What if 50% of the students in a classroom demanded that their questions be answered? That their agenda be the focus?

Education would fall apart.

There is an unwritten contract between traditional students and traditional schools: we will respect the trajectory selected by the teacher, take notes, and (largely) keep our heads down.

Another, more pessimistic view of this contract sees students as apathetic, exhibiting a form of learned helplessness. “If I sit here for 50 minutes they’ll let me leave. If I ask questions I might extend my sentence.”

But what happens when an audience is truly engaged?

We do a lot of demos, frequently to diverse groups of educators. We’ll have technologists, professors, administrators (ideally all three perspectives in the same person!) in a webinar or conference room. Once Waypoint is part of an institution’s toolkit we’re often onsite, where the stakes are even higher.

Waypoint is about culture change. About moving from a push approach to education, assessed via multiple choice tests, to an engagement, learner-centric model where feedback and dialog matter.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because after demos or (especially) onsite meetings I’m exhausted and elated, daunted and excited. The conversations are intense: people get excited, and want to commandeer the conversation (“can it do THIS?”) while other have high stakes questions that require an extended conversation. Usually the energy is extremely positive, even if we don’t have all the answers, but it takes immense concentration to keep some semblance of an agenda, get across the main points, and stick to an agreed upon schedule. Doing this all day long would be nearly impossible.

The conversations are intense because the audience is highly motivated, has skin in the game, is educated in the space (or knows that they aren’t and therefore is doubly motivated), and is getting paid to design a better process and create authentic analytics on student learning.

How much of our educational process is designed (either explicitly or indirectly) to underwhelm the audience, to impoverish their expectations, and create docile consumers? What would an energized, motivated group of 20 students (never mind 300) do to a Chemistry class? An English class? How would we design an education system that assumed this level of engagement and ownership?