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My class has been involved in a 1:1 laptop pilot for about a year now (as 4th and now 5th graders). There have been certain advantages to being the “Lone Ranger” in this endeavor. I fly “under the radar,” because this is not a grant driven project. Its something we are doing at my school site because we had the resources already and I had a certain amount of expertise and willingness to do things differently. I’ve been thrilled by what we have done so far, but can’t claim that “this is THE answer” to the education puzzle … but I strongly suspect it is at least part of the answer. Having said that however, one thing that I really miss is collaboration. No one else is doing this at my school or even in my school district (a 65,000 student school district).

I’m making some good decisions about what and how we are doing this, but how much better a job would I be doing if even one other teacher at my site were doing this along with me? I do have my online collaborators … through Twitter and blogs and Skype and the like, and that is great … but they don’t replace face-to-face, sit-down-at-the-end-of-the-day comrades that are experiencing this with you. People to bounce ideas off of and share the ups and downs with. Tech savvy isn’t as important as making the journey with you in this case. Quality, effective teaching knowledge is more important. Having others to remind you when maybe you’re doing something just for the sake of doing it when a different, perhaps tried-and-true less complicated approach may have achieved the same or better results … or at least to raise and discuss that issue. On the other hand to remind others that this approach isn’t about doing the same thing, the same lessons, but this time just use technology as a tool to do it isn’t what we’re about either … using a different approach is as important as using a different tool I believe. This is one of the reasons I argue with those that say tech and/or project based has been tried and failed … I have seen so many initiatives that are done poorly for a variety of reasons crash and burn … or are not supported well over a long enough period to draw that conclusion. Not enough tweaking or training has been the death knell for many such trials. So we’ll continue on with our pilot and do more great things and learn much along the way … but there will also be the nagging “what ifs” that will crop up in the back of my mind.

10 Responses to “How Much Better Could It Be With Collaboration?”

  1. [...] posted a new piece over at “In Practice” … How Much Better Could It Be With Collaboration? I really believe making a journey like our 1:1 laptop program or any “new” teaching or [...]

  2. Amy S. says:

    i was part of a big technology grant for a few years. i had one desktop computer for every two students and the goal was to do lots of project and inquiry based learning. one of the biggest roadblocks was always the tech support. i’d plan a unit all summer to do during september, and then the internet wouldn’t be fixed and working until the end of october. i got very jaded, very fast, primarily because of tech issues. i could imagine all of our computer tools being used so powerfully, but i’d be told that we have policies against “blogs” and other ridiculous things. i also had to have four big poles dropped in the middle of my room for wiring. when we had the chance to scale back and have desks that i could move around again and no wiring poles, i was happy to get rid of the computers. we still use the computer lab all the time and are in a really small building, so it’s often empty, but i’d be pretty leery of going back to the model i had with the grant until we have a big overhaul in the tech support department in my district.

    i can live fine without computers being a seamless part of my classroom, but i don’t think i could live without my one great partner teacher, for all the reasons you mentioned. we hold each other to the values that we share, we ask tough questions, and we inspire each other to keep working, even when the climb is steep. one question i’ve puzzled a lot over, in terms of collaboration, is what do you do if you’re being asked to work closely with folks with whom you don’t have common commitments and beliefs?? Or, to be more honest, with folks who don’t have any clear beliefs? the thing that makes collaboration so valuable, for me, is the shared vision and commitments. what if those are missing??

    nice post. thanks for sharing your thinking. and if you ever want to bounce ideas about technology rich, inquiry based learning—i at least know some good questions to ask. :)

  3. mrneedleman says:

    I think you point to the exact problem with most technology “integration” when you say that technology in the classroom should lead to entirely different kinds of teaching and not just replace paper and pen activities.

  4. Jody Hayes says:

    I agree. The teacher I bounced ideas off and shared with daily moved schools earlier this year. We keep in touch via ichat, email and blogs daily. We are still in the same city so see each other often but I still miss that daily catch up – from someone who is struggling to be the best teacher they can too, and prepared to ask each other the hard questions and listen even when the answer is not what they expected.
    Good luck in finding your teaching buddy.

  5. Jenny says:

    The question you’ve raised is true of all aspects of education, not just technology. At my school we’ve all become fantastic teachers of literacy (reading, writing, spelling, etc) because of the collaboration that has happened. We are still struggling in math because we haven’t worked together as closely to question, push, struggle, and learn from one another.

    It was great to read this because it’s always reassuring to hear others who are grappling with the same questions and issues. I don’t have a 1:1 program, but I’ve really been pushing myself to do a better job integrating technology. I’ve been lucky to have a couple of people to chat with here, but no one else who is trying to go quite as far. I’m sure I’ve done some things for the sake of doing them and that frustrates me. And, I don’t think I’ve used my network as well as you have. Something for me to think more about…

  6. mrferlazzo says:

    Brian,

    Your point is an important one. It’s made a big difference for me to have connected with someone like Alice Mercer, who’s so much more experienced in the effective application of educational technology than me, and who’s in the same school district (though in a different school). Her generosity with her time and talent has made a huge difference for me (and my students) in my journey of exploration. And I think it’s also made a difference with our District by having the two of us raising similar questions and sharing similar ideas to District staff.

    Larry

  7. alicemercer says:

    What he doesn’t say is how tactful he is in these conversations, much smoother than my delivery (squeaky-wheel is my middle name). Larry is also an invaluable resource for me as well. Often pointing to the best way to make requests a “win-win” option for administrators. Truly he speaks softly, but carries great weight. I’m impressed.

  8. Brian Crosby says:

    Thanks all for the great comments. One point I failed to make is that we constantly hear that technology integration or project-based or any number of other “Let’s try doing this … going about this school thing a different way” … have been done, and done, and done and failed … and I just don’t believe that is the case. My students are just so much more motivated, their behavior is so improved over past years – that alone makes me want to say – “OK everyone, I’ve found the answer!” … because my students are so much more tuned in – they still have A LOT of learning to catch up on … but I feel we are really on that path and not just spinning our wheels (which granted could just be this group – hence again why it would be nice to have more than just my class involved so we could have some insight into that). Anyhow thanks again for your comments.
    Brian

  9. Laura Ruby says:

    New technologies help us to reorganize education in a very positive way. Students and teachers from different countries become closer and can learn from each other. We may like Web 2.0 technologies or not, but they are inevitable. Our students can’t live without Facebook or MySpace any longer. They can’t imaging their life without Flickr. Why shouldn’t we make those social and collaboration tools work for us? For example, now we are running a project in Wrike [http://www.wrike.com]. It has enormous potential for education. So do many other similar tools.

  10. Erika says:

    Brian,

    I hear you LOUD and clear. Your comments are insightful and eye-opening, however I would challenge “us” as educators to continue to piece the puzzle together. After all it is indeed our job.

    The topic of the lack of collboration with the new program in place is another challenge to you as well as many teachers in other parts of the country. We can’t be so easy to give up, but stay encouraged and be problem solvers. I would be honored to work with you if you were my colleague with the implementation of this technology piece.

    We must draw on our experience with prior collobrations to blend it in to the technology piece. I mean after all our students are making waves with blogging, the internet, and social connetions within technology. While your role in the classroom is still the apprentince, I would ask that you challenge yourself to tap into what you already know and what you are good at. Really make it work for you and your students. Collborate with them. After all the lessons you are pertaining to must motivate and interest them.

    The pilot program seems like another stepping stone in the right direction.Two years in the making and two years of learning, many more to come. You are on a journey and I commend you for taking that step for taking that step.

    As teachers we are risk-takers and we must learn from the challenges that are presented before us. Innovation is a whole new movement. Teaching is still effective in my mind when you have the commitment to being the best that you can, given the tools that you need, and with a system in place that will welcome all learners.

    Integration is much more of what methods we see everyday and teaching shoveling information for students to be responsible for. I would colloborate wtih my peers about what my efforts are in the classroom and in other content areas and use your professional resources to see what other teachers are doing around the country. As teachers, we must be self-reflective.

    Our school does not have a pilot program, as of yet, but we do have a mobile lab is about the building for teachers to use to extend what is being learned in the classroom. It’s a new day and a new state of education. What you are doing now with your students will pay off in the long run.

    Best of Luck to You.

    Erika

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