Sunday, May 3, 2015

Preparing students for the 21st century workplace

Proponents of cooperative groups in K12 schools cite the rise of cooperative groups in 21st century workplaces. As I’ve frequently pointed out, however, professional collaborations differ from classroom-based groups in a number of key ways, not least of which is the amount of time people spend working in groups. While students are generally expected to do most of the work together, professional collaborators generally divvy things up and work separately.

Working not only separately, but also in solitude is what many professionals prefer. It's also what makes them most productive. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's happening. Here's what Lindsey Kaufman writes in a recent article in the Washington Post (thanks to Auntie Ann for telling me about it):

A year ago, my boss announced that our large New York ad agency would be moving to an open office. After nine years as a senior writer, I was forced to trade in my private office for a seat at a long, shared table.  
…All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing, along with loud music piped through a PA system.
…A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy… In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”  
The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction…
However, given that “about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions,” with newer, trendier companies like Yahoo, eBay, and Facebook leading the charge, a classroom group-work enthusiast could claim that that’s all the more reason for classroom-based group work. How better to prepare kids at school for the challenges of the 21st century workplace: the challenges to their attentions spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction?

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