How Social Impacts the Balance of PowerOrganizations, businesses and entire industries are becoming more social. Does that really translate to better collaboration?

I think so. Education and commerce are two areas where social forces are impacting the balance of power and in turn improving the degree and quality of collaboration.

noun: collaboration; plural noun: collaborations
1. the action of working with someone to produce or create something.

Collaborative Learning: To Sir, with Love …

Many would say it is dedicated teachers like Mark Thackeray in “To Sir, with Love” who make all the difference in how well we educate. But for those who maintain that technology plays the critical role, please tell me: “What is the invention that has had the biggest impact on how we educate?”

Want a hint? Scholars agree that “the inventor or introducer of this system deserves to be ranked among the best contributors to learning and science, if not among the greatest benefactors of mankind.”

The answer must be the Internet and the worldwide web, right? 

Wrong. It's the blackboard.

At the end of the 18th century, students used individual slates for their lessons. The materials were plentiful and cheap but there was no way to present a problem to the class as a whole, and certainly no way to collaborate on the problem. A rather obvious solution came early in the 19th century.

James Pillans, headmaster and geography teacher at the Old High School in Edinburgh, Scotland, is often credited with inventing the first modern blackboard. Some references say he hung a large piece of slate on the classroom wall, or as described in the “History and Future of the Chalkboard,” started by hanging his students’ slates together on the wall, making a large "slate board" that all could see.

This important invention has endured, and over time new materials and technologies brought new form factors. The board was no longer black but green, the white dry erase board emerged. Then the electronic whiteboard, online learning ecosystems from companies like Bb, and collaborative platforms from enterprise software companies became available. Now the blackboard and all of its progeny are not only pervasive in our classrooms, but also in corporations and the public sector.

A fundamental change occurred as the materials and technology evolved in how we think about education and the way in which learning might best take place. Many of us lived through this change first hand. As a very young student, I remember asking my teacher whether I could ” talk with my neighbors” once I completed the assignment. The answer was an emphatic no, and even more distant was the hope that I might be allowed to work with my neighbors to complete the assignment. [By way of full disclosure I did spend a lot of time banished to the hall for “talking too much,“ apparently a rebel to authority at an early age.] I suspect this later inspired me to get my dual Masters in Math and Education, with a determination to take the more social, collaborative approach to teaching.

The point? For a very long time, the teaching process relied on a certain balance of power. The power was with the teacher who controlled the process at all times with a “one to one” traditional teacher to student learning model. Slowly the balance of power evolved, at first to a “one to many” model that opened up the possibility of sharing and conversation, but retained control by the teacher.

Learning began to happen in an egalitarian environment, with the balance of power shifting to a “many to many” practice community model. In a great whimsical photo from LIFE magazine in the 60s of “NASA before Powerpoint,” we see multiple scientists communicating, perhaps even collaborating, using a VERY large chalkboard.

Fast forward to today. We have moved to the virtual equivalent of the “many slates on the wall” to see and share information. With social technologies, the balance of power has shifted even further using fast information sharing, ad hoc meetings and collaboration to create communities. We have accepted a collaborative approach to learning, solving problems and producing results. We have embraced the ability technology has provided to collaborate on a single document or workspace, be influenced by social commentary and crowdsourcing and even support crowdfunding.

Proof points are happening in a wide variety of industries and organizations. For example: