Flash Mobs, Synchrony & Cooperation

If you’re not one of the 12,188,045 people (at press time) who’ve watched the Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus, take the just-under-5 minutes right now to check it out.I was moved to tears by this video, not because I’m particularly religious (I’m not) or because I’m in the holiday spirit (ditto), but because I found the infectious joy of people unexpectedly joining together in song, in the most unlikely of settings, to be inspiring and exhilarating.  What the singers did in this video is something called a flash mob, which is defined in Wikipedia as “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual act for a brief time, then disperse.” How cool is that? I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how the crowd reacts after the dispersal; what’s left behind with the people who experience a flash mob? I could imagine myself in that crowd, smiling and laughing with strangers after the song, and being a lot more friendly in general for the rest of that day. It turns out that what I imagined is actually what happens (surprise, surprise!). In a 2009 Psychological Science article by Scott S. Wiltermuth and Chip Heath entitled “Synchrony and Cooperation,” they sum up their study in this way:

In total, the results suggest that acting in synchrony with others can increase cooperation by strengthening social attachment among group members.

And that synchronous action doesn’t even need to be something positive like singing the Hallelujah Chorus together. Witermuth and Heath examined three studies and concluded as follows:

Taken together, these studies suggest that acting in synchrony with others can lead people to cooperate with group members.

Unlike what you might expect, this didn’t lead me to think about synchronous learning, since I think that term has really just cropped up lately to suggest that there are cool web tools (think webinars, chats, wikis, that sort of thing), that allow people to learn together online in the same way they would in a classroom (more on this topic in another post). No, what it made me wonder is how we could incorporate the idea of synchrony into our learning environments in another way, specifically as a way to lead to strengthened cooperation within groups. I’m reminded of how as an American kid in school we’d start the day off by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (well, most of us did). Was this really just a clever way for the teachers to foster group cooperation (along with a bit of patriotism)? What could we do in the classroom together that might be relevant to the learning at hand? We could . . . sing, cheer, drum, dance, recite, march, do jumping jacks, laugh, clap, stomp . . . What kinds of synchronous group activities have you used during your learning events? Have you noticed increased cooperation as a result? What might you add now that you’ve thought about flash mobs and synchrony and cooperation?

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