The Olympics Effect Theory

I haven't been blogging a lot of late but I've been commenting regularly across a broad range of blogs on a wide variety of topics. But as I dropped comments here, here and there, I began thinking about this beast we call the "edublogosphere" and how it cross connects and cross pollinates ideas and people. It's hard for me to engage sometimes with some of the different themes because not all of the issues on the table are accessible or directly relevant to my educational reality. I began wondering why it's hard to link into some of the exchanges going on or to understand the "perceived importance" behind some of the posts - and I think it's because I'm Australian. Or more accurately, because I am not American. It's hard to explain and I'm not trying to be offensive or get people's heads swivelling Tim Holt style, but I'll try and explain it this way.

I have a new theory.

Remember the Olympics back in 2000? Here in Sydney, Australia. Touted as possibly the best Olympics ever (even though the kids with Greek backgrounds at my school reckon that Athens in 2004 took that honour). It showed that a lightly populated country could put on a world class event and the Aussies even scored a few gold medals - I can never forget that run by Cathy Freeman.

What's this got to do with my theory?

Well, even though the Olympics is an international event, several really big countries dominate the results of the main sporting events. And because they have so many athletes in medal contention, their media coverage can afford to focus only on their efforts. There's hardly any opportunity to focus on the other countries' efforts, no matter how noteworthy. My friend Tom, who lives in the US, said that his nightly coverage was saturated with Team USA and their prowess. Australian coverage was a different perspective - not enough home grown athletes to fill the non-stop coverage - so our TV schedule provided a smorgasbord overview of all nations in competition in between the all important races of Ian Thorpe and Cathy. So, if one was interested in the overall state of play of the Olympics, the Aussie TV coverage was more likely to tell the story but the US version would be the American's version of the Olympics. And this despite the fact that the Olympics are an international event. Without any fault of their own due to their TV coverage, the average American could assume that the only important events happening in the Games were ones involving their athletes.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

Unless you live in a smaller country, you can't see that many of the issues pushed as being important around the edublogosphere are actually focussed towards the biggest participating nation and its education system. This is not a criticism. Don't get me wrong. But it is something to be aware of if you are a Stateside blogger - your view is not necessarily the world view. Just like the American public watching the Sydney Olympics. There are others involved, maybe in lesser numbers, but just as passionate at leveraging new technologies for learning. And some US edubloggers (people I read and respect) are influenced by my Olympics Effect Theory.

Need an example to understand what I'm talking about? Here's one - the call for standardised tagging that has come out of the recent NECC conference in Atlanta, USA. Again, don't get me wrong, no-one is more conscious of being international minded than Vicki but this idea ignores the different structures for schooling worldwide, different subject titles. (e.g US grade = Australia Year, US Social Studies = Australia SOSE, US Math = Australia Maths, US Elementary = Australia Primary). If the system is built, then my theory kicks in and what will evolve is something useful to North American educators but not for the rest of the world. Which is fine as long as it is acknowledged up front.

The Edbloggercon is another example where careful thought needs to take place so that people don't get the impression that everybody who is anybody was there at that event in Atlanta. So plans drawn up there will only service those who can physically get to the next venue - unless someone steps beyond Olympics Effect Theory and remembers the smaller voices in the mix. I'm not saying that it won't happen - just that when most edubloggers live in the North American continent, it's issues emanating from those education systems that will dominate. Again, no problem, as long as it's acknowledged.

If someone turns around and says in the comments, "Just get off your backside and organise your own Aussie Edubloggercon and quit whining and build your own momentum and stop showing us your green streak," well, I'll say fair enough, that's a good point but the reality is that we are all talking global conversations and collaboration here. I mean, I was talking to Chris Harbeck from Canada the other day, for goodness sake but the reality is that an Edubloggercon here would attract a handful of people that could easily be hosted under my back verandah! But, the whole point of this theory is that the people affected don't realise its effect until it's pointed out to them.

So I guess my simple point under all this elaborate metaphoric play is that edubloggers truly interested in global perspective will be aware of their Olympics Effect Theory potential and consider adjusting their conversations accordingly. Darren Draper did that beautifully a while back when I tried to diplomatically offer an alternate take on his awesome video work.  Just because you know what you're talking about, don't assume the rest of the world will nod their collective heads in agreement.

Hope this all makes sense.

Image: 'Olympic Station' by [andre]
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13 thoughts on “The Olympics Effect Theory

  1. Claudia Ceraso

    It does make sense to me.

    The tagging issue at the EduBloggersCon set me thinking and I posted this,
    It’s a long post. Points 1 and 2 in answer to Vicky’s post address this conversation.
    “1. Database, yes. Now, those curricular needs would just be according to the system of one country? Could that be more generic and then let the network be more specific?

    2.The tagging standards seem to point a country-specific database. It can be a good example for others to follow or improve.”

    Vicky wrote a comment saying her post were just notes. So lot’s to reflect. However, I think we won’t be able to impose any top-down model of tagging no matter which country it comes from. Simply because it goes against the very essence of what the edublogosphere is -i.e. global and diverse.

    Your post does make a first step. In order to manage things in our thoughts, in order to exist, they need to have a name. So here it is “Olympic Effect”.

    Hope to read others taking it further.

  2. Sharon Peters

    Graham, I read your blog post with keen interest. As a woman blogger from Québec Canada (where English is a minority language), I understand your concerns. We have a very different education system here in Canada and particularly Québec. Your point about standardised tagging was well worth considering. WHO will make the decisions about standardisation? I highly doubt it will be someone who represents my situation. Why do we NEED standardisation anyways? One of the best features of web 2.0 is the ability for people to self-organize. Why tamper with that?
    Also, as one who has grown up living next door to our big American cousin, I know well what you mean about the ethnocentric tendencies of most Americans. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) is much like your Australian Broadcasters who provide a much more global view of the news. I know a few Americans who actually prefer watching it for that reason.
    However, I was at edubloggercon, albeit briefly, and would not have perceived it to have a tone of being all about the Americans and never sensed that ONLY anybody who was SOMEBODY in the edublogosphere was there. I was very much aware of who was NOT there (and you were all missed!) because I know how hard it is to come from so far to this conference. It is pretty much THE educational technology conference for K12 educators in this hemisphere, so obviously it did attract a fair amount of us. I consider myself very very privileged to have been there. But please invite me to Australia to your conferences – I would seriously consider it!
    Enjoyed your post – thanks again for reminding us – challenging us – to think globally. I always appreciate your perspective and hope we can meet f2f someday.

  3. durff

    Ok, before I even read other comments…let’s talk solutions. No one is saying anything about green – in fact I like the color green. Anyway, this is exactly why we need to converse about this tagging thing! I also wonder how do I tag when it’s on my blog? I have suggested several ideas elsewhere and should really be finishing a course for the principal…but i meander. There will be a Edubloggercon (I hope!) at EduCon20 in Philadelphia in January. How can we include the international attendees? Can we Skype you in? I was skyped in a few times to NECC, and although the connection was dropped, it was great!
    We are so ethnocentric, as I found out after correcting correctly spelled words without even realising it. My browser is underlining words that are British….how do we solve these issues?
    I often find more balanced news from the German sites (I have German relatives) and so I know what you are saying. I don’t think we can change the media but we can enlarge our boundaries! Let’s start conversing about tags for a start. The EduCon20 wiki or the EduBloggerCon wiki are great places for these collaborations. Let’s invite people inside the echo chamber!

  4. Vincent Jansen

    I do agree with your view that the need for standardized tagging profile is through a narrow lens. Someone will begin to do it anyway but it seems to me that it is counter to the creativity and personalization of web2.0 to have a standard. Is this the operating process in education, where items are categorized, labeled, boxed, shelved, archived and stuffed into a system where each person needs GPS to navigate? Yesterday, I was working with a math teacher who is part of my graduate course. We were discussing tags for her math course she teaches and we began to build a tagging profile for her and some of the people in her network. I think her response “I can use tags to collect posted stuff on math from other teachers who teach THIS course, once they are told how to tag.” speaks volumes of the need for local context and situational links that a teacher can actually use. We did subscribe to the tag ‘math’ and found very few useful resources so there may be a need for multiple tags but we need to avoid googlizing tag searching.

    As I read your blog post, the Olympic effects theory, I raised a glass of Jacob’s Creek. As an international educator, I have administered learning environments in Asia, Australia, Belgium, Kenya, Philippines and Canada over my career and thus have worked in many multilingual diverse education cultures. I do believe edublogosphere brings together our views which enriches our practice and affords the opportunity to share either through global projects, blogs, wikis and collaboration; however, this is simply the tourist visa approach and to fully comprehend other learning systems (and perhaps the importance of your point) you need to work there. Thanks for a thought provoking post on an issue I have personally worked in for many years.

  5. Cheryl Oakes

    I do think in global terms when I post to my week on the where I try not to use ideas that only people in the Northern part of the United State will appreciate. I try and make my post as inclusive as I can. My first Web 2.0 online class I took was with the Webheads. It was immensely humbling to be one of a few English speaking participants, who didn’t also speak 2 or 3 or 4 languages. The best moments for me were when I had conversations, asked questions and listened to other voices. Thanks for your post.

  6. Sylvia Martinez, USA

    Graham, Great post. But think of the advantage you have over us US-based educators. Members of any minority group always need to understand two points of view, their own and the majority, because they navigate in both worlds. It offers a broader perspective and means that you might be able to see the forest for the trees better.

    So don’t worry about being a tall poppy – keep us honest!

    Now all the non-aussies will have to figure out what tall poppy means 😉

  7. Brian Crosby

    Graham = All points well taken – I know myself and others were concsious of who wasn’t there – and you do get caught up in the moment. I also agree wholeheartedly with your Olympics coverage – I always feel we shoot ourselves in the foot by generating anti-American feeling based on our coverage – I can also tell you (and I hate this) that whichever American TV network is covering the games, that they have paid hundreds of millions to cover, will tell you that their ratings are not good – and as soon as they cover much beyond events that Americans are in and could win their ratings drop off the scale. They do try to hype, hype, hype some other atheletes – but usually to no avail. Also sports in America pretty much are American football, baseball, basketball, to a MUCH lesser degree hockey and even less soccer and it goes downhill from there – so there isn’t much interest beyond – that an American might win a medal in whatever sport it is – sad, but true.

    As far as NECC – I hope based on our experience this year that perhaps we can use Skype and other sharing technologies to include as many as possible. I would be more than willing to audio Skype others into sessions I attend (maybe video too). And who knows what other ways will be available in a year!

  8. Terry Freedman

    I agree with you Graham, but on the other hand, my call for Australian contributors to Coming of Age largely fell on deaf ears. So it seems to me that sometimes contris exclude themselves in effect

  9. Vicki Davis

    I think that the tagging standard needs to be discussed — I think that yes, it does need to be inclusive of all. I’ve been thinking through it and after I finish working through a personal matter, I’ve begun drafting my thoughts on tagging standards that I think perhaps you would consider. One of our discussions at the international conference were the need fo r inclusive standards and the fact that grades are different and standards are different — educators need to find things — right now the issue is creation it is finding. Bottom line is that when an organization like ISTE creates something called a STANDARD it should include a tagging sTANDARD so if something is explicitly created for that standard, it can be found. I think to take it further than that is taking the discussion out of context and perhaps putting words in our mouths from the raw notes I took.

  10. Graham Wegner

    Well, there is a good diversity of opinion here which is a tribute to the power of twitter as edublogs doesn’t appear to be updating in Bloglines and Google Reader at present. Thanks for all of your input here. A couple of things seem to be the focus from my post so I’ll try and acknowledge where you’re all coming from.
    I only ever try to challenge and discuss, never to provoke or antagonise so my choice of the tagging standards as an example was in that same spirit. Claudia, your longer post link is definitely reflective and delves into the issue in greater depth than I have even considered up to this point. I was just using Vicki’s notes to point to ideas that seem to demonstrate the point I was trying to make. And yes, Vicki, I do acknowledge that your notes were raw but the expanded ideas on educational tagging you point to over on your wiki still look designed for the North American education system from my perspective. And all I’m talking about in this post is the conscious acknowledgement of multiple viewpoints. I’m not denigrating the idea by doing so (at least I don’t think so) and believe that the web will sort the issues in a way that we cannot predict or control.
    Sharon, your comment was very useful in confirming some of my ideas and I know you definitely think in international terms. I’m pleased that you felt the Edubloggercon was thinking beyond who was able to make it to NECC – the next challenge is how can those of us in different spots of the globe get to be involved and absorb some of the warmth and sparking of ideas that the event generated.
    Hey, Durff, just to clarify – the green I was referring to was the jealous variety!! Vincent, great for you to chime and for me to add you to my learning network – I’m in awe of truly international educators – you are right that your experiences give you unique perspective but the blogosphere at least brings those of us country-bound educators a blog’s eye view of other systems.
    Cheryl, I applaud your global perspective and if all edubloggers worked towards this goal, then this post would have been totally off the mark and you could have really let me have it here. And Sylvia, I could have been accused of doing some tall poppy lopping motivation here! Brian – cheers – you’d better watch out for an annoying Skype request soon. 😉
    Terry, the lack of response was due to not many ears down under in the first place and as Sylvia points out, Australians who self promote or offer expertise can be seen to be “getting too big for their boots”.
    Vicki, take your time and return to the tagging standards conversation when you are ready. I may just be a paranoid Aussie with “small country” syndrome and I definitely only did surface research on the ideas you have obviously thought deeply about.
    Thanks all – roll on Beijing 2008.

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