In their chapter “The Wiki Workplace” in Wikinomics(Tapscott/Williams), the authors write about Ross Mayfield, whose company Socialtext tries to develop tools that meet the changing needs of clients to share, collaborate and have a flexible workflow.
It started me thinking about the workflow in schools, which on my campus is still very email oriented, for example. Mayfield points out in the book that email is a broken system, and that one could argue that only “ten or twenty percent of e-mail is productive.” So he felt that collaboration tools that adapt to the habits of the workplace were the key.
Similarly, John Seely Brown, formerly with Xerox, comments that the growth of wikis in many companies is a “bottom-up phenomenon” rather than a rigid top-down implementation of a tool.
So what does this have to do with schools?
I ponder as we work with teachers and administrators on using new “existing” tools, like wikis or podcasts, etc.–are these tools a bottom-up growth of something needed in our schools, or are the tools out there, so we are promoting their use? Do we have some responsibility to think even further outside of the box to examine the workflow where we are, and try to sort out what tools are needed and then bring THOSE tools in, or even create those tools for ourselves, rather than try to impose already created Web 2.0 tools on them?
So maybe this is a loaded question. But reading this chapter has made me recognize, for example, that I should be fighting to get permission for using chat software among our teachers. Chat is a natural for schools–quick, easy, and no need to clutter up our mailbox, for simple questions, like “Will you turn on the laminator” or “Is the lab busy next period?”
Secondly, it convinced me that we should take a really hard look at our needs and the needs of our teachers and students. Then we should go to vendors and venture capitalists and software designers and ask for tools that will really improve the workflow and creativity of our own workplace(or create them ourselves). For example, I LOVE flickr, but why don’t they feature the Creative Commons link more prominently (and why don’t I email them and ask them!)
Brown’s “bottom up” comment about institutions struck me also, and makes me think perhaps we should spend less time promoting web 2.0 tools that maybe fit our needs, but not our staff or students…? The age old dilemma–are we matching tools to a need, are we promoting a tool as a neat gadget and then the project is done “around the tool” or are we creating what we really need to convey a message properly or do a job well?
I suspect we would have more success among teachers if we stepped out of our own work methodology and really observed their workflow/struggles/frustrations/work with students/needs and thought hard about easy, effective and beneficial ways to meet them.
For example, wikis are a wonderful solution for building and storing knowledge, but ONLY IF STAFF WILL USE THEM! So maybe for some campuses and some purposes, that isn’t the tool. Or maybe it needs to be a “wiki-like” tool that integrates into the other management tools the district uses already instead of a separate “add-on” from an outside vendor, even if free?
And again for library research, what are the tools that are value added, (like Easybib.com which our campus naturally was drawn too), and what are the tools that feel like an “add-on” and don’t meet the needs at a natural level?
This requires us to step back from the maelstrom sometimes and observe our processes. Mayfield even points out that most of what employees spend their time on is ‘managing exceptions’ to the typical process and wrestling with new problems. Very true in schools I think–so how do we find tools that help us manage those exceptions–do we have a grab bag of innovative ideas handy? Can we think outside of the box? Can we allow for bottom up innovation?
Also, how can we help/get/encourage teachers to be part of the innovation and building? Do we ask them seriously what would work for them, what their “dream” software application is, what their dream of a better classroom for their students would look like, what they waste their time on that could be done better? Do we involve them in making the choices of what’s selected to solve issues? Do we collaborate with them on assignments to truly find the optimal tools online or for purchase?
How do we connect?
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayfresh/3471106034/