I recently attended a compelling conference called Technology, Knowledge and Society, hosted at UCLA.

At one session, BYU professor Brent Adams talked about how much his practice changed after a study about graduates in the work force revealed these perceived weaknesses:

  • they had no understanding of quality
  • they had weak communication skills
  • they had been taught to work primarily as individuals, and not as groups

Now, his students work together for a year to make a movie. They rely heavily on a software that they learn about largely through online tutorials, they vote one student to be the producer, and they collaboratively generate about 2.5 million files. They leverage social media tools and wikis to communicate and collaborate, used available online tools for software training. Every Wednesday, the students meat online in raltime with three or for people from Dreamworks for a half an hour by video conference. “As a professor, I don’t know half the stuff they are doing, and that’s okay,” he said. Adams doesn’t grade anymore either. Students give themselves grades. He will intervene if he really disagrees.

So much of what he said resonated for me, and fits with my notion of authentic, student-driven, 21st century education. They weren’t new ideas to me, they just exemplified how successful students can be when these ideas are put into practice; Adams’ students have won eleven student Emmy awards, and four student Academy Awards, among other higher honors.

The thing that Adams said that struck me as most novel, put in a way I hadn’t thought about before, had to do with cheating. “There are two ways to cheat in my class,” he said. One is to take credit for someone else’s work. The other? To have knowledge that would help someone in the class, and not offer it. As I thought about this, someone else pushed back and asked why that is cheating. Adams answered, “It cheats society.”

I’ve been contemplating this notion ever since.

What more can you ask for from a conference session than that?