I often used that quote to frame circle reflections when I worked with 14 year old students in Orange County, Virginia. Whether my students were grappling with primary source documents and research, or a figure eight knot and climbing harness, or the shifting social dynamics of an eighth grade classroom, I hoped that each of them would practice observation. I wanted them to hover above their bodies for a split second and recognize the choices that presented in any given moment. I prioritized the time to review the game tape and think through what choice was made and what the consequences turned out to be.
This practice seems to fit the notion of reflexivity. As a norming process, reflexive thinking provides a feedback loop that gives an individual more power to affect and define their environment. The Hawthorne Effect is a term coined in 1950 by Henry A. Landsberger, who suggests that individuals improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. I absolutely believed that students would perform better on a project-based assessment if they knew that others outside of the comfort of our classroom would access their work. Observation and documentation has long been important tools in teacher evaluation, co-teaching initiatives (see: Lesson Study), and even National Board certification.
I wonder how this notion of self-observation is enhanced in a culture in which everyone is a documentarian? We live in a society in which every phone in every pocket is positioned to document and annotate. We see photo ops in every fancy meal, and we freeze ourselves in visual time capsules of complete strangers in photo bombs. We Instagram, Facebook, Tweet, and YouTube our lives in short-hand annotation. We are observing our world and our place in it, although admittedly without much facilitation or many quote books to frame the discussion. We are journalists and snitches, diarists and commentators. We KNOW that we are being observed, primarily because we are observers as well. We live in a time when we expect that others can see what we are doing.
Does this Age of the Camera help build character then?
Do we have some kind of large scale Hawthorne Effect happening because of the 24-hour Snapchat cycle?
Can teachers find ways to leverage this reality in the classroom – by having students employ visual tools in their projects and assessments? By capturing classroom content to share in a flipped environment? By asking students to reflect on choices and behaviors using technology as the environment?
If character is how you act when no one is watching, then can watching yourself help build character? Authentic self-observation would seem lead to insights and reflexivity, remorse and humility. Inflated egos and delusion aside, being able to see yourself face pathways, make choices, and encounter consequences seems to be a strong agent for improvement.
Beth Scarborough records Kim Gilman giving
a testimonial for NCHE Conference 2015
photo taken by Mink, A.