Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Openness as a Pathway to Collaboration

By now, everyone knows that I am a huge fan of using improvisations as a way to model student creation and ownership. They are also useful from a teaching perspective because they are generally abstractions, that is they adapt easily to different learning environments, pedagogical preferences,  and disciplines.

But improvisations are also extremely useful as a way to promote collaboration. By definition, they are "open" -- they have no right answer. This means they tend to be student-friendly and also make for great group activities. When there's no "right" answer, students spend less time trying to promote their own personal perspectives.

This line of thinking is one of my primary topics for my Thursday keynote address at the Big XII Teaching and Learning Conference. In particular, as part of that presentation, I'll be sharing a number of video clips to illustrate the value of "constraints" and "addition" when it comes to improvs and promoting student engagement.

One of the video clips I'll be showing and talking about comes from the 1995 movie Apollo 13. It is a great example of how problems without "known" or "right" answers -- situations framed by openness -- really lend themselves well to collaboration.  The clip below is one of my examples. In this scene, NASA engineers are faced with the proverbial problem of having to make a square peg fit in a round hole. Goo luck with that, right?

This type of problem certainly invites collaboration and team problem solving. It also sends me back to the drawing board over and over again to design improv models that present similar variables and create the same type of collaboration in courses.

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