Thinking on your feet

A woman takes her pet chihuahua with her to Africa on a safari holiday. One day the chihuahua wanders away and gets lost in the bush, and nearly runs right into a huge, hungry looking lion. The chihuahua realises he's in trouble, but, noticing some fresh bones on the ground, he settles down to chew on them, with his back to the big cat. As the lion sneaks up behind, the chihuahua smacks his lips and exclaims loudly, "Wow, that was a delicious lion. I wonder if there are any more around here?" The lion stops mid-stride, and slinks away into the trees. "Phew," says the lion, "that was close - that evil little dog nearly had me."

A monkey nearby sees everything and thinks he'll win a favour by putting the stupid lion straight. The chihuahua sees the monkey go after the lion, and guesses he might be up to no good. When the lion hears the monkey's story he feels angry at being made a fool, and offers the monkey a ride back to see him exact his revenge. The little dog sees them approaching and fears the worst. Thinking quickly, the dog turns his back, pretends not to notice them, and when the pair are within earshot says aloud, "Now where did that monkey get to? I sent him out ages ago to bring me another lion..."

Thinking on your feet means being able to solve problems as they arise. It is one of the key skills of the 21st century, and it's based on previous experiences, the ability to handle unpredictable events and creative thinking. It is the ability to recognise changing conditions and respond appropriately to them. It is the ability to recognise an opportunity and exploit it to your advantage when the time is right. It is also the very reason that Kodak, one of the giants in the photographic industry of the last century, is now in financial difficulty. The company, a pioneer in photography, used to own an unassailable share of the world market, but Kodak failed to adapt to the digital age as quickly as its competitors, and it is now paying the price. It didn't move with the times, and its leadership team didn't learn to think on their feet. Being able to adapt quickly to changing conditions is the stuff entrepreneurs are made of, and this is how young people need to be equipped when they emerge into the world of work. But how can schools, colleges and universities help students to learn these skills?

The recent Head Teacher Update (January 2012), features an article written by Graham Brown-Martin entitled 'What the future holds'. In it, he outlines some of the current limitations of school and critiques the failure of schools to respond quickly enough to the rapid changes currently taking place in society. He demonstrates how video games are the defining art of the 21st Century, but we clearly have to temper this view with the fact that we are only in the second decade of the Century, and with the rapid changes taking place, we can expect other art forms to emerge and even dominate in short periods. For the time being however, Graham is right - the video games industry is now grossing more worldwide than the publishing, music and movies industries combined, and is a defining feature not only of youth culture, but all western culture, because games are incredibly engaging. Graham makes a memorable statement when he declares that when we play games we rapidly solve abstract problems in real time. He points out that game playing often involves continual assessment by peers, and many games rely on teamwork and collaboration. These skills, he argues, are exactly the skills young people require in today's ever shifting world of work. Stanford University professor Elizabeth Corcoran takes a different stance, suggesting that gamification (the art of using games to engage and inspire learning... 'is creating an expectation among people that real-life interactions follow simple mechanics, and some disillusionment when they do not'.

Yet despite such objections, games based learning in all its guises is one of the most powerful methods currently available to engage young people in learning, and facilitate the learning of transferable skills that they will need to help them to think on their feet.

Creative Commons Licence
Thinking on your feet by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Anonymous said…
Love the 'Aesop fable' analogy to 'reflection in action' (Schon)and the link to Kodak, which clearly highlights the need for continual progression. Whether in business, education or the environment, there is no time to stand still because our world is moving so fast, technology has sent it spinning more quickly than ever before. However,I think there is still so much more to learn and discover, we are only just starting out on the digital journey that lay before us.
AJ Corrigan said…
"it's based on previous experiences, the ability to handle unpredictable events and creative thinking." And the confidence in yourself that helps you understand that you have ownership of your own destiny.

Can that be taught?
Steve Wheeler said…
No it can't be taught AJ anchor would be foolish to think that it could. But that's not the thrust of this blog post. What can be done by teachers, schools and the formal education process is to provide conducive environments within which these kind of skills can be nurtured. Clearly, many schools still don't do this.
mvallance1234 said…
Our university in Japan certainly has the physical and virtual environments - open spaces, open classrooms, encouragement of inter-disciplinary work between Design & Arts students and Complex Systems programmers and maths geeks, BUT the challenge remains with developing the academics (and sometimes the students) to utilise and make meaning from the experiences that can be facilitated within (and outside) this new university.

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