Social learning was one the major bets we made at HBX. It also yielded some of our most profound learnings. When students asked a question on the platform, we resisted the urge to jump in, instead leaving it to peers to do so. When students struggled with a concept, we resisted (even more) the urge to jump in and correct the group, but relied on peers to do so. The results were remarkable (and somewhat humbling if you're an expert): in more than 90% of cases, questions were precisely and accurately answered by the peer group. One of our HBX CORe students had previously been the head teaching assistant (TA) for one of the most popular MOOCs (massive open online courses). He noted that a typical approach to intervention in online courses was to amass larger numbers of TAs, so that some "expert" was ready to intervene quickly on any question as it arose. One unintended consequence? "Soon, everyone expected the TA's to answer questions. No one took it upon themselves to do so."
"Trust the students," we preach in our classrooms. It's one of the hardest axioms to follow. The temptation for an expert, or a teacher, is to help at the first sign of confusion. But letting it simmer can aid learner discovery. Indeed, the power of collaboration comes when you trust the group so that they are strongly encouraged â€” forced, even â€” to resolve problems on their own. Let an expert intervene, and you could undermine collaboration itself.
I've been thinking about this article a lot, as I work through a proposal to set up a support program for instructors adopting various learning technologies. If we set up a bunch of infrastructure and people to answer all of their questions, they would become dependent on it. If we don't set up any, they won't be as likely to succeed. Somewhere in the middle. Somewhere.
In the proposal, I'm trying to set up a seed of "in the trenches" support out in the faculties, to work with instructors and take advantage of a direct understanding of pedagogy in various fields. I'm also trying to set up central and community supports to enhance what people are doing more broadly across our campuses. But, how to do that without short-circuiting collaboration that could (and should) be happening Out Thereâ„¢? We need to help to build capacity - in individual instructors, in teams, programs, departments, and faculties - without inadvertently training people to rely on Technology Experts That Know Everythingâ„¢ (because they don't exist, nor should they).