Collective Intelligence: A Liberation from the Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I am participating in a MOOC entitled ‘E-Learning Ecologies” from the University of Illinois. This week’s topics covered the themes of recursive feedback and collective intelligence or ‘social learning’. These two topics are the dominant reasons why I chose to pursue a doctorate in the field of instructional technology, so I am particularly passionate about them. As an educator and a graduate student of Education, I always felt unsatisfied with traditional methods of assessment. On one hand, they say that educators should be as objective as possible; using rubrics, and grading individuals based on milestones rather than personal attitude or efforts. This, however,  still facilitates a ‘normative’ standard for which only a few may find success and/or satisfaction. Paulo Freire’s work in critical pedagogy ( portrays an image of a citizen that is used as a depository, and the teacher the depositor. He proclaimed that this style of teaching and learning was institutionalized by governments in order to keep the masses automatized, and complacent,rule-followers and non-dissenters. It also ensures that only a select few succeed and join the ranking of those who then go on to make the decisions for the rest of us– a “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (1972).

“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them.” -Paulo Freire (1972)

What the new ‘E-Learning Ecologies’ allows for is social learning, in which we work collaboratively as a group and as such become smarter than any individual. This could be referred to in some ways as ‘crowd sourcing’ ( Cope and Kalantzis, 2016). This concept has also been referred to previously as ‘Communities of Practice’ , or ‘Situated Learning’ (Lave and Wagner).In a community of practice each member of the community sources from the other which negates the need for a ‘single expert of all’ but instead facilitates an environment for ‘many experts’ which collectively work together to create a group that functions as a whole, much like the way that groups of humans used to function long before the concept of the ‘modern’ classroom emerged (E. Wenger-Trayner, O’Creevy, Hutchinson, Kubiak, B. Wenger,2015).

Thomas Malone at MIT discussed in an interview his research which focuses on “how people and computers can be connected so that they act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer ever has before” (McCarthy, 2016).He has found in his work that the group is much more powerful than the individual because the factors that have the most effect on performance is not the individual intelligence of the members, but elements such as ‘social perceptiveness,’ ‘participation’, and ‘gender’ (McCarthy,2016). In other words, interpersonal skills, are much more significant than individual scholastic abilities when it comes to collective problem solving. This is the world in which the ‘holistic qualitative’ becomes the norm (Cope & Kalantzis, 2016).


Perhaps this has been known and understood for a long time, and may be why policy makers, administrators, and society seek to subdue, prevent, and even disqualify these kinds of environments. Take for example the social stigma surrounding online learning, which perseveres in the face of the 6.7 million people which are now taking an online course (Allen and Seaman, 2013). Or those who may discount the information obtained from social media or oppose the use of social media for communication/collaboration altogether. For many, the only acceptable form of learning is still one that is in a traditional space in which one expert deposits their selection of information into the minds of its automatized participants.

We can also speculate that attempts to restrict internet usage and rights at the federal level may be an example of the suppression of ‘collective intelligence’(restoring internet freedom,2017). We have seen many examples of social networking resources being restricted or completely shut down in moments of political crisis in countries such as Turkey by its government (Bulman,2016). With these ideas in mind, it is imperative that we ask ourselves what is it about holistic assessment and collective intelligence that seems to dismay our leaders and perturb our citizens? What are we all afraid of?



Allen, E., & Seaman, J. (2013, January). 2012 – Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the united states. Retrieved June 09, 2017, from

Bulman, M. (2016, November 04). Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp blocked in Turkey after arrest of opposition leaders. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2017). E-Learning ecologies: principles for new learning and assessment. New York, NY: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

McCarthy, A. (2016, November 14). Harnessing the power of collective intelligence. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from

Restoring Internet Freedom. (2017, June 12). Retrieved July 17, 2017, from

Wenger, E., Fenton-OCreevy, M., Hutchinson, S., Kubiak, C., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Learning in landscapes of practice: boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning. London: Routledge.


Intercultural Communication in the Language Teacher Curriculum

Our program, at Sookmyung TESOL,  is an intensive TESOL graduate certificate program that combines the 12 initial credits of a TESOL MA into just 19 weeks. Students can choose to transfer those credits on to one of many qualified MA TESOL programs worldwide or stop here and begin teaching with just their certificate. Many do choose to continue on, and I believe that it is due to our unique curriculum, which includes a course on ‘Intercultural Communication for Langauge Teachers.’ This course covers the basics of Intercultural Communication (ICC) , but unlike traditional classes that focus primarily on ‘how to speak to people with different language backgrounds’, the overarching objectives are to help current and future language teachers become more comfortable with uncertainty by developing a higher tolerance for ambiguity in the communicative language classroom. ‘Culture’ is defined as the ‘beliefs,norms,values, and attitudes’ of a group of people. This is not just on a national scale(Korean, American, Japanese), but on a much more personal/local community of practice forefront. Students begin to understand that ‘culture shock’ can happen during group work in the language classroom and that shared values of education and language learning don’t necessarily guarantee shared beliefs about the best way to practice those values in a group atmosphere. Given the widespread persistence of the use of ‘Communicative Language Teaching'(CLT) in most TESOL teacher training methodology courses,we believe that what is lacking to compliment this method is instruction on how to make CLT work in the real world;especially in East Asia where CLT is widely believed to be a ‘western’ approach that may not be applicable in the East. While many ESL professionals may experience multilingual classrooms, where two or three first languages are represented, in the EFL context, it is usually a homogenous language learning environment. While the class does hit on some major key ICC points such as pragmatics, semantics, and sociolinguistic competence in English, we believe in taking this a step further. By the end of the semester, our trainees are able to define a ‘classroom’ as a “place where learning can be negotiated.” Their own beliefs about education, group work, and the intended benefits of CLT are continually reflected on in a way that, hopefully, encourages them to consider planning a classroom culture along with their course curriculum. One of the theories that we focus on throughout the semester is by Geert Hofstede. His longitudinal research on cultural dimensions has been cited multiple times in both the international education and business fields. Here is a video of some of our students doing a role play in which they are each assigned one of the 4 main cultural dimensions (Individualism, Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity), and asked to create a ‘situation’ in which each person represents one of the dimensions while trying to solve a problem. By the end of this unit, students are able to identify aspects of each dimension in themselves, and their classmates, and begin to approach culture from a contextual perspective, rather than a national one.