Mike Harrison's Reviews

Networks and self-organisation

Written on 13/04/2011 – 10:04 am | by mikeharrison

For the second session to attend at ISTEK, I went to Willy Cardoso’s workshop, Networks and Self-Organization: A Systems Thinking for Effective Practice.

I first met Willy in London after a day spent working at the British Council with Callie Wilkinson, Amanda Wilson and Phil Bird. We just went for drinks that time, but since then Willy and I have crossed paths a few times at various BC seminars and a couple of conferences.

Willy was talking at ISTEK about networks and how groups organise themselves, asking the participants (which counted Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury among their number) why this didn’t seem to be something we consider too much in English Language Teaching. Have you ever thought where/who your students go to for help when you, the teacher, are not there? Well, I haven’t to any great extent, at least. We were shown networks made between students and teacher, and also between teachers in the same workplace based upon questionnaires. The difference made to the links between the nodes (students, teachers, managers, or administrative staff) when a member of the group was removed were quite amazing. Remove one student from the group and the dynamic of relationships in the class was totally different.

We were also invited to consider how certain groups, like schools of fish and flocks of birds like starlings, organise themselves. Willy wanted to show us this video in the workshop, but the wifi was against him, so we were unable to see it. Luckily, on asking Willy for a reference and checking out if he was ok with a review post like this, he tweeted me a link to the video, which is below:

Pretty amazing, but as Willy explained, this group organisation is built on three simple rules, which I’ll paraphrase (Willy, if you’re out there and would like to correct anything wrong, please do so!):

  1. Move in the same direction as your neighbour
  2. Remain close to your neighbours
  3. Avoid collisions with your neighbours

Taken from Wikipedia

Can humans do this? Emphatically not, as Willy demonstrated with a group of 4 workshop participants and a pencil game. The participants were given a pole (made of pencils taped together), asked to balance it on their index fingers, and given a┬ásimple rule (don’t let the pole come out of contact with their fingers) and a task – to lower the pole to the floor. They were not successful!

pencil game

Willy: 'All you have to do is...'

What does this mean related to our practice? I guess that we should consider that not everyone moves in the same direction all the time, that the teacher is often not the most important link in a class, and managers not so in organisations, that humans find simple things difficult!

Much food for thought. Thanks, Willy!

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  1. 2 Responses to “Networks and self-organisation”

  2.   By Willy Cardoso on Apr 14, 2011 | Reply

    thanks very much for reviewing my workshop!

    I can see that it made sense somehow. To be honest, this type of session is not always successful in terms of getting the message across.

    I really liked how you considered the implications for practice, next time if you’re around I’ll ask you to conclude the session for me :-)

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to plug two related posts here, I wrote them while preparing this workshop.

    Thanks, Mike! See you in Brighton.

    •   By mikeharrison on Apr 14, 2011 | Reply

      Plug away! I really appreciated the something different about your workshop – a slightly different way of looking at things, which is one of the great things I feel i get from those I interact with on blogs and Twitter, and then if I’m lucky get a chance to speak f2f.

      Safe journey and see you at iatefl!

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