Saturday, 22 November 2008

Are we ready for Edu-Wikinomics?

As I am trying to promote and develop our new local Languages Ning, I am starting to feel the extent to which a lot of educators are NOT prepared for what I call “edu-wikinomics”.

Edu.. what?
I was very inspired by the book, Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything, which depicts an optimist picture of collaboration in the business world. In fact, I felt it was more than optimist. It presents collaboration as the only way to survive in an increasingly competitive global markets, where well-kept trade secrets and the power of highly trained and experienced executives can be threatened by the masses getting together to improve on products and ideas.

My first reaction was that if the profit-making sector could see collaboration as a priority, why was not education following suit… What are the barriers?

Isolation: some people still see teaching as an individual activity on which team work does not impact directly. “In the end, it is still me with 30 children”

Lack of trust: suspicion that the outcome will not be as good as if it had been produced by one person only. “What will be given to me will not be as good as what I have contributed”

Fear that good materials or ideas are going to be “stolen” for someone else to reap the rewards.

Time: the misconstrued idea that collaboration involved endless meetings and is time-consuming when the aim is really to make everybody gain time.

Lack of control: As teaching is not a collaborative activity per se, collaboration can sometimes feel like a dangerous loss of control over the planning and preparation process, with still the same exposure to the consequences in front of the class. “It was not really my planning-that’s why it did not work for my class”.

Accountability: Accountability for results is individual and it often clashes with the need to collaborate.

Isolation is dangerous, Education is a collective responsibility including colleagues, parents and society in general.

• If the criteria for the outcome to be produced are shared and come from the group, it is easier to challenge and control the quality of that outcome. The positive pressure on the members of the group should also ensure that no individuals want to let the group down.

Original ideas and materials should be referred to clearly, so that the group can see the extent of each member’s contribution.

Time should be gained by collaborating, if not in the short term, at least in the long term. If it is not the case, then the individual project is not viable in its original form.

Learning to let go is not easy and it really is a continuum. Teachers need to identify what they are ready to do NOW to let go and how they are going to go about developing their students independent learning skills. It is a leap of faith.

Accountability for results is ultimately personal, but let’s work on it as a team. We can all be accountable for our own results but we can also all benefit from the sum of our experiences…

Any more ideas and arguments to foster more collaboration amongst our working teams???


Paul Left said...

One issue that also arises when the wiki involves student collaboration (ie not just a teacher wiki) is that of 'faulty knowledge':

I applaud your effort to identify both issues and strategies, since this helps overcome the 'yes, but it won't work in my classroom' syndrome.

alice said...

I totally agree with you and I would say that you feel so isolated as a teacher, although you are in front of 30 youngsters all day long! I don't know about other subjects but in MFL I think teachers are masochist and like to produce new resources that other teachers might have done in the past. Another personal example is: my colleagues have adopted goanimate but keep their animations private because they say they are not good enough! Well, personally I will keep sharing the resources I create even if they are not good because you can always modify them so that they suit your needs and at the same time you have saved a a bit of your time!

Marisa said...

A thorough analysis of reality. I've always believed in sharing ideas and it's part of the "give-receive" process. "Collaboration" is a buzz word at present in all walks of life. I consider it's a value that should be encouraged.Most social problems in my country are a result of lack of education, which fails to fulfil its aim despite educators' efforts because parents don't have time to collaborate.

Amanda Salt said...

I completely agree - i had just posted a similar although much less eloquent post in the same vein on my blog. the kids are picking up the idea far quicker than the teachers either in my own department or our partner schools!

pab said...

Hi, IC!

Please forgive me if this rings like rain on a parade. I am, at heart, an advocate of collaboration, but a hard-core when it comes to definitions of collaboration, and a realist when it comes to evaluating what it takes.

I appreciate your positive outlook on collaboration in education, with or without regard to wikis. While you recognize the importance of social context (However... Isolation is dangerous), you also suggest, "Time should be gained by collaborating, ... at least in the long term" (However..., bullet point three).

Perhaps that is the kiss of death for collaboration, since we measure time in immediate contexts, the here and now. Online collaboration, in particular, whether among students, teachers, parents, or administrators, seems to demand even more time than do individual or one-to-one endeavors, especially when we compare them to similar endeavors in face-to-face environments.

If you adhere to a business model, you might expect an adequate return on investment, say, in rough figures: for a 50% greater time investment (I recall a recent estimate of 100-200% initial investment), a 60% increase in quality of outcomes, whether those be material- or performance-based. What, if any, educational initiative can promise that kind of measurable returns?

In social contexts in which competition is the order of the day (funding, hiring, retention, tenure), who reaps the benefits of collaborative investments? Is it teachers who collaborate at detriment to their competitive edges, students whose teachers are educators who aspire to fostering even greater collaboration in the future, or institutions that suck the latter dry and spit them out like grape skins?

IC Jones said...

Dear Paul
Thank you very much for your comment and link. The issue of faulty knowledge is certainly linked to the need to ensure some sort of quality assurance is in place with any collaborative projects. Of course the consequences of faulty knowledge in the example you give could be a lot more damaging than in most cases.

IC Jones said...

Dear Alice, Marisa and Amanda,

Thank you for your comments. Nice to know I am not alone!!

IC Jones said...

Hi Pab
Thank you for your comment. Yes time can be an issue, but I do feel that face to face meetings are often less effective than collaboration on-line. I am not talking about live collaboration through a video conference but the result of a conversation that has happened bit by bit at one's convenience, with thinking time built-in.
I am always concerned by comparisons with business models. What is a return on investment in Education? exam results? How do you quantify your return on investment? e.g. 60% increase on the quality of outcome. You can have higher exam results but if the exams/ the students have changed, how can you be sure that your investment has paid off and that the improvement does not have other causes?
As for who reaps the benefits of collaboration, I would say that in education like in any other sectors, some people are committed to the wider cause and some people are committed themselves. However, if the vast majority collaborates, that majority will bring more to the organisation than the sum of their individual contributions. Even if some "takers" do not follow, it has to be worth at least considering...

pab said...

Thank you, IC, for a thoughtful reply. I am concerned, as well, when people start conflating education with business models. That's why I waded in here, and pushed a few percentage signs on the keyboard. I gather that you had been thinking less of live video conferencing, and more of distributed participation in perhaps largely text-based conversations about issues relevant to our teaching circumstances. I certainly appreciate the knock-on value of having thinking time built in both for teachers and learners. Nevertheless, for teachers with already chock-a-block schedules, that time has to come from somewhere.

I was thinking less of test results, and more of return on investment in terms of time expended for curriculum and activity planning, and materials development. Yet I believe it was someone talking about preparing for entirely online courses that floated the estimate of up to 200% greater time investment than for face-to-face or blended learning environments. Unfortunately that thread of conversation escapes my grasp at the moment, for indeed it might have been in reference to cooperative or team-based course development. Perhaps we agree that extra contributions in envisioning, planning, and developing courses and materials, if not in teaching students, is a major advantage for teachers working in cultures and environments conducive to deliberate, distributed, and self-directed activity, in which "we can also all benefit from the sum or our experiences" (end of original post); more so than casual, coerced, or fleeting interactions with peers and near-peers. I envision those returns as perhaps better coordinated curricula, better organized teaching and learning activities, as well as more shareable and share-worthy course materials.

I also suppose now that your thinking had more to do with people committed to cooperation and sharing of expertise within a particular organization or locale. I am acquainted with school- or district-based, often specialty-oriented endeavors ordained if not organized by administrators, to whom teaching and staff participants are directly accountable for action plans, progress reports, evidence of accomplishments, materials development, and the like. It is precisely organizational cultures like that make me wonder whether teachers become well-versed enough themselves in independent and self-organizing teacher development activities to provide models in turn for the students to whom and learning activities for which they are responsible.

Last but not least important may be issues relating to how far afield to look for like-minded educators with whom to collaborate—far beyond the school or locale if this conversation is any indication, as well as how widely they might expect or hope to share tangible outcomes of their collaboration.

Jim Walker said...

Like you, as I read Wikinomics I kept thinking of how the basic concepts Tapscott wrote about apply to education. I am not sure that the others who responded to your blog post have read the book or they would have recognized, as Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said “We’re talking about something dramatically different. The new promise of collaboration is that with peer production we will harness human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence more efficiently and effectively than anything we have witnessed previously.”
Education needs to adapt the four concepts of wikinomics: being open, peering, sharing, and acting globally not only to survive, but to prepare student for the work world where that is quickly becoming the accepted business practice.
As pab pointed out, the comparison between business and education always comes up and we start arguing about apples and oranges. What we need to recognize is that they are both fruit, or systems. Apples and oranges are not grown together because they require different climates and soils. The same with students, teachers and schools, different students require different schools and teachers.
As Tapscott’s first example of using the principals of wikinomics successfully, Gold Corp would not be the successful gold mining company it is today if its young CEO had followed the tradition of mining engineers. By opening up its data bases to anyone Gold Corp was able to tap into the creative efforts of thousands of people, some of who were not miners. Educators need to tap into the creativity of anyone who wants to part of moving education into the 21st century.