Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Making comments more effective - how and when

Yesterday in class we spent some time talking about one of the pitfalls possible with vertical (power) relationships, namely the subordinate sucking up to the boss.  I brought this up because I thought some students tried to do that with their most recent blog posts.  It actually took some effort to construct a post that way, I am appreciative of that effort, but at the same time it would be much better for students to voice their own point of view and thereby develop that in a deeper and more confident way.

There is a different but similar issue with horizontal (peer) relationships, especially when the people don't know each other very well and the person sending the message wants to be polite and friendly.  Then one is apt to say something rather bland, more encouragement than substance, a pat on the back rather than an thoughtful provocation.  Our world is now filled with - have a nice day, LOL, various emoticons, and other similar messaging that may serve some useful social function but doesn't produce learning in the recipient of the message.

If taken to the extreme, there is the risk that this sort of thing can lead to a "hive mind" which is not capable of independent thought.  (On the entertainment front, an excellent depiction of the hive mind is in the Borg, part of the Star Trek Next Generation series.)  I leave it to you whether the hive mind remains an issue in real life.  I am using it here rhetorically to set up its opposite.

I learned about this after I had taken extensive leadership training, which at its conclusion offered up several things we might read.  One of those was the Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, a book that does provoke one's thinking.  If you click on the Look inside link, you can get to the first chapter of the book, which is called Thinking Gray.  I encourage you to read it.  It will challenge you, not because it is difficult intellectually, but because it is different from what you are used to.  Virtually every student in the class expects right answer and right ways of thinking about a situation.  So the issue is whether students can try on a different hat, one where there aren't right answers so much but rather multiple points of view, each with something to speak for it.  A thinking gray leader tries to maintain multiple points of view and, this is the part that will drive you nuts, doesn't commit to one of those being the better point of view, until it is absolutely necessary for making choices.

So you might consider your job when offering comments as getting the student who wrote the post to consider a potential different angle for looking at the topic.  I'm hopeful that with this orientation the commenting will become more valuable both to the student making the comment and the one receiving it as there will be a more evident value add.   I will note however, that coming up with such a comment might not be immediate, so let's consider timing issues below.

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I also suggested in class yesterday that at the author's discretion part of the blog post can be more on the topic from the previous week.  (The other part would be on the current topic.)  Reflection is a way to continually make connections between posts, something I'm definitely trying to promote.  Given that, comments might encourage deeper reflection and clearly more interesting comments are more likely to do that.  So let's abandon the requirement that the comments on other students' posts need to be done before Tuesday's class, which was based on the idea that everything would be wrapped up in a bow via the class discussion on Tuesday.  That was naive of me and probably encouraged students to make trivial comments.  Teammates might discuss among themselves when they are likely to be writing their blog posts and when, as a consequence, they are apt to review the comments of their teammates in a way that might be incorporated in their next reflection.  I hope you can internalize the timing so that it works for each team member.

Let me close about the poster responding to my comment.  I would still like that to happen before the Tuesday class.  I hope that is sensible and do-able.

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