My friend Bruce Dixon pointed out to me a few weeks ago that if you do a search for “lesson plans” in Google you get almost 9 million hits, which, when you think about it, is a pretty amazing number. Not saying that they are all great plans, mind you, but when you think about the scope and variety of classroom related content that we can mine these days as opposed to just a few years ago.
Yet this concept of sharing content online still seems problematic for a lot of educators. As I travel around talking to teachers, very few of them argue when I suggest that this is still an isolated profession, and I get the strong sense that there is very little articulation around plans, practice or classroom experiences using online tools much less any local digital databases of documents or what have you. When I ask teachers to talk even in general terms about the experiences their students have had previous to arriving in their classes, most sit quietly and scrunch their shoulders. I know, I know…there is a time factor involved in doing this, or least a perception of one. But it just seems amazing to me that at this point there is no real shift towards publishing more of what we do, more of what our kids do, not only to expand our own knowledge base but to model for our students that potentials of sharing.
All of this was brought to mind, once again, in an by Issac Mao titled “Sharism: A Mind Revolution.” While I think the ideas may wax a bit too poetic at times, the thesis is powerful: in this world, the less we share, the less power we have. It’s an interesting discussion of the challenges to intellectual property and copyright and to the still ingrained perspective that to own and keep private our own best thinking is in some way protective and sustaining of our cultures.
Non-sharing culture misleads us with its absolute separation of Private and Public space. It makes creative action a binary choice between public and private, open and closed. This creates a gap in the spectrum of knowledge. Although this gap has the potential to become a valuable creative space, concerns about privacy make this gap hard to fill. We shouldn’t be surprised that, to be safe, most people keep their sharing private and stay “closed.” They may fear the Internet creates a potential for abuse that they can’t fight alone. However, the paradox is: The less you share, the less power you have.
Mao discusses a lot of the benefits to blogging and sharing, the rewards we can potentially reap, and the positive consequences for the world. And he touches on the implications for education in terms of at least giving our students a leg up in “communication, collaboration and mutual understanding.” Not to mention the idea of helping our students to create a digital portfolio that can not only serve to help their teachers get to know them and their passions more effectively but that can connect them to other teachers and mentors who share those passions. And that is power, not only in the knowledge that we gain but in the learning relationships we foster.
(Photo “Sharing” by Kymberly Janisch)
Jeff Utecht says
Funny you write about this today. The same day Kim Cofino and I sat down with a group of teachers and Kim pitched the idea to start a wiki to house all the files K-5. A place where we as a staff could collaborate, and share. The issue that came up.
“The problem with sharing is someone else might use your lesson plan, then the next year, all the kids know the lesson already.”
So we’re not sharing lessons because a 2nd grade teacher might take it and use it so you can’t use the lesson in 3rd grade.
And so we close our doors, don’t share, and wonder why we have to continually reinvent the wheel…..ug.
Steve Ransom says
What a pity, because an in-house repository of tried-and-true ideas and resources is often so much more appealing to me than 9 million hits in Google that I have to weed through, filter, refine – to perhaps find something of value. One thing I find myself bookmarking are wikis of other folks… their own individual or collaborative repositories of information – often information that has been mined by others with tools such as Google, but I’d bet that more likely these are resources that have been circulated with the variety of social information tools out there (Twitter, Diigo, Plurk, Ning, …) and simply documented on a wiki. This only happens because people are willing to (1) share, (2) collect, and (3) re-share. It’s the whole concept of “Share alike” with Creative Commons.
On another note, for this to really happen, people need to be more ethical about their ideas vs. the ideas of others. I wonder how many folks hesitate to post presentations and other such documents because they know some of the information in them is not their own and they have not followed ethical standards of attribution.
Will Richardson says
I’m sure that last part has something to do with it, Steve. One thing about being transparent is that you have to own your ideas and take responsibility for creating them.
Steve Ransom says
Hit…Nail…on…Head> “You have to own your ideas”. That means you have to be a thinker/learner, not just a redistributor. If one has nothing to share that is his own, then is one learning/growing? Attribution to me is simply an empowering way to share new ideas that are built from a larger community of learners who themselves are being transparent. That’s why CreativeCommons is so great… it encourages knowledge building and creative license.
Betty Gilgoff says
It seems to me that this is just going to take some time. Creative Commons is great and will create change, but many ordinary teachers (are there ever any?) have to learn about it and then have time to practice using it to get comfortable with what it offers. Teachers have to learn to trust the process of sharing and for many, develop their confidence and voice in doing so. Let’s face it, this hasn’t been the culture in the past.
I believe a lot of teachers do have their own ideas, a lot of creative ideas. In fact I would go so far as to argue that the freedom to create, explore and play with ideas is what often draws people into teaching. But our school systems, with their hierarchical nature, haven’t traditionally done a lot to support the sharing of that creativity. Until recently, with more of a move to learning teams and teacher driven Pro-D, I believe we’ve ignored the talent in our own teaching staff and instead leaned heavily on “experts” and outside wisdom, thus undermining teacher confidence in themselves.
Steve Ransom says
@Betty – excellent insights in all of this. I think that you are correct that schools have bee guilty of not grooming and using their own talent. Hopefully, that is changing. We seldom put the responsibility on teachers to come up with creative, effective solutions. We bring in outsiders and then tell the teachers what they are now going to do – like they don’t know anything. Knowledge sharing is certainly related. If we can get teacher confidence in the importance/value of their own knowledge and creativity to build the school intellectual capital, that would be a good first step and a necessary step for buy-in/ownership. These new social sharing technologies would are a great way to begin to grow that kind of culture, I think. But the whole teacher-as-professional issue is a messy one, though.
Will Richardson says
Now that’s a new one, even on me… Sheesh.
After just coming out of the Google Academy today you both could totally google doc it, when someone uses a file that is shared it saves a copy for them to edit. And only users that are permitted share the files so the kids are not an issue.
Google was amazing today, I swear I will have a month long headache!
Mathieu Plourde says
Our system is still focused on power. In a world where resources are rare, power is in the hands of the ones who own the resources. Hierarchies are built on this concept: someone is the boss of someone else.
Now that we are living in an era of information overload, the system is shaken. Knowledge alone will not get you on top. Knowledge is now worthless if it’s not shared, because other people will be able to use it better and faster than what you could ever do with it individually.
Education is just another example of a hierarchy that resists change. Let’s just hope the revolution (or the evolution, if you don’t like blood to be spilled) will happen soon.
I think time has alomst nothing to do with it. What is stopping teachers from taking 2 minutes to sit and e-mail to the rest of their building faculty advertising the URL of a great web site they’ve found? It’s so simple and potentially so helpful, but very few teachers ever do it or even think to do it. A minority do do it, and they do it often. When they find something good or do something they are proud of, they immediately want to share. But the rest… MYOB is hegemonic, part of their birthright as teachers. Too bad…
One of our teachers shot an allstaff out last week with a web-site he came across and people were upset because they get too much email already. There is a backlash against teachers who try to reach out, as if it were going to mean that more is required of everyone. The don’t rock the boat mentality will take a while to change. the only thing we can do is to encourage those that are willing to make the extra effort.
Mike & Dave–you both make great points. Time is in the eye of the beholder. You get what you make of it. Isn’t it worth two seconds of time if you can helps your collegues, or even better, help your students? Of course, as Dave said those who do aren’t received well. I know when I shoot an email to my department, they get deleted without being opened. It’s pretty disheartening.
Dave–I appreciate your point that “the only thing we can do is encourage those that are willing to make the extra effort.” A great idea–looking to our cyber collegues is something we have to do.
Dan Stucke says
Our school (900 pupils) recently received a new photocopier, in the first week of use it made 40,000 A4 copies – unbelievable!
Jason Levy says
I agree that modern sharing is power, but I think it is a non-traditional power. Power 1.0 was the ability to hoard information, to own the process, to make a killing off of the initial public offering. That bubble busted.
Power 2.0: the power to influence practice, ideas and the world at large through the relentless sharing of tools, methods and insights.
If we really want to change the world, don’t we need to put our best ideals and resources INTO the world?
Thanks for your elegant post.
Great reponse Jason. You make a great point and it is encouraging to know ther are people out there who share that philosophy. Let’s change the world together!
Dan Stucke says
Sorry – wrong post!
Hi Will –
I saw a professor from Bentley University, Mark Frydenberg discuss his Computer Literacy Class for Freshmen. He showed blogs, wikis, google/spreadsheets with mash-ups. So, I decided to make a jing/screencast http://screencast.com/t/i3ppLUliQ showing a simple case why google/spreasheets is so powerful. I had no idea how to create a mashup. There are some errors on the video and I plan to fix, but I am publishing to my class blog.
We tried to show to a group of high school students today a mash-up with google/docs and it was blocked. I discussed the contents of the jing and emailed to my principal. He immediately saw the relevance. I plan on trying to connect my high school students with Bentleyâ€™s class in order to show a positive college Web 2.0 course.
Here is a link to Mark’s class blog and course http://computerliteracy3.blogspot.com/2008/04/todays-computer-literacy-30-courses.html
Alan Kwan says
My observation has been that those teachers that view teaching as an art are the ones that has problem with sharing.
Sharing as a concept carries a lot of baggage. Sharing implies that it is okay to look at others’ methodologies. That implies it is okay to agree or disagree. That leads to opinions and commentaries. That leads to evaluation and judgement. The primary reason for some teachers is that they are relunctant to be evaluated and judged on their methodologies.
Notice that behind closed door in the teacher’s lounge, many no problem talking bits and pieces that they are wiling to share but there is very little in terms of methodologies exchanges, even among friends andd peers in the same school.
In general, the teaching profession itself has very little science applied over the past century. With good students, most teachers do wonders. With not so good students, most teachers struggles. That points to the fact that the students matter more than the teachers. Unfortunately, that’s what peer reviews (and “sharing”) will reveal. It is not a technology barrier.
Dean Groom says
Spooky Will, this was exactly the conversation I was having with a working party in the University – the idea of collaboration via technology using informal spaces (not meeting rooms), was greeted with amazement. The idea of collaborating on a Unit of Work in a department and sharing that with other departments? You mean email is not a collaborative tool? … I share everything, such as it is, because later, someone will share with me. That’s the connected currency.
Bill Fitzgerald says
Scott Leslie has a great post on this; see http://www.edtechpost.ca/wordpress/2008/11/08/just-share-already/
Also, Jim Groom has a post on sharing infrastructure between organizations: http://bavatuesdays.com/cloning-the-umw-blogs-empire/
And it’s what open source communities do (and have been doing for a long time now) every day.
A lot of people are coming to similar conclusions around sharing. I’m curious what this conversation will look like in 6-12 months.
I tried to get other teachers in the district to post ideas to a share point site. After much nagging, I was the only person with stuff up there. Now the district has a site for the same thing and the same result. I thought it was just me, or that the teachers were technophobic or to busy, maybe they just don’t want to. I hate this thought, especially because everyone thought it was a great idea, was that lip service? a way to get me off the subject? My main gripe is now the district ‘approves’ what gets posted, like I am unable to decide for myself what lessons I can use. Thanks for the post, it really has me thinking. I hate it when that happens.
As a French teacher I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel every year, creating new resources that I’m sure other teachers in the past have already created. And the thing is when you talk to other teachers, they will moan that they have to create new resources but when it comes to share, you will not hear from them! Personally, I’ll keep sharing ideas that I have found or new ideas (that I am sure others have invented in the past) because I love sharing and I don’t think my resources only belong to me. I feel so much happier by sharing and helping others than being on my own with my “great” ideas. A resource or an idea or a lesson is great only if others thinks it is great as well.
Sharing is power and I have found that many of my colleagues are willing to do that. But, their idea of sharing means going to their classroom and searching through the hundreds of folders they have stored in filing cabinets. Don’t get me wrong, this has been immensely helpful and I am so grateful that I work with such great teachers who are willing to guide a novice. As a teacher starting my third full year in the classroom, I have definitely learned more from my colleagues than I did sitting through lectures in college and I am very thankful for that. But, this sharing does need an up-date. How can I encourage the other teachers in my department to switch to online sharing? Because I am so young, I am often hesitant to bring up ideas because I don’t think they will be received well. Most of my colleagues will see this as time-consuming and one more thing on their “to do” list. Even when the site is created for them and all they have to do is post ideas, lessons, projects, etc., participation is still uneven. It seems as thought some teachers are on their everyday sharing great ideas, while others post nothing.
As one of the youngest teachers in my department, I am often hesitant to make suggestions. But, I really think this could make our lives easier, rather than busier. I think that is perhaps the best approach to take in order to sell my colleagues on this and actually see some participation. Thanks for bringing up this topic. I know that it is something many of us can relate to.
Amy H. says
I am continually amazed at the lack of interest in sharing at my school. I am only able to trace it back to insecure people that feel the need to “compete” even though others may not know there is a contest at all. I just want my students to learn. I don’t care who thought of the idea or whether another teacher will teach my idea better. I am open to learning if he/she does teach it better. I agree with the poster that says it is teacher-centered mindsets that hold us back. The students are the center. Stop making it about anything else!
Peter May says
I don’t quite understand some educator’s concerns about sharing lessons and activities, especially within school districts. I would consider it a privilege to view lessons and activities created and implemented by other educators in my district. This opportunity would allow teachers to know what students have been exposed to as well as what they should be prepared for in future grades. Isn’t it common sense to not teach a lesson that someone else in your building is teaching? Even if it is a really cool lesson, it seems counter productive. Instead wouldn’t most teachers create a lesson that would then build on the experiences the students gained? Or help build skills that would prepare those students for the future lesson? In my school district we are in the process of completely mapping our curriculum on a district wide level. The goal is to have a living online database that teachers will be able to use to share and build great lessons and activities. The application we are using is called Techpaths, is anyone else using this and if so how do you like it?
I feel the same way about sharing. My building is a mix of veteran teachers and fairly new ones. There are some who remain very tight lipped about everything they do and don’t share at all with fellow teachers. We are all there to help the students in learn, hoarding ideas doesn’t help them at all. There’s one who takes credit for other teachers ideas which I think plays into some people not being overly willing to share. Another teacher and I who are teaching the same grade, luckily have been working together and sharing ideas back and forth about the district’s new genre studies we are to do. It’s great, we give each other the studies we’ve worked on and then tweak it to make it our own. It’s way less work and the students are getting the benefit of two minds working together. I wish all the teachers were so willing!
Mike S. says
In the scope of an individual building or school district, I think there has to be a deliberately established culture that fosters collaboration and sharing. In my opinion, this begins with administrators acting as models as well as celebrating the collaboration that does take place. It is useless to expect this to just “happen” if the culture is not poised to accept it. The idea of changing the culture is of course easier said than done, but it seems like the most effective way to create open collaboration and sharing among teachers.