Risk Taking and Educational Technology

In preparation for our most recent podcast at the OCDE, I revisited the 21st Century Skill of risk taking.

Visit the link for an overview, but here are some of the points I think we can work on, the prerequisites you might say.

NCREL defines “students who are risk takers” in part as those who “share and advocate ideas they believe in, even when those ideas are unconventional” and who “are willing to be incorrect and willingly take on tasks that might result in errors.” It goes almost without saying that traditional schools do not support or encourage this kind of risk taking in students; they are instead rewarded for right answers and penalized for incorrect answers, and often even incorrect methods as we require they turn in note cards and drafts – or show their work.

Here is the most important ‘take away’ from the enGauge document on risk taking:

In order to take risks that lead to intellectual growth, students must be in environments that they perceive to be safe – places in which to share ideas, reflect on and discuss perspectives, and learn new things.” (p. 42)

This is what teachers can do to help students develop risk taking skills… they must first provide a learning environment that encourages and rewards risk taking. If, instead of focusing on right answers students are “encouraged to engatge in discussions about numerous approaches – and potential solutions – to a problem” we are on our way to a collaborative and open ended education with the power of the open source movement. Open-ended software and open-ended games can help provide this kind of environment and facilitate this kind of thinking. So, of course, can the read/write web, especially blogs.

If this is what teachers can do to encourage risk taking in students, it is also what we as professional developers and educational technologists can do to encourage risk taking in teachers. Ultimately, politicians and their constituents will have to provide the same sort of environment for schools and districts if there is to be any substantive risk or opportunities for change in our educational institutions.