing of knowledge is for others, Ovenell-Carter’s students look for problems, ask questions, collect data, try to make sense of the data they have collected, test their hypotheses, apply and integrate what they’ve learned about co-discovering, co-inquiring, and co-learning to all their subject matter. ”

This idea of moving from “the creation and testing of knowledge for others” to co-learning for the purposes of producing a personal “meaning-making toolset” is a powerful and empowering concept.   Educator Steven Anderson contends that,  “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.”    Some rightly argue that we can be as deluded by a crowd as we can by ourselves (See Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds) , but what we’re looking at here is the time tested theory of small group-directed learning.  Sugata Mitra ‘s Hole in the Wall experiments have illustrated well how groups of children can co-learn in a collaborative setting  “where  children can share their knowledge and in the process, develop better group dynamics.” 

This journey from authoritarian rote content delivery to relevant and meaningful knowledge discovery is seen in everything from the growth of online learning to innovative charter schools to the developing maker movement.  It’s not well paved road, by any means.  There are pit holes, speed bumps,  steep drop offs and dead ends.   As always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle,  a balanced diet of old school and new served with a healthy measure of open mindedness.

But Ovenell-Carter’s work, like Mitra’s and many others, continues to show us the many ways that we can make our way into an interesting, exciting and fast changing future, one that we need to be both thoughtful and nimble in negotiating, as well as efficiently collaborative if we are to succeed.