With the recent birth of my second daughter, I was reminded of Craig Kemp’s claim that being a parent made him a better teacher. As I have stated before, I don’t think that being a parent makes anyone better, rather it provides for a different perspective. The adjustment of having two children has helped me realise many of the habits that I had come to take for granted. Just like losing a parent or moving to a different country, such experiences not only provide a different point of learning, but also highlights those habits that our attention has come to consider as normal.
This is the point that Cathy Davidson makes her book Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century. Going against the grain that technology is somehow hampering culture and society, Davidson asserts that the brain is constantly evolving and always has.
The brain is not static. It is built for learning and is changed by what it encounters and what operations it performs. Retooled by the tools we use, our brain adjusts and adapts.
The challenge, Davidson explains, is recognising the brain’s patterns and breaking with those that are no longer of use.
The problem with this is that we are often blind to world in which we exist, seeing it instead as a part of nature. For once you categorise things, it can be hard to see past this. One method of becoming aware of our attitudes and actions is to focus on that which distracts or disrupts our attention. As she points out:
Without distraction, without being forced into an awareness of disruption and difference, we might not ever realize that we are paying attention in a certain way.
In order to force this disruption, Davidson provides collaboration by difference as an antidote.
David Weinberger suggests that the smartest person in the room is the room and that our challenge is to create smarter rooms, similarly collaboration by difference treats difference as a point of distinction, rewarding the diversity of expertise, perspective, culture, age, ability, and insight. What is significant about this difference is not just what other people might bring to the group, but what they bring out in us. To embed this practise, Davidson focuses on three clear expectations:
- Air out differences democratically
- Let non-experts talk first
- Ask what you are missing
Interestingly, Alma Harris asserts that collaboration needs to be disciplined, so to can it be argued that collaboration also needs to intentionally incorporate difference to be meaningful. With an emphasis on new connections and perspectives, this helps further a cycle of learning, unlearning and relearning, where people are required to continually consider and compromise what they know and understand. As Davidson describes,
The whole point of collaboration by difference is that we cannot see our own gorillas. We need one another to help us, and we need a method that allows each of us to express our difference. If we don’t feel comfortable offering an alternative point of view, we don’t. And without such contribution, we continue to be limited or even endangered by our blind spots; we don’t heed the warning signals until it’s too late and an accident is inevitable.
In the end, collaboration by difference is best appreciated as a convergence of method, mindset and mission.
What stands out the most about Now You See It is that it is most definitely Davidson’s book. Although there are the usual accounts of people and organisations, such as Jimmy Wales, IBM and Quest2Learn, in her discussion of education, work and the brain, these are dispersed between more personal stories of dealing with dyslexia, having a brother suffering a brain injury and teaching Shane Battier. These personal differences help to break with the usual story about the 21st century to tell a more meaningful story.
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