Here Comes Everybody, but is Everybody Else Prepared?


As I reviewed Will Richardson‘s archived interview of Clay Shirkey, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, there were a few things that jumped out at me that I noted and wanted to work through.

Clay started off discussing the typical learning/assessment style found in education today:
Individual assignments/individual grades – old school only known environment

He then goes on to discuss one literacy that he feels we are lacking in teaching our students:
“At least one literacy is collaborative literacy.”

These are some notes I made from his talk:

What does it mean to be a good collaborator? Two ways (essential literacies for the 21st century):

  1. When you are collaborating, how do you participate in a group that is valuable?
  2. How do you participate in a group where you are learning instead of just freewriting?

We want students to have a set of absolute basic skills (the three R’s), beyond that we want them to be able to figure out of all the thinking tools we give them, which ones are best for which kinds of challenges. Big challenge in school system in US is a move to a much more cut and dry measurement system (NCLB driven Testing) which changes the system away from more flexibility towards measurement. However, what we get out of that is the challenge. “A lot of what we want the schools to do can’t be measured in the way we measure them. There is a mismatch between the goals and the measurement.” The assessment is determinant of how we think about the rest of the curriculum. Consider goals and then consider measurement system. Industrial system of measurement is for widgets and creates an industrial style system of curriculum and measurement.

He also shared this: Internet provides basic support for collaborative work.

Funny he mentions that the Internet is the basic support considering all of the posts going on concerning one of the presidential candidates. But, I digress.

What Shirkey said struck a chord with those of us involved in helping educators utilize more technology in the classroom. Many of the so called Web 2.0 tools are built around this collaborative environment. White Oak ISD switched to Google Apps for email and the entire suite of collaborative tools that come with it. Some campuses have taken the lead in that area and utilize Google Docs to schedule student tutoring, detentions, testing windows, and more and share the document campus-wide. This is a great start for them to see the power of these collabroative tools.

The Official Google Blog - Insights from Googlers into our products, technology and the Google culture

The down-side is that schools in general are slow to adopt these tools, meaning that students are not getting the collaborative environment practice they so sorely need for today’s workforce. Take this recent post on the Official Google Blog for instance. Jonathon Rosenberg, Senior VP of Product Management, guest posts giving advice to students. He tells them to “major in learning.”

At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.

So what does that have to do with collaboration? Well, take a look at the primary factors Google looks for in hiring and evaluations:

… analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

… communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

… a willingness to experiment. Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a willingness to accept the evidence even if you don’t like it.

… team players. Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need to work well together and perform up to the team’s expectations.

… passion and leadership. This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

Pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me. Everyone knows about the great things at Google: unlimited sick days, in-house dining, truly personal spaces for offices, and the one that I like the most – 20% of the work week on job related personal interest research/development.

So the question is begged, can your students operate in that environment? Are they self-directed and self-motivated enough to handle this setting?

These characteristics are not just important in our business, but in every business, as well as in government, philanthropy, and academia. The challenge for the up-and-coming generation is how to acquire them. It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many required skills will change…

Rosenberg signs off his letter with perhaps one of the most profound statements we should be drilling into our students (something not tested on the state standardized test, by the way):

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn’t end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

Now, get to thinking about how it affects you as a teacher and lifelong learner. Consider change. Consider sharing your learning processes/struggles/successes with your students to model what being a lifelong learner is all about. Consider what your students and perhaps your own children are heading into once they leave the hallowed walls of your academic setting. What are you going to do about it?

Enough said. Let the conversation begin.

(photo credit: #1 – Me; #2 – Dean Shareski; #3 – Google Blog)

Facilitate, not Frustrate

At a teacher conference in Austin today I had the opportunity to speak to a group of educators from Region 7 about the importance of technology use in the classroom and keeping our legislators informed about what we are doing. Part of my conversation was based on Miguel‘s notes from the CTO session with Hochberg, Strama, and Eisler. Having our students tech literate has always been important, but now that Texas is requiring school districts to PROVE that proficiency there is a whole new focus being placed on it. And the biggest step we need to make here is to educate our legislators on the fact that the state standardized content area tests have nothing to do with whether computer use is valid. But that is for another post.

Well, that conversation led to two teachers from a Region 7 school district (one high school and one intermediate) sharing how they cannot use technology in their district. Obviously, there was some hyperbole involved in the comment, so I asked for clarficiation. They shared two things that drive the tech boycott by the staff in the district:

1. The filter is so clamped down that the students cannot do legitimate research. The teachers are equally as frustrated, so they don’t use it for lesson preparation or even as part of the course work. Basically, the Internet is useless. I have heard this complaint before, and it is definitely a frustrating situation to be in. I always wonder what higher power gives these tech directors the authority to lock down the network so tightly. This is a continual debate on the TCEA TEC-SIG list serve, and there are no winners in the debate but plenty of losers: students. I’m fortunate enough to not have this issue in White Oak.

2. Two teachers witnessed a major student incident in the hall. In the midst of the teachers emailing each other notes on the incident to make sure they had evertyhing noted to present to the campus administrator, the superintendent shows up to talk to the two of them. The superintedent wants to know why these two teachers are conspiring against a student like they are. Now remember, all of the conversation was done via email. They later find out that the tech director is reading EVERY email going through the district’s system and decided that he/she (a non-educator) knew enough about the situation to report the two teachers to the district administrator for ganging up on this student.

So I have a few take aways from this conversation:

– If there is a job in a school system that offers a person that much time to just make teachers’ lives miserable, then it is a waste of tax payer dollars.

– If there is a position created in a school district that does not have student learning as the MAIN focus attached to it, then it is also a waste of tax payer dollars.

– Why do campus administrators continue to let someone so obviously out of touch with teacher and student needs control such a large part of what happens (or should happen) on their campuses? One would assume that there is at least one person willing to step up and share the importance of access and use with this individual and eventually that person’s boss if needed. These anal controllers of the DISTRICT’s network have no business in education since they only work to hinder it. There have to be some limitations to protect data, access to inappropriate sites, cyber-bullying, etc., I know. But when it gets to the point where staff and students give up using any technology, then there is a major issue.

– Those of us in the tech side of the school district need to remember that curriculum drives the technology and not the other way around. Our job is to facilitate technology use, not to frustrate it.