Collaboration

by Jean Tower


Tomaz Lasic comments, in his blog post entitled, How can Moodle change a school ,  on the “one big thing” he would bring to his school as a technology facilitator.

“Before starting to work as a part-time technology integrator at our school this year, the principal asked me to come up with one ‘thing’, one key strategy for staff and students to ICT to improve their teaching and learning. After seeing the flexibility, robustness and ‘organic’ nature of Moodle the choice was pretty simple to make.”

Read the entire post at: http://human.edublogs.org/2008/08/06/how-can-moodle-change-a-school/

I love his answer, but find myself resisting it. I, too, am enthusiastic about using Moodle in my school district. As a matter of fact, Moodle is the latest in a series of tools that I have been promoting in schools. In the mid-nineties I put together a consortium of six school districts to work together with Lotus-IBM and a developer to create an online education space that we called Compass. It was an internet-intranet for collaborating, asynchronous discussions, and posting news and assignments. We managed to involve the support of IBM-Lotus to the extent that they donated Lotus Notes to each of the consortium districts and committed an advisor from their education sector to work with us.

We received some funding from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) to help defray development costs. A member of the ESE visited us and was so impressed that within weeks they had their own RFP out to develop the same thing on a state-wide basis. It was known as VES (Virtual Education Space), a name that came directly from our description of our project. VES, which was never adequately funded or supported with sufficient staff, has since morphed into MassOne, an online education space for all public school educators in Massachusetts. The lack of sufficient resources in the past created both some real unreliability as well as a more widespread perception that it was unreliable. Only time will tell whether it can fully overcome its past issues and reputation, especially in light of the stiff (and free and reliable) competition from Moodle, Wikis, and blogs.

My own project (Compass) never really took wing and soared, although we had some successes. I think that educators were not ready at the time; it was a concept that still needed to ripen for many of our teachers. Of course, it was about fifteen years ago, but I still recall that one of the primary obstacles that teachers said kept them from wanting to use it was that they had to log in, and that was one step too many. We have come a long way since then.

I share this background to positively affirm the extent to which I support online learning spaces (like Moodle). I do this so that I can respectfully explain why I find myself so resistant to the idea that the “one big thing” could be software or hardware at all. I think that the “one big thing” that I would ask of a school, would not be about any specific tool. Instead it would be to use technology to further COLLABORATION. I would encourage communicating and sharing among and between groups – teachers, students, and parents. It’s not about the tool – it’s about the collaboration. In fact, I bet Tomaz Lasic would agree, and I’m sure his blog post was describing a specific answer to a question that was actually expecting a “tool” answer. I think I have answered similarly many times. My point is simply that I am going to (try) to refuse to be drawn into conversations that are tool-focused when they should be learning-centered;  I will try to shift those conversations more and more toward student learning, communication, collaboration, and contributing online.

This is easy in principle, but not always easy in practice. Lots of planning and budget meetings I attend seem to gravitate toward talking about technology programs as numbers of computers, age of computers, bandwidth, and operating system. I am pledging to myself that instead of sighing inwardly, I will make more of an effort to shift the conversation to include learning outcomes. Sometimes we have to talk about the hardware and the software, but we can’t stop there.

I think it was Bill Moyers who said, “Sharing is the essence of teaching. It is, I have come to believe, the essence of civilization.”

That could be the battle cry of edubloggers.

The ISTE NETS section on Communication and Collaboration appears below.

“Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance,
to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:
a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments
and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.”

excerpt from:

http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/NETS/ForStudents/2007Standards/NETS_for_Students_2007_Standards.pdf

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