Thursday, October 30, 2008

About "Drop Box" Collaboration

As technology and education continue to evolve, the word collaboration is thrown about almost like a towel these days. Through my twitter and Classroom 2.0 accounts I'm constantly being bombarded with invitations to collaborative projects. The problem with most of these projects is, they are mostly serving the teacher's portfolio rather than the students.

Right now is a very interesting time for technology education, and it is clear that educators out there are "seizing the moment" and carving their niche into the establishment, hoping to be the first to try this new tool or the first to implement that. I'm sure there's part of me that's interested in that too, hoping that my blog takes off like wildfire, and can inspire millions of teachers and educators.

So when I get opportunities like I wonder to myself, who is this serving? The students or the creator? This is not to belittle the project at all, which I very may well have my own students try, but I am beginning to see a trend in our Web 2.0 technology education towards collaboration that is really not collaborating.The project asks:

LifeRoundhere is a fascinating idea that requires that students create a movie about how stereotypes affect culture. By making this a global project, you really open things up and offer a world view of stereotyping from all over the world. This is a perfect example of what I call Drop Box Collaboration. Having a global project is great, but how is this really collaborating? It's not. It may not be intended that way, so there's nothing wrong with that.

But my issue lately, is collaboration as a whole. Collaboration involves working together toward a common goal. So this end product of liferoundhere, the wiki, will be more of a collection or a collage of movies that highlight stereotypes across the world. What I want to know from a project like this and projects like these is: how do you get students who live in other states, countries and continents to actually work together to create something together? The problem is, once the process is done, most often students just drop their work in a box and are done with it. Technology can offer us much more than a drop box.

It's All About the Process
What needs to be address in technology curriculum is process. The process of creating the project is really what is important and where the learning takes place. By making the collaboration happen after the process is over, really loses the value of the experience. The collaboration is in the process, it is the process, not in the end product.

Again, I got an invitation to a project, this one by the New York Times, no less. It's called the Polling Place Photo Project. It has been suggested that students in social studies class might want to be involved in something like this. While I love the idea of having students and people all over America taking pictures of their polling place experience, it, again, is Drop Box Collaboration. This project will serve the NY Times more than it will students or the people. The NY Times gets to show off (for free, no less) wonderful pics of polling places across America, and if you can pay attention after the election is over, maybe students and teachers can go to the website and check it out. It's after-the--fact collaboration.

"People in America don't know how to collaborate, yet."

It's All About the Teachers, and Facebook
During a recent chat with a colleague, I was told, "you have to start small" in regards to collaboration. I take this to mean that teachers in America are still learning how to collaborate using these new tools, and it's okay to try something new even if it isn't "true" collaboration.
I guess she might be right, but can't we think big, as well? What I see, and these are just two examples of collaborative projects, but yesterday my wife, said something poignant. She said "people in America don't know how to collaborate, yet." I take Facebook as an example. I was looking at Facebook the other night, and I saw post after post after post, but nobody is commenting on each other's posts. It's like a million people wanting to be heard, but they don't know how to get people to read their stuff, or get their attention. So if I look at this objectively, people are really trying to be heard, trying to be listened to, and they see Facebook as a great place to finally have a box from which to stand on. Except they, themselves, have no listening skills of their own, so all we get are a billion people shouting with no one listening, or very few.

It reminds me that sharing, one of my classroom's central themes really isn't an American value. We can say it is, and we teach kids to share their toys when they are young. But when they grow up, we say- "every man for himself!" and "go out and get what's yours!"

It's a very interesting time in this country. With open source software gaining popularity, companies sharing trade secrets, and social networking gaining huge popularity. But the question is, are we still trying to serve ourselves, or are we trying to serve our students and our community? Who is more important? Only time will tell.


Miguel said...

Excellent point! I've incorporated it and you into my article:

Hope you don't mind,

Wesley Fryer said...

I think collaboration has many faces and many possibilities. It certainly can, as you define it, mean working toward a common goal. It also, however, can mean sharing what we learn as we create. That creative process can be together, or the sharing can be together. Either way it can be collaboration, in my view.

I hadn't seen the Life Round Here project before and am glad to know about it. I'm not sure I see project participation as a negative in terms of teachers doing it for themselves / their resume building. Personally where I live in Oklahoma, I'd LOVE to see teachers striving to build personal resumes of online project collaboration, whether that is strictly teacher-to-teacher or it involves student created media. This project involves student-created media, so I guess I'm not following why this is a suspicious or not necessarily a good thing?

How could facilitating student involvement in a project that involves students in other places become teachers "trying to serve ourselves" / themselves? I'm not following you here.

Mr. Rezac said...

I appreciate your comments, Wes and Miguel.

Like I said in my post, I don't think that the LifeRoundHere is a bad project, but I feel that it is exemplary of how collaboration is still in it's infancy right now in America.

Right now we in the tech field seem to be saying that any collaboration is good, because it's bringing people into the fold. I understand that argument completely, and I agree with it to a point. But, as a teacher who is really not quite satisfied with the quality of OTHER teachers, process skills are foremost on my mind. Too often teachers are focused on what the end product is, or what it's going to be or look like. Especially with technology, teachers can now get really off task in creating projects that look super on the surface and look really good to their districts or admin, but ultimately don't reach the possibilities of where Digital Citizenship can take them. I'm not satisfied.

I created this conversation because I want other teachers to question their motives behind their teaching, to question who they are serving, themselves or their students?

For you, Wes, it's obvious to you because you put students and education first as your motivation for what you do. I've seen it in your practice. That's why you're "not following me." That's a good thing.

But to educators who don't have the same priorities, the question of "Me vs. Us" might have some resonance.



Most projects fall under the category of sharing, not collaborating. It is really, really hard to find someone to collaborate with--most folks just want to share. I don't have a problem with that. I think it is just the third stage teachers go through when they start using 2.0 stuff.

Great post.

Wish you also had the option of letting folks comment with an email/url!! I don't blog with blogger so have to use an gmail address that I never use to leave a comment here.

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