Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Flogging the dead horse that died in the trough

There are times when I feel like my feedreader is talking to me... "go on Leigh, did you read that, its says what you say, say it again, here you go, read this, and this, and don't forget this, say it again..." Its a strange sensation hearing these little voices - am I going schitz? No its a reminder of how small our little band of web2/elearning2/networked learning enthusiasts are...

Chris Sessums has posted an extension to Will Richardson's frustrations at not seeing real changes in the educational settings he witnesses. Chris is suggesting Action Research as a way to help solve the problem. I suggested the same last year - but now I'm not so sure. I tend to think that action research (while admirable and certainly a method I would prefer working with) does not appreciate the extremely political and unfortunately hierarchical bureaucracy of institutionalised education. Such conditions in my opinion render results yielded through action research impotent. See DOPA and various educational departments banning all things Web 2 for a start. Then see mass implementation of learning management systems, intranet communications and secured content repositories for a second.

As regular readers of Learn Online know, I've chimed in on quite a few occasions when the despair for lost web2 potential in schools sets in. When I post a rant like the one about to follow, I always get the, "..but Leigh, you must be more patient", or "you're not seeing where the changes are happening.." not to mention the anonymous troll comments. Just quickly, I'd like to knock those first two off before I flog the dead horse laying in the trough again.

Patience is waiting to die
The internet has been around for over 10 years now, and by and large all I can see for it - in a tertiary ed sense - is vast quantities of money spent, I mean VAST quantities!! in content creation and "PD training", resulting in a clear majority of teachers who still don't know how to use a web browser effectively, who can't resize an image before they attach it to email, who struggle to see the potential of the read write web, and fail to see the use of wikipedia (if they've even heard of it) at first glance.. etc

And now whole education Departments are recoiling in fear - banning mobile devices, censoring the Internet, debating open source benefits but never trying it, then attending conferences on digital game based learning - simply for the political photoshoot with a celebrity.

Rather than me offering hyperlinked references to those sweeping statements above, how about you copy each of them and drop them into google and see what turns up. BTW, if you're blushing with the feeling that I might be looking at you when I write this - right clicking your mouse when you click those search results will give you the option to open the link in a new window - yes, you can have more than one website open at a time - but please, just do yourself a favour, get firefox. Tabbed browsing is just so much easier!

So, no - I don't have much patience left. I am seeing yet another communicative medium with immense potential, being lost to mediocre and mostly bureaucratic mud wallowing. I still have all the patience in the world for someone who wants me to show them how to set up a blog and edit a wiki, I have endless patience for people willing to give it a go. But I snap at people who have never honestly experienced themselves in the read write web - yet have all the cliche lines against it... "how can we verify it?", "how can I rely on this service", "how do you know its the truth?", "but we use Blackboard", "what about my privacy and intellectual property?", "why would I want the world to see me?" Amazing to think academic minds can be so unimaginative.

I see the positives
For a fella who reads an excruciating quantity of information coming online about education, and much of it filtered through the communiques of other people who passionately read through even more excruciating quantities of information - I'd say the chances of me catching the encouraging stories are farley high. When I see'm I post about them. So before you close this browser tab, or hit your IE back button (if you're teacher still struggling to learn how to browse) - please go back through my blog and try and find numerous pointers to exciting developments in small pockets of the world. I do see exciting stuff at times, but rarely is it ever from within the walls of a school, college or university.

I am someone who works in or for an institution tasked with helping to develop educational practices to be more in line with current and future trends not to mention potential. I get employed to help maintain the institution's relevance through change in practices (at least I think I do). And I do still believe that that this objective is important, despite my sound offs. I have they privilege of working first hand with a wide cross section of teachers from all types of subject areas. I have worked in this role at many different institutions for 5 years now.

Action not research

As much as I would love action research to be a means to which we might work to solve the serious shortfalls in teacher staff's digital and network literacy, I tend to agree with Stephen Parker when he focuses more on the hierarchy, trying to get management bye-in and modelling desired communicative behavior... before those managers go and cut off the tails of the few long tail teachers that are already read write web savvey.

Last Friday I had the pleasure to meet Jacob and Dawn McNulty from orbitalRPM. OrbitalRPM offers consultancy services to business and corporations on how to improve their staff training, general communications strategies and leverage informal learning. Jacob has apparently been lurking in my blog for some time now. He and Dawn recently married and chose New Zealand for their honeymoon. Good choice I reckon. Jacob, being a typical Web2 obsessive dragged poor Dawn to Dunedin so we could meet. Needless to say, it was a pleasure, we talked Web2 to each other based on our respective lines of work.

I was excited by Jacob's simple but perceptively effective idea of how to improve communication in an organisation and at the same time leverage informal learning via the networked learning model. He claims high millage for his thinking with client work he does, and I was certainly impressed enough to want to get him back here to talk to my own senior managers.

Like Stephen, Jacob reckons we must have managers and leaders modelling the desired behaviour, then offer incentives to subordinate staff to do the same. That is to communicate openly and frankly about their thinking, their job progress and their concerns. In other words to blog. There, now I (a subordinate) have no reason to say I have no idea what management are thinking, the minutes from their meetings will become more readable, hopefully to a point of interest and engagement that I might even WANT to read them, the public can see what we are up to and the newspaper can more easily gather their press releases.

Then the managers need to create incentives. Jacob and I talked a little about what this may look like and where it might come from - we thought the following was realistic:
  1. $200 per month bonus to every staff member who regularly maintains a blog for their work. In it should at least contain notes and reflections on training sessions and other learning, issues and concerns, ideas and solutions, links to resources etc.
  2. The money for this come from a fraction of the formal training budget. Call it small money for big informal learning.
  3. Coupled to this incentive are efforts to forge communicative networks between these blogs. Support agents who monitor the blogging and make introductions to emergent synergies.
The long and the short of this post is that action research will not achieve a speedy enough result, and while there is a disconnect between the workers and the bosses, change is made impotent. I think the modelled behaviour from leadership with incentives will set up the infrastructure and potential for an action research culture to develop.

I hope Jacob offers a more detailed idea to this post when he's back from honeymooning with Dawn.

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Anonymous said...

You mentioned Learn Online. Is that www.abc.net.au/learn or www.learnonline.ac.nz/ or something else? Just wanted to check it out... see if it's a resource I would enjoy. Thanks Leigh.

John Gregory

Michael said...

Hi John... I'm guessing Leigh was just dropping the "Teach and" from the title of this blog ;)

Leigh, love the idea for encouraging informal learning with incentives... imagine catching up on what's going on in your college/institution with readable - even fun - posts about meetings and general goings on... Two immediate benefits I can see:

* We'd all learn to write (and communicate) with the aim of people reading (rather than the aim of documenting what was said) (see Conversational writing kicks formal writing's ass)

* Interactive, networked learning could be modeled right from management to teachers and to "students"... perhaps becoming the elusive "Learning organisation"

wow... what a dream ...

Leigh Blackall said...

LOL! Yes what a dream hey Mike. I yep John I was just dropping the "teach and" off. But thanks for pointing to the Australian and NZ Learn Onlines. Maybe I better stick with keeping the Teach and Learn Online title and not risk diluting brands elsewhere ;)

Mark Burton said...

Hi Leigh,

I have recently moved into the education sector and have been researching elearning and web 2.0 in education as part of a new project. I have been reading numerous blogs and visiting elearning sites to try and understand the issues that are being raised.

I really enjoyed reading this post. You make some great points. I think one of the best ways to promote the adoption of these new web2 tools is to show how damn useful they can be in increasing communication and overall productivity in teachers, students and organizations as a whole.

However, wouldn't it be better to spend the $200 on training teachers on how to use these web2 tools and demonstrating the benefits they could receive from their application, rather than simply giving them a bonus? By explaining their relevance to both "bosses and workers" through training, they may soon become avid bloggers themselves.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for commenting in. So far I have personally shown well over 5 thousand teachers how to blog and the benefits of web2 communications generally. I make an effort to track as many of their efforts as I can, and I can hand on heart say it is a dismal return on investment. About the same as what one can expect in web1 type forum discussions... 1- 10% engagement - in other words for every 100 people shown, 1 - 10 of them keep practicing.

I don't think teachers are actually motivated by ways to teach better, and certainly not ways of learning better. (generally speaking of course). I think it is money, retirement packages, and their life outside the school that motivates them.

Fare enough too if you've ever seen the numbers of passionate young teachers quickly burned out by our overly political and bureaucratic education system.

So no, I don't think the money would be better spent showing. These tools are very very easy to learn - and probably better learned self paced. I think the money would be better spent as an incentive.

Good luck in your research.

Chris Harvey said...

Can students get paid to blog as well?

Where are your students blogs?

Leigh Blackall said...

The blogs of the people who look to me as a teacher in a formal learning sense, are listed in my feedreader. Motivations for students need not necessarily be monetary. Similar to teachers, I would say the vast majority of students are not motivated by better learning - most are extrinsically motivated as well.. assessment. :(

Anonymous said...

Paying teachers to blog? What a silly idea! The motivation should come from them, not be financial. Otherwise you'll end up with bare minimum blog posts so they can get their money.

You need to extoll the benefits of blogging, lead by example in schools and show the benefits of doing so. Otherwise it'll be tokenistic on their part - guaranteed...

Doug Belshaw (teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk)

Leigh Blackall said...

:) I guess the same can be said about paying teachers to teach! What a silly idea.