Lone Geniuses and Collaborrators

From Wired Magazine:

Furthermore, this shift is even more pronounced among influential papers: While the most cited studies in a field used to be the product of a lone genius – think of Einstein or Darwin – Jones, et. al. have demonstrated that the best research now emerges from groups. It doesn’t matter if the researchers are studying particle physics or human genetics: science papers produced by multiple authors receive more than twice as many citations as those authored by individuals. This trend was even more apparent when it came to “home run papers” – those publications with at least 1000 citations – which were more than six times as likely to come from teams of scientists.

I think this research helps explain why the era of the lone genius is coming to an end. If our current lists of global thinkers seem paltry, it’s because the best thinkers no longer exist by themselves, toiling away in a vacuum. Instead, they require the constant feedback and knowledge of others. We live in a world of such complexity that our problems increasingly exceed the possibilities of the individual mind. Collaboration is no longer an option.

You would disagree that the contemporary era is lacking in geniuses? Me, too, but I must say that they quote a compelling bit of comparative research.

But, as the list goes on, genuine intellectuals begin to dominate. There are economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, journalists (Christopher Hitchens), philosophers (Martha Nussbaum), political scientists (Michael Mandelbaum), novelists (Maria Vargas Llosa) and theologians (Abdolkarim Soroush). Despite an inevitable bias to the English-speaking world, there are representatives from every continent including Hu Shuli, a Chinese editor, and Jacques Attali, carrying the banner for French intellectuals.

It is an impressive group of people. But now compare it with a similar list that could have been compiled 150 years ago. The 1861 rankings could have started with Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill – On the Origin of Species and On Liberty were both published in 1859. Then you could include Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. And that was just the people living in and around London. In Russia, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both at work, although neither had yet published their greatest novels.

And that’s not even all of it! Read the rest when you have the chance.

If I Were President of FC4, I Would Tell the Board…

UPDATE: Sorry about the error on the first poll question (effect should be affect–duh…), but I can’t change it without wiping out the votes already cast. Avert your eyes, please; mea culpa. (Thanks, Matt for the heads up. Sorry about the Phillies. Carry on.)

As you may or may not know, our District Wide Faculty Council President will address the Board of the City Colleges of Chicago and the Chancellor next Wednesday. Speaking for a large and multi-varied group is hard enough, but it’s infinitely more complicated of a task in these, umm….interesting times. I am told that at the last FC4 meeting, she agreed to send the draft of her address to the other FC4 representatives for feedback. I thought we might be able to give her some help with the draft part.

So, what would you like her to say? Any and all contributions, serious or snark, are welcome. All you have to do is finish the sentence: If I were President of FC4, I would tell the Board…

Sunday Reading

I usually work late on Wednesdays, which has the nice benefit of affording me a copy of the new Chicago Reader to check out on the train ride home. I always look forward to it, if only to know what great things I’m missing in the city every week.

This week’s issue had an article about something I’d never heard of, AREA Chicago, which was in the news for the release of its 10th issue of an amazing-sounding Collaborative Art and Information Project and because of its pending re-organization due to the leaving of its founder and leader.

The article in the reader was captivating enough that I tore it out so I’d remember to check out the AREA Web site. Here’s how the author of the piece in the Reader, Deanna Isaacs, described AREA:

AREA—the acronym stands for Art, Research, Education, and Activism—is a sometimes bewildering biannual that dedicates each issue’s hodgepodge of essays, advocacy reporting, interviews, and art (often in the form of maps or photo essays) to a different subject. It’s written entirely by volunteers who run the gamut from academics to sex workers and always includes a fair number of publishing virgins. In the five years since it was started by editor Daniel Tucker, AREA—including its website and related projects and events—has become a nexus for all things arty, green, active, and progressive, a touchstone for and celebration of the city’s scattered, diverse social justice community.

I finally had a chance to pull up  their site today, where I found the site for Issue #10 (and, as the article promised, most of the content of the issue). The title of Issue #10? Institutions and Infrastructures. A timely topic for the bunch of us, no?

Even better, it was full of great (by which I mean thoughtful/thought-provoking topics, perspectives, and possibilities) stuff–like this paean to the post office and this on the architecture of invisibility and this on the fine/non- line between performance art and leadership–and I haven’t yet come close to looking at all of it.

I stopped reading after those three because: A) I want to get an actual copy and see what it looks and feels like, not to mention provide some support; and B) I wanted to go back to Issue #1 and start from the beginning.

Happy reading…

The Teaching Life–Commitments and Positions

In early April, MetLife released the results of a big national survey of teachers designed that explores “teacher’s (sic) opinions and brings them to the attention of the American public and policymakers.”

You can get to the whole thing using this link right here. I’ve only read through the first part, which was pretty amazing in particular for the widespread belief in and commitment to collaboration. I think it was Lisa Delpit (an amazing education writer), but I could be wrong about that reference, who once (astutely, in my opinion) compared teachers in their classrooms to two-year-olds engaged in parallel play–only feet apart from each other, yet consistently and entirely oblivious to what is going on just feet away from themselves. It seems that our colleagues at the lower levels of schooling, despite being equally or similarly swamped in terms of load and student need (ever meet a teacher who wasn’t overwhelmed?), manage to carve out some time to get together to talk about students and student success, something that has proven tremendously challenging at HW.

Some interesting findings from that first section:

  • Two-thirds of teachers (67%) and three-quarters of principals (78%) think that greater collaboration among teachers and school leaders would have a major impact on improving student achievement.
  • On average, teachers spend 2.7 hours per week in structured collaboration with other teachers and school leaders, with 24% of teachers spending more than 3 hours per week.
  • The most frequent type of collaborative activities are teachers meeting in teams to learn what is necessary to help their students achieve at higher levels; school leaders sharing responsibility with teachers to achieve school goals; and beginning teachers working with more experienced teachers. A majority of teachers and principals report that these activities occur frequently at their school.
  • The least frequent type of collaborative activity is teachers observing each other in the classroom and providing feedback. Less than one-third of teachers or principals report that this frequently occurs at their school.

I mean, do you know anyone who spends 2 and half hours per week in structured collaboration (let’s say a planning meeting) with a colleague talking about anything, much less “what is necessary to help their students achieve at higher levels?”

Talk about silos…

Website Wednesday

Website Wednesday is a regular feature in which we highlight one (or a couple) of sites from the Billions floating around the Intertoobz that just might help you with your Herculean task of educating inquiring minds. Any and all suggestions for future editions are welcome.

I don’t know if you use Group Projects of any sort in your class (I do, but none that last longer than one class period on account of two things: 1) I always hated doing group projects; and 2) varying availability/attendance  and fairness issues related to those for group members). If so, then perhaps you’ve introduced your students to Google Docs for building any collaborative work. They are pretty straight forward and easy to work with.

I’ve recently fallen across two other places to send students for creating instant wikis/collaborative space where they (or we or a group of students) can build a collaborative work. My new favorite is Wikidot, which, once you’re signed up, lets you create an instant Wiki space for anyone who can find it and signs up. The signup is painless and fast, and they don’t abuse it (or haven’t yet, anyway). Wikis have their problems–especially when unfamiliar students are working with them, i.e., someone might easily accidentally erase everyone else’s work, however this site and most others now, feature a pretty reliable recovery option for such instances.

Quiktopic is just what it sounds like–a place to start an instant discussion board on the Web where anyone (who can find it) can contribute their knowledge and talents, including by email. It’s a little more user friendly than the Discussion Boards in Blackboard and has the added bonus of being available to students/people outside of your classroom (or colleagues across departments or districts).

If you know of others/better collaboration tools, please post them in the comments.