Parable 2.0

This is a fictional post - any resemblance to real educators or this blog post in particular, are entirely coincidental.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a bright-eyed idealist ICT (edtech) coordinator discovered Web 2.0. It was love at first sight and he then started his own blog. One thing led to another as these things do and before long he was publishing wikis and attending online conferences and bookmarking madly and commenting all over the place. And while his own learning took off at an unprecedented rate, he struggled to work out how to utilise these new tools and methodologies into his own classroom. But he stuck at his new web-enabled style of learning, eventually establishing himself as a C list edublogger. He read "The World Is Flat" and "A Whole New Mind" as texts of almost biblical influence and networked worldwide with Americans and Kiwis and Brits and Canucks and even fellow Aussies. Teachers at his own school snickered at him at first, skeptical about his time management skills because after all, what hard working teacher has time to poke around on the internet?

This year, the coordinator had a brilliant idea to leapfrog his students into the digital collaborative age - global projects. He'd seen wiki based projects and reckoned that they would be ideal for his middle school students focus on Communication. Being an educator with an inclusive conscience, he decided that it should be "Global Projects For All" in his four teacher block.

He sat down and outlined his brave plan to his learning team colleagues. They seemed keen, having experienced wikimania in the previous year when their students used wikis to collaborate within their classrooms. And they saw the logical extension from that venture - connecting and working with students elsewhere in the world. What better way could there be to explore the process of digital communication for a real purpose? The coordinator's head swam dizzily with the possibilities - the students would grab this opportunity and make it their own, the teachers would experience first hand the power of global collaboration and the bridges of understanding between the citizens of the future would start to be built.

But the coordinator had a tight rope to walk - these projects needed his support to get on the path to success but at a certain point, he had to stand back and let his colleagues steer their own ship. He leveraged his online learning network and lined up high quality teacher/classroom partners from North America, Asia and the South Pacific. He led out in his own classroom ahead of schedule and modelled a similar approach for the other teachers in his building. Then he stepped away giving his comrades room to breathe and find their own way. Plus he soon became engulfed in the process of keeping his own Global Project afloat.

Back in his own classroom, his students worked hard with various digital media, building their wiki while the coordinator participated in email flurries with his global partner, anticipated and designed workarounds for the many barriers, made cross curricular links with the goal of getting the kids engaged in accessing primary sources of information to build their knowledge about a new part of the world. The coordinator checked in with his colleagues periodically to field technical issues and be supportive - but he assumed that if he wasn't being pestered then the teachers and their classes  were going well. After all, he had worked hard to provide cutting edge partners for their projects.

Then signs started to appear that maybe his learning team mates weren't all that taken or driven by this concept. Inquiring emails from the highly sought after global partners started to appear in the coordinator's Gmail box.

"Is the class at your school still involved?"

"I've sent three emails without reply and my class are concerned."

"Is my partner class ready to start yet?" 

Things to be going astray for the coordinator. His comrades didn't seem to see the same importance of the venture as he did. One teacher took  some personal leave but the message back to the global partner didn't get there leaving them in the dark about the status of the project. Another also took leave (but informed their partner) and the other teacher scored a new job. All of a sudden, the coordinator was juggling four global projects with different goals and various stages of progress. He was starting to realise that equity in this situation was a fallacy, that his lofty (and not always well thought out) ideas weren't shared by everyone and issues (and their possible solutions) that were as plain as day to him were puzzling and bewildering to others.

"We've done some photo stories but they won't  upload to the wiki."

The coordinator sighed.

"You'll have to upload them to Teacher Tube first and then embed them in the wiki."

"What's Teacher Tube? Perhaps you could do it for us."

"But it's the last day of school tomorrow..."

And as always, the coordinator gritted his teeth, eyed off the list of priorities on his to-do list, glanced across at his own waiting class and conceded some ground.

"If I get some time, I'll see what I can do. "

Next year, he'll scale it all down.

Next year, the teachers can find their own global partners. Let them spend hours on the web making their own online connections, he thinks uncharitably.

But maybe there's the small moral hidden in this unremarkable tale. How can teachers appreciate the magnitude, the networking, the collegiality of the teachers already online, the sharing and the whole deal if some schmuck does the hard yards for them? How can they be totally committed to creating a unique learning opportunity for their students if they themselves haven't invested some virtual blood, sweat and tears?

To be continued....   

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32 thoughts on “Parable 2.0

  1. Jo McLeay

    wow Graham, how true this is. I love your writing of this parable and I can’t wait for the next instalment. It mirrors in so many ways my own feelings. It is perhaps not uncharitable to think the thoughts that the coordinator did, but practical. Please continue the story…

    Reply
  2. Allanahk

    One schmuck to another….

    You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!

    We can encourage, cajole, assist and set an example of possibilities but we can’t do everything. Walking on water I leave to other folks.

    WE appreciate your role in sharing and leading the way!

    Merry Christmas- enjoy the sunshine!

    Reply
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  4. ken

    Oh, the mighty parable! I work with a woman who often tells me, “don’t water the rocks”. But…the “coach” in my title, Tech COACH, seems to imply that I’m supposed to be Mr. Supportive all the time…to everyone.

    People I work with, people who read my blog, have told me that it sure seems ‘anti-coach’ like of me to write posts about the troubles, issues, and obstinate coworkers…

    So, I’m left to ask…should we only blog about the good? Are we obligated to ask ‘permission’ to blog about issues that clearly arose due to working with a co-worker? If so, whose blog is it???

    I’m so confused sometimes. I remember the amazing sense of simplistic clarity that hovered around me when I taught in the classroom…

    Oh, the days of Yore…

    Reply
  5. Graham Wegner

    In the parable, the photostories mentioned were originally destined for the Northern Hemisphere. I think that in the end, the coordinator ran out of time but resolved to contact the cutting edge global partners to discuss the before mentioned products during his holiday time. Sadly, he was not sure that his teaching colleagues would do so, proving that it is not just the students who need to learn digital ethics.

    Reply
  6. Ric Murry

    Graham,

    Your parable, as all of them do, has the ring of truth. Along with the comments prior to mine, may I add that it may be more beneficial to those of us who are willing to learn on our own to simply make our colleagues jealous of what we do with our students instead of trying to make them drink water for which they have no thirst. Adapting a Biblical metaphor, too many teachers thrive on milk, yet reject the meat. In some instances they confuse milk for meat, and in other instances some teachers are not ready to be weaned off milk for solid food. Worse yet, is when the school system leaders are not ready for the read/write web meat. In many cases policies indicate of fear of milk — forget the meat — and the only nutrition they want is bread and water.

    I look forward to your next installment.

    Reply
  7. Clay

    Great post, Graham. I answered it parenthetically in a reply to your comment on my own blog, but will pull up a chair here for a bit more.

    The dirty laundry on collaborative projects themselves are long-overdue for such airing as this. My biggest piece of advice is to make damned sure that the teachers who say they’re up for it can back their words up with action. An unreliable teacher last year in another country simply disappeared for weeks at a time, leaving me and the other distant partner to shoulder her share of the burden to keep the whole enterprise from collapsing. Lo, she wants back in this year! No. way. in. hell.

    The same project was attempted by other self-contained groups, and all had similar problems. Much of this was first-time lesson-learning for all of us, which is well and good. But again, much of it was either ineptitude or laziness or something similar.

    Which makes me wish for an accountability mechanism of some sort. Background check sort of thing (and I’m only partly kidding). “How do I know you won’t flake out? Have any references or bona fides I can check?”

    As for getting the local staff on board: I feel your pain there too. An entire English department (of which I’m head) just can’t make the leap into introducing blogging in their classrooms. Mind you, I didn’t say “make the leap into blogging themselves” – I’m too realistic to think English teachers will embrace the writing life 😉 – I said letting their students blog. I gave up for this semester. Will see how it goes for the next. Funny thing is, they all gushed about it when I showed them examples, explained and demonstrated connective writing and the ease of blogging software, etc. They just played the “too busy” card when it came to the doing.

    While my tone above betrays my frustration, my better judgment reminds me that these same teachers all have lives of which I’m ignorant, both in and out of the classroom. That points to a whole set of questions I want to ask. I’ll only toss one out here: do they resist because they think they have to add blogging on top of the other things they do? If so, that’s a conversation that has to happen. I think that’s a big problem for most resisters: they can’t envision replacing any of their old ways with new ones.

    Reply
  8. Hillarypjenkins

    Hi Graham

    Good post – will be watching this space.

    My only comment on this completely ficticious situation is that maybe the situation moved too quickly for everyone and going back to smaller stages/steps could be beneficial.

    Reply
  9. Alan Levine

    Kudos to you Graham, for sharing so honestly your experiences, and hope that commenters like Ken are not pressured to blog only “good news.” It took me many, many frustrating years (and a trail of good ideas not carried out) to realize and accept that most groups of colleagues, least of all a system, is not going to move nearly as fast towards innovation. In fact, it is usually just about the time I am ready to give up (looking back on trying to instigate blogging, use of RSS 5+ years ago), that you see trickles of interest flow in. It just eats you up to be that patient.

    There’s no innovation w/o risk, and risk means possible failure, which is first painful before instructive. I would dare say, with the parable and all, you are much better equipped to try again. It makes me smile thinking back to some planning I was doing last year for my visit to Australia, where one group asked me to talk about “safely engaging in web 2.0 experimentation”, a paradox to say the least. Risk nothing, gain less.

    Trying to avoid the string of metaphors, of unthirsty horses and meat and milk servings, etc, perhaps we not ought to be so convinced we can force feed that horse; perhaps for some, its enough to plant a seed that water is out there. The problem is, IMHO, we tend to feel like there is one solution, one approach, one project that will lift all the boats together (oops, another metaphor). I remain optimistically convinced, despite the cross armed reluctance to change, for every person there is an individual tipping point where they can themselves see the gain from stepping out on the ledge to try something new. Our role is to try as many things to help them identify it themselves, not just swallow some magic pill wholesale.

    I too look to see the parable continue, and hopefully the story is far from its “the end.” Cheers to you!

    Alan

    Reply
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  12. Paul Harrington

    Wow Graham how odd that your parable strikes a chord with so many who have left replies…. including this humble blogger/podcaster. I began to think that it was only me pushing colleagues towards something which oddly only appeared obvious to me 🙁 the world of Global Collaboration seems easier to embrace than to ignore – however sadly the latter became the case – I for one decided to go with it and see where it led …… to infinity and……. beyond 🙂 Happy New Year Graham from Wales.

    Reply
  13. carversbay

    I understand this as well. I implemented blogging in a Lanuage Arts classroom and we worked for two days on this project. The principal was so excited and helped me in the classroom. He made all the other LA teachers come watch and had me to a PD with them. At the end of the two days, the LA teacher told me that she had to get back to real teaching. You talk about frustrated. The other LA teachers tell me they are too busy. The principal has forgot how wonderful the experience was. I am left floundering. I will try again in the next few weeks….

    Reply
  14. Susan Sedro

    I don’t know the etiquette of this. Graham, I started writing a response here and it turned into a blog post which I placed here instead because it was too long for a comment.
    http://ssedro.blogspot.com/2008/01/reflecting-on-parable-learning-from-my.html

    Your post forced me to rethink a collaborative online project that I bailed out of last year. I’m not proud of that. At least you helped me learn from it. As always, thanks for such a thought-provoking blog.

    Reply
  15. David

    Graham, beacons of light burn brightly in the darkness, but we have to pay attention to just how large the darkness is! I hear and share your frustrations with implementing new initiatives. As Allanah says, you can lead a horse… and it is for that reason that I wanted to call my blog ‘flogging the dinosaur’ (!) The darkness is large, the horse refuses to drink, dinosaurs still exist. You are right, the key to teacher adoption of new ICT strategies is ownership, let them own it. Lead and they will follow, even if it is at a maddeningly slow pace. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  16. Silvia

    Graham,
    I just found your post today after I wrote about my similar frustration a few days back on my blog.

    “Collaborative Projects…Doomed to Fail”
    http://www.langwitches.org/blog/2008/01/06/collaboration-projects-doomed-to-fail/

    We are all in the same boat it seems. The question we really need to answer is :Where do we go from here? I am tempted to find that ONE teacher who is enthusiastic and committed in my school AND that ONE other teacher across the globe who will do the same in order to collaborate. Then publicize this project and its successes in the school community among students, parents and administration. Maybe a little peer pressure will help?

    Looking forward to hearing from you what you are coming up with to deal with this kind of frustration.

    Reply
  17. Clay Burell

    And lo, when all hope for fellow English teachers implementing classroom blogging had vanished, behold! – on the first day of the second semester, three of them appeared from the heavens and sang in dulcet airs, “Will you come into my classroom so we can start the classroom blogging?”

    Just when I had a foot out the door, too. (It’s still hovering there.)

    There’s something to be said, too, for our own over-ambition and complexity when we design global collab projects. George Mayo may be onto something with the small-scale approach. I gush about it here.

    (And I haven’t been gushing about much lately.)

    Reply
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  19. Linda

    Great perspective. I really feel the sense that you still have maintained the hope of pioneering but on a smaller scale. The ‘mentoring’ must be much easier to manage when it does not seem like you are juggling feral cats. I am a classroom teacher who has embrace global collaboration-my frustrations have been different though similar. Students asking me-why hasn’t my penpal written me back? A corporate sponsor pulling out of the educational community environment(att global network-anyone else know about that one?)
    That was a tremendous lost…… but continue to inspire.

    Reply
  20. kwhobbes

    Graham,

    As always a great post. I wrote a similar parable idea a while back – you’ve generated much more feedback! Like all parables, there is truth all can find in the story. As we approach another year, many are wondering what will happen this year? Will this be the year where we finally see growth? Or, like your tech person, will we continue to struggle with implementation and lack of understanding by many? I like the “horse to water” analogy but in this case, I’m not sure the horse even realizes that it has been led to the water. On the flip-side, I’ve seen a growth in teachers using networking to build relationships and, maybe, that is something of a key that we need to develop. Once people develop relationships with others, they may be more willing to try particular ideas or put in the effort to stick with a project. Of all that has been going on in the past few years, the one thing that you cannot hasten is the building of relationships. Maybe the tools will only be as good as the relationships we have and create.
    Happy New Year!

    Reply
  21. Clay Burell

    @kwhobbes: please follow-up with a link to that post! Also, your idea about leading to social networking rather than integration projects shows great instinct. My MS/HS asst principal asked me to find him resources today to persuade parents of 12 year olds that 1:1 laptop launch will benefit them. I told him I would set him up on Twitter so he could find such answers himself through simple tweets and give-and-take networking.

    He’s a cool, relaxed, open guy, so he jumped in. Then, because the Twitter homepage is uninviting without a link to a blog (I rarely follow people with no link to a blog), he understood the benefit of having a blog, and took his cool non-chalant “okay I’ll jump in” attitude to signing up on edublogs and writing a “toes in” first post.

    He embedded the link in his Twitter page, and was good to go.

    Then I did a shout out to my Twitterverse to welcome him in, and he got nice vibes from Jeff Utecht and others. So he’s in – and he’s blogging (tentatively) as a side-effect.

    That’s my upbeat anecdotal evidence that you’re on to something, kwhobbes (is it Kevin?).

    Happy New Year, all.

    Reply
  22. Graham Wegner

    I love creative metaphors and I’m going to use one here (badly or otherwise) to acknowledge the fabulous chain of comments and the links that lead off to other valuable insights. Blogging and comments can be a bit like surfing. You’re out there paddling around, sometimes you’re in much deeper water than you realise and there is the real possibility you could get bitten by a shark. Each post is like paddling really hard for a wave as it rises behind you and you point your board shorewards. Catching the wave is the resultant blog post – how long the ride lasts for depends on the comments.

    In that case, this is the longest string of comments for any blog post I’ve ever written and I’m madly thrashing around in the shallow foam trying to eke the last part of the ride now. I’m usually a small wave rider – unlike other edubloggers like the Big Kahuna (aka Clay) where 60+ comments is possible on a throwaway blog post!

    Thanks to all who’ve offered other breaks where we can enjoy the ride as others carve up this particular topic. I cannot emphasise enough how much you all should go to ken’s original post that triggered my “parable.” We do need a balance between the good news that collaborative projects can enable and the very real hassles and barriers that can thwart that success.

    I’m not sure that technology coordinators need to be better salespeople – after all, successful sales in the real world are usually backed by a marketing campaign (and budget to match). In some ways, I’d prefer to think that some frustrations arise just out of some teachers being risk averse in all situations, not necessarily technology related. Technology just happens to be an obvious example. Cheers, everyone.

    Reply
  23. mscofino

    I’m late in the conversation here, Graham, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciated your post.

    I know all too well that feeling of frustration that your tech coordinator experiences. One issue that I’m really struggling with this year (eventually a post will come) is not having any of my own classes to model how these projects can work.

    Leaving all the “real” work up to a classroom teacher that may not have my experience or passion for the type of learning I recommend means that there is really no one to truly model the potential of collaboration.

    I’m stuck recommending, suggesting, “inspiring”, sharing, meeting – but never in control, never able to really demonstrate how this can work. So in the end you have a bunch of project ideas floating around, no one committed, no clear example of what it could look like, and no classroom teacher to take the lead.

    After reading your post and Silvia’s, I’m looking for small steps, making connections with teachers here that are ready to understand and embrace these changes (not as add-ons, but as new ways to do new things), and those that are ready to make the commitment to change. Even if it’s only one teacher. That’s my resolution for this year (another post in the works).

    Kim

    Reply
  24. Clay Burell

    Big Kahuna? Tee hee. (That comment flood over what really was a throw-away post – I admit I loved writing it, though – still makes me sigh. If only people would respond so actively to the ideas and posts I sweat blood over.)

    This wave is clearly still cresting, bud. I’m going to add a little more wind to its back by replying to Kim to say:

    Another thing all tech people who are not driving these projects in a content-area classroom have to remember (and I’m not saying you don’t, Kim) is that they’re not in those other teachers’ shoes. As a classroom teacher who does drive his own geeky projects, I know how overwhelming it can get – and I have the skills to survive and troubleshoot and tolerate frustrations and “Crosbian Messiness.” To expect others to be able to handle the strain of things too ambitious, or too time-consuming relative to the rest of the teaching load on the teacher’s plate, is dangerous.

    It’s much easier dreamed than done. That’s why I think George Mayo is onto something important with his Many Voices project. It’s low maintenance, fast, but still potentially high yield.

    Happy surfing, dude.

    Reply
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