The human hive mind – be like bees

Honeybees are a simple animal, capable of making extremely complex decisions. One of the clearest examples is the ability of a group of a few hundred scout bees to fly a recognisance mission, identify a range of possible nesting locations, and then collectively select the most appropriate one. There are many life-dependent variables to consider for their nest including height from the ground, orientation, ventilation, capacity, predator protection, and food sources. Researchers studying this behaviour have found that, working together, the scout bees choose the optimal available nesting site 80% of the time.

This incredible success rate isn’t due to the unique skill of some advanced genius bee or advice from a highly experienced bee nesting consultant. Rather, it is the result of an amplification of intelligence and critical thinking that comes from the unification of many small brains. The collective consciousness of the ‘hive brain’ enables otherwise impossible calculations and allows bees to thrive.

There are a lot of important reasons why we need to foster independence in our students.  Independent learners are are more self-motivated, take more responsibility for their development, show higher levels of grit, are more reflective, and more curious.

But it’s in classrooms that emphasise and nurture interdependence that the real power of the human mind is unlocked. When we are able to shift a student’s mindset from ‘me’ to ‘we’, the positive features of independent learners are multiplied. When a student’s focus shifts outwards, there are measurable changes in biology, neurology and behaviour that benefit the individual and those around them.

Technically, humans are not a hive species, but enabling and harnessing the human ‘hive mind’ is part of the future of education.

Closed circuit

The purpose of closed-circuit television systems (CCTV) is for cameras to record information and send it to one specific location. CCTV is a secure, private system that is the opposite of broadcasting – in which the signal is openly transmitted and anyone can tune in.

You know those rare days, where everything goes right and you are at the top of your game. I had one of those days in 2010. My mother had come to visit the school I was teaching in and, on that day, I was teaching my favourite Year 12 Psychology class. I had done extra preparation for the lesson – I wanted it to go well – and the students were absolutely engaged throughout the lesson and swept-up in the content on ‘evolutionary theories of relationships’. At the end of the lesson, my students left the classroom buzzing and, although I was glad it went well and so happy that my mum had seen me at my best, I kind of wished that I had recorded the lesson. It really was one of my best ever lessons. But no one will ever know. And no other teacher will ever be able to learn from it. (They also won’t be able to learn from all the lessons that didn’t work so well.)

That’s because traditional classroom teaching is closed-circuit.

We are starting to get better, as a profession, at designing more open-circuits. Regular lesson observations, peer-mentoring and ‘walk-throughs’, for example, are commonplace in good schools these days. And some of the most innovative schools are creating safe, transparent, active forums and ‘open-source’ databases; not only encouraging the sharing of best practice, but building it into the heart of the teaching infrastructure.

If we can get it right, this broadcasting of ‘what works’ is a way for us to galvanise our collective resources. It may just be the spark that we need to help ignite an evolution in pedagogy.