by Diana Senechal
When Sam Spivender, CEO of Temporarium University Library, noticed that no students collaborated in the new ten million dollar Collaborative Learning Center, he did what any rational library CEO would do: hired twenty collaborative cheerleaders, one for each collaborative pod, at a rate of fifteen hundred dollars per cheerleader per day.
“It’s worth the investment,” said Spivender. “People need to see students collaborating when they enter the reading room; otherwise they’ll conclude that this is a dull place. And we need new pictures for our brochure.”
On the first day of the initiative, the twenty cheerleaders began with a rousing: “Two-four-six-eight! Time to—collaborate!” When students left the reading room, the cheerleaders followed and encircled them, chanting, “So-lo’s no way to go! Try a pod before you go!”
When one student, carrying a large volume of Dante, broke into tears, the cheerleaders swayed to and fro singing, “That’s ok… change happens that way… sometimes it feels strange… sometimes you feel pain… So drop all those fears…. and come work with your peers….”
A few students caught in the cheer circle giggled, encouraging even the crying Dante student to crack a smile. The cheerleaders took the students by the hand, walked them back into the reading room, and sat them down at their pods, where handheld devices and laptops lay blinking. The cheer team monitored the students for the rest of the morning, tapping them with pompoms if they stopped talking or opened a book.
“It’s usually like that the first day,” said veteran collaborative cheerleader Stephanie Reyes “By day two we’re strictly in maintenance mode.”
True to Reyes’s prediction, students filed into the reading room the second day, sat at pods without prompting, and began talking and texting, without opening any books.
A week later, Spivender received complaints from several professors that their few focused and dedicated students had joined the distracted crowd and stopped doing their work.
“Professors have a hard time changing,” said Spivender. “They see this all as negative. Distraction. Not doing your work. Well, it’s only distraction from what they think is important. They just have to change what they think is important.”
Spivender contacted a change consultant who agreed to give a day-long mandatory faculty workshop at a special rate of ten thousand dollars. During the morning session, faculty members would complete a state-of-the-art Change Readiness Questionnaire.
One professor of ancient history sent a curt RSVP: “Nonsense.”
“You see?” Spivender commented as we read over his shoulder. “The ones who react like that, they’re the ones who need it the most.”