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Real Learning Needs Real Contact

A few years ago, Isaac Kohane, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, published a study that looked at scientific research conducted by groups in an attempt to determine the effect that physical proximity had on the quality of the research. He analyzed more than thirty-five thousand peer-reviewed papers, mapping the precise location of co-authors. Then he assessed the quality of the research by counting the number of subsequent citations. The task, Kohane says, took a “small army of undergraduates” eighteen months to complete. Once the data was amassed, the correlation became clear: when coauthors were closer together, their papers tended to be of significantly higher quality. The best research was consistently produced when scientists were working within ten metres of each other; the least cited papers tended to emerge from collaborators who were a kilometre or more apart. “If you want people to work together effectively, these findings reinforce the need to create architectures that support frequent, physical, spontaneous interactions,” Kohane says. “Even in the era of big science, when researchers spend so much time on the Internet, it’s still so important to create intimate spaces.

Groupthink by Jonah Lehrer

Adding to recent thread More or Less Bunk, and I have had on online education, I think this excerpt was interesting. It is important for people to by physically interacting in educational settings creating situations of debate and dialogue.

Money quote, “If you want people to work together effectively, these findings reinforce the need to create architectures that support frequent, physical, spontaneous interactions.” To me, this is a perfect description of how I want my classroom to be. We might not get through an entire history textbook this way (which shouldn’t be the point of a history class anyways), but imagine the possibilities. This is real learning.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Jess
    02/21/2012 at 8:53 pm

    Glad to see this verified with all the talk of online learning. I agree that personal interaction is always preferable.

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