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Four New Levels of Student Engagement

I write often about the ever-evolving world we live in today. The way “things get done” is transforming before our very eyes. Often, a teacher in a classroom cannot keep up with the way kids connect, share, transmit and get to a goal.

In his book, Here Comes Everybody, author and media theorist Clay Shirky explains a useful hierarchy that has emerged which helps us sort through the new social arrangement in today’s global culture. He ranks them by increasing the degree of organization between parties.

Case in point.

Consider how much sharing goes on today—among all ages—on social media. Life has become a decentralized experience of data and photos. It’s amazing.

So let’s look at the four levels Shirky uses to help us understand our world.

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1. Coordination

This is all about caring and sharing. Today’s public has an incredible predisposition to share. The number of photos and updates shared on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr and other social media sites are proof of this. Literally billions of posts per day. It’s called coordination only because we all tend to use a handful of sites that coordinate our posting. Facebook is bigger than most countries.

2. Cooperation

As people work together toward a common goal, they produce outcomes that go beyond mere coordination. Consider Creative Commons for a moment. We no longer have to travel to New York to get a good photo of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty because so many others have taken photos better than the one I could take myself. Tumblr has coordinated the efforts of artists and photographers and created a cooperative effort.

3. Collaboration

In the words of author and former “Wired” editor Kevin Kelly, “Organized collaboration can produce results beyond the achievements of ad hoc cooperation.” Open software projects such as the Linux operating system enable people to collaborate and accomplish something far greater than a bunch of people who arbitrarily uploaded content on a site. A free clearinghouse called 3-D Warehouse offers several million complex 3-D models of any form you can imagine and swap. They are just waiting for our collaboration.

4. Collectivism

Finally, the ultimate level (at least today) is this one: collectivism. This level is an emerging design space in which decentralized public coordination can solve problems and create things that neither “pure communism” nor “pure capitalism” can. A small, simple example of this one is Reddit—communities that enable users to evaluate content from books, or YouTube channels that produce a workforce of nearly 25 million users who now compete with TV.

These may feel like subtle differences, but they are real and the emerging generation of students tends to understand them (often for entertainment purposes). We have moved from consuming what someone else creates to creating the message as participators.

Wikipedia is a prime illustration. Wikipedia came along almost two decades ago, but after Microsoft had attempted to create a digital encyclopedia, controlled by experts and published by a single company. Microsoft’s product is now extinct. Wikipedia lives on—although it is now begging users for funding. One was a centralized and controlled effort; the other a crowd-sourced effort that is ever changing.

My Questions for You

As you work with students, how are you communicating, based on what you just read? Do you speak the language that our culture offers us?

  1. How do you empower your students to participate in the lesson you teach?
  2. How do you allow your students’ language, style and methods to dictate the class?
  3. How do you engage listeners? Do they “own” the subject, or do you?
  4. How does your pedagogy imitate collaboration and collectivism in the list above?
  5. How do you demonstrate trust in the process where students post their thoughts?
  6. How have you backed away from simply downloading information to enabling your students to upload their own?

None of this requires you to surrender “what” you are teaching—just the “how.”

Are you ready?


Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

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Four New Levels of Student Engagement