Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Too Busy" to be Engaged and other Paradoxes

Flickr CC Photo by Jeff Hester
I write this post with no anger, some frustration, and much bewilderment.  This year at my school we used a staff wiki for staff collaboration and sharing.  I truly believe that this became a viable place for sharing documents and achieving at least a modicum of collaboration.  I would give us an A-.

One feature of the wiki was a "forum" for discussing issues related to tech integration, professional development through "cluster groups", and conversation about Tony Wagner's "Seven Survival Skills".   As I write this today, the forum has received 435 posts.  "Success!" one might say.  Except this number has not budged for weeks, now.  Earlier in the year, I was flogging participation in the forums through my professional development group and deliberately trying to provoke conversation with statements I hoped would produce responses.  At one point, the principal urged participation in an all-staff email.  Then, it happened-- outspoken backlash-- at me!  In one of my groups there was outrage about the forum participation being forced on people.   

I get this. First of all, I don't like being told to do things, either.  And meaningful conversation can't be forced.  Also, they were "too busy" to have this additional obligation. However, during a school year, it is nearly impossible to schedule such conversations face-to-face.  Most of the threads concerned core educational issues.  

Now, here's another irony:  At the end of the school year, a very genuine colleague pulled me aside and told me she had been reading through posts in the forum and thought them so valuable that she hoped we wouldn't "lose" the ideas expressed there.  She sadly noted that only three or four persons-- always the same ones-- were having the recent conversations.  This was quite true.  But hers was not one of these voices!

I'm really not sure about the future of the forum.  If only a handful of us are going to discuss, it's sort of silly to do it this way.  On the other hand, I don't want to give up.  I thought we had reached a tipping point this year, but my guess is that the only way to rev up discussions online is to kindle them in a face-to-face context (like a faculty meeting) first.  But I right now I am pretty skeptical about even reaching the 435 post mark now that the novelty has worn off.   

Currently, I am having some very nice experiences with conversations through a wiki about specific projects.  That is obviously a key, but I still find I have to put considerable energy into getting them started.  Any insights or suggestions?

1 comment:

Ann Lusch said...

Maybe it would be worth discussing this at a staff meeting. Why don't more people use the wiki? How should we go about keeping important staff conversations going, if the wiki is not working?

I know that if I had to remember to check and see if there is anything new, I would have trouble developing that habit. I have the wiki come to me, with page edits and discussion posts sent to my e-mail. That way I can keep up with the conversations without having to think about it. It means that I also get notified every time someone crosses out a word and adds another, but I feel it's worth it. Even if I were to cut out the page edits, I'd keep the discussion posts coming for sure.

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