Collaboration Projects – Doomed to Fail?

Witch

I am so excited about the possibilities of global collaboration projects. Teachers, like Kim Cofino and Chris Craft (and many others), have started great successful international collaboration projects. These projects were/are well thought out, facilitated and organized. I have tried to start and participate in several projects as well, but have run into several stumbling blocks that are frustrating. Maybe others can sympathize with the following scenarios.

  • Scenario I
    You have found a great project looking for partner schools. You see your students as a great match. The project is everything you are trying to teach your students. The ingredients for global awareness, collaboration and technology literacy are all there. It would simply be amazing to be part of it… As the Technology Integrationist (without a class full of students of your own) you propose the project to several teachers, give them an overview, handouts, rubrics, lesson plans, time lines, etc. Some teachers seem excited, some rather quiet, some commit (verbally) to participating. All promise to look more into the project by going online and over the handouts I had given them.
    Days go by… weeks go by… with gentle reminders from my part if they have further thought about participating and or have gotten started. Too much other work…grades due… illness… conferences at school….etc. Bottomline….So far most of the projects have fizzled out from lack of enthusiasm, self-initiative, procrastination… and so on.
  • Scenario II
    You have had an idea for an collaboration project. You created a frame work around the idea, set up a blog or wiki. You started announcing the idea via your Social Network (Twitter, Blog, Ning). You received several enthusiastic responses from teachers who would love to participate…. then things fizzle out and time goes by without participation from others and the “collaboration” part of “Collaboration Projects”.

How much can you spoon feed other teachers? Do you write their lesson plans for them? Do you keep nagging and begging for participation? How do you find collaboration partners who are equally invested in a project? How do you motivate your teachers at your school to be those invested collaboration partners for others?

My motivation and initiative is there, but my hands are tied if the teachers at my school are not willing to ventured out into the global collaborative world with me.

Kim Cofino has some great advice in her Step by Step Guide to Global Collaboration post. I just don’t feel that I am there yet, since I am missing some of the main ingredients: The teachers! The students are there and ready for this type of work.

CURRENT SITUATION
The Technology Integration Facilitator or Coach (or whatever your position is called in your school) is interested and willing to put effort, time and enthusiasm into a global collaborative project, but the teachers who are the ones with the actual student bodies who would be participating by reading, writing, comparing, creating, evaluating, and learning are not on board. Do we, as the integrationists, need to promote, encourage, and follow up more with our teacher colleagues. Do we need to get up on our soapbox (even more!!!) and stir up, advertise with our non blog-writing nor blog reading teachers all these great projects?

I need help with ideas and thoughts on what to do next. In summary, I am confronted with two issues:

  1. Lack of interest and participation efforts from my school’s teachers in order to participate in existing global collaboration projects.
  2. Not being able to find willing and committed classroom teachers from other schools to work collaboratively on an idea or project envisioned by our school.

So, now that I have been sobbing about my frustration and gotten you (maybe) to feel sorry for me, I will put a shameless plug in for another call (scream this time) for collaboration on the Teddy Bears Around the World Project.

PLEASE pass the opportunity along to any/all elementary school teachers friends who might not be reading blogs and are not part of any other social network. Maybe it is not enough to advertise through our digital venues. We might not be reaching the actual teacher in the classroom. I will spend some time today to design Here is a printable Teddy Bear Flyer for you to download. You might be able to hang it up in your teachers’ lounge. Any help in spreading the word is appreciated.

25 thoughts on “Collaboration Projects – Doomed to Fail?”

  1. I think that another element in promoting global projects is necessary – School Administration. If the administration is aware of the benefits of participating in global projects, then they can help create the atmosphere which will bring classroom teachers to actively participate in them. Also they can provide the resources and incentives (material reward for additional hours of planning and work for the global project). Without active administration support and recognition of global projects it’s hard to get them off the ground!
    Reuven

  2. Here is where I am at. I am a classroom teacher-one who is involved in the network-an active participant in the web 2.0 arena.
    I can’t imagine teaching a Foreign Language without technology. It is all about the communication, authentic use, real connections, global understanding. I am forced to remain lockstep with my colleagues on the curriculum map down to what word I need to teach for “peas” in the food unit.(and what day I better be there too!)(Vocabulary varies by country in Spanish…..)I am actively involved in epals again-but know I will be asked “How does this relate to the MAP? Don’t be a Lewis or a Clark and lead without a map….
    God only knows what I did for the past 23 years teaching students everyday without having to make sure I did exactly what the teacher next door was doing. I want my collaborative circle to be worldwide-not building based.

  3. Your post reflects my thoughts, Sylvia. I am currently a partnership co-ordinator in a british council funded partnership with schools in scotland, namibia and ethiopia. In my own cluster of schools there is core group of teachers very interested, but no member of SMT on board, although they are supportive. In these situations it is all well and good the drive coming from teachers, but other less interested teachers won’t get involved because they don’t “have to”. Some departments have put together proposals for ideas to share with our african partners and I have asked them to contact their counterparts directly as yet they have done nothing. It seems as if they want me to do ALL the donkey work, but then they will want to include their names as being involved and it will be in their cpd profile…another box ticked with nothing to show.
    However I am determined to get this working. It has been a long held ambition to set up a partnership with schools in africa. I feel our kids have so much to learn about their position in life from their counterparts in africa.
    Here’s the partnership’s wiki if you are interested. http://welwitschia.pbwiki.com/
    I will approach my son’s Primary School to see if they would be willing to collaborate with your teddy.

  4. Silvia-

    I’ve been an instructional technology coordinator for the past 7 years…I experienced what you are describing in my first year as an ITC at my previous job. I set up the entire 7th and 8th grade student body with ePals all over Europe. This was after meeting with the teachers to design a plan for the kinds of things the students would be doing with their epals. Well, this totally fizzled out after the introductory email that the kids sent to one another. A few teachers continued with this for a few more weeks, but it eventually died.

    Over the past several years I’ve come to the conclusion that it really has to come from the teachers. I can plant the seed and even grow the plant a little bit, but the teacher has to take over at a certain point. This year we had a very successful author conversation with our 8th grade english students-this was the culminating activity for one of their novel readings. This was an incredibly successful event…however, this was completely initiated by our 8th grade english teacher. I only helped to facilitate the talk. I’m starting to get a few more teachers who initiate things like our 8th grade english teacher earlier this year-I’m absolutely thrilled that this is starting to happen.

    I’ve put out several calls to participate in collaborative projects where nobody has responded…I’ve been a little bummed by this, but I also realize that a traditional block schedule like the one we have makes it a little challenging to participate in some of the synchronous portions of collaborative projects-the asynchronous components of the projects are more possible, but people get a little nervous about managing these projects over time. I also find that many folks are so focused on what they teach that they don’t see any connection to their content and to collaborative projects.

    Matt Montagne
    Milwaukee, WI USA

  5. I feel your frustration. Ownership and shared priorities are major challenges. Teachers have to own projects for themselves and own them as high priorities. If a teacher sees a project as belonging to (coming from) someone else, then it is less likely to be such a high priority that it trumps everything else that competes for time and energy. I’m not sure what the answer is. I wonder if patient one-on-one mentorship may be required in many instances. We need to do whatever is required so that there is 100% buy-in. I agree with Reuven that administrative leadership, support and active encouragement are probably essential as well.

  6. As one of those causing the problem (a class teacher) I’d agree that ownership is a problem if the project is not going to be just one more thing.
    On this side of the Atlantic most of the teachers I know are feeling a lot of pressure from frequent new initiatives. Quite a lot of these initiatives are ‘have tos’ and take time from things that as teachers we might judge to be more valuable for our pupils.
    It is also quite hard to join in a project without some lead time to alter plans and timetables ect. If projects are built into long terms plans and timetabled they might have a better chance of being carried through.
    Good Luck, I’ll wave the poster about over here.

  7. I totally agree with the comments that have already been expressed. Classroom teachers are quite often already overwhelmed by all that they are required to do, not the least of which is making sure that their students are prepared for those very important tests to be given at the end of the year. It’s difficult to get them to participate in a project if they see it as “just one more thing” on their plate. Then, as you have indicated, unless they take ownership, the project eventually just dies out.
    I do believe that one crucial element is support from the administration. Until they place a priority on the use of technology and global collaboration, it’s difficult to convince the teachers. Of course, the administrators are overwhelmed with their own job responsibilities too.
    If anyone has a solution, we’d all love to hear it!

  8. I’ll print out your flyer and post it in our elementary teachers’ room tomorrow; maybe an email might be a good idea, too.

    I understand your frustration. Our classroom teachers don’t always keep me in the loop re. projects, and as the SLMS, I’d really like to be involved in both planning and execution. I have a few who are beginning to see the value of having me on board to suggest resources and support student efforts, but it’s a slow process. And they don’t even consider global collaboration as an option!

    Keep trying. I work on it from my end.

    diane

  9. Sylvia,
    I’m with you. A project I began with Kim Cofino has stalled b/c of my teachers, too. It’s not that they don’t want to finish, it’s just hard for them to find the time. And I can’t get in their rooms to make it happen. But I’m going to keep trying. And I’ll do what I can for your Bear project as well. Hang in there…

  10. It’s time to be subversive.

    Is there any way you could set it up where you create a “drop in” project where you could take over a class for a bit of time and act as the instructor yourself? You are a masterful educator, Silvia!

    Maybe by giving the teacher a bit more planning time and letting them casually observe how engaged the students will be and letting them see the connections that are made, it will create more demand from the students. I can see kids saying, “Can you bring Mrs. Tolisano back?!” and raving about how much they loved it.

    A drop-in model that creates viral demand, any chance that would work?

    I empathize with Susan who can’t get into the classroom, I’ve not any counsel for her, I’m afraid.

    I’ll send this to a few elementary teachers by email tomorrow…

    Chris

  11. Sylvia,
    As a classroom teacher of 5th graders, I have been on both sides – wanting to be involved and being pressed with other requirements. I will post this in my school lounge. Maybe I can get some fellow teachers involved (I’ll have to hold their hand but it would be worth it). I am nearing the end of my thesis project (international collaboration) and I have seen first hand the benefits of collaboration. They weigh in much more than learning from textbooks ever could.

  12. I’ve just found your blog this week and am enjoying it. I feel your pain. I morally support your endeavors. 😉

    I’m the only “Computer Teacher” in my building, meaning that I teach computer electives in a lab and no one else embeds technology at all. Don’t be misled, I’m paid as a classroom teacher and I am not a building-wide professional, although I end up doing a lot of trouble-shooting and evangelizing anyway. Sad, eh? My job as-is shouldn’t even exist.

    Occasionally the other teachers drag the kids down for a web1.0 activity in the library’s computer labs. We have no Tech Coordinator at our school; the Media Specialist and I do our best to provide assistance and directions here and there.

    (We don’t even have a Tech Coordinator at the district anymore! The tech leadership people have all been moved to the Data & Assessment department. Oh, if only all classroom teachers would just integrate/ embed and help each other collaboratively we wouldn’t need Tech Coordinators…)

    I am expected to cover all the ISTE standards to justify my job plus Info Lit, LArts, Math, Science, Social Studies if I can in this high-stakes -testing-is-the-only-raison d’etre-environment. And I see kids for 43 minutes a day for 9 weeks per year. I feel a bit overwhelmed at times, to say the least.

    I am quite eager to begin collaborating more. I’ve made tiny starts. What I’m still figuring out is how to do a project start-to-finish within a 9-week quarter at the same time as I continue to cover the required curricula under the constraints of web filters, etc. I’m hoping that as I learn the logistics will sort themselves out.

    It sounds as though I’m just spouting all my excuses; that’s true. But it’s also true that I can hardly do it on my own.

    Bottom line? I agree with your other commenters that it has to come from the top down. You can have all the best intentions, highly trained technology leaders working in a school, but if administration doesn’t support/mandate staying current and using tech, teachers will push it to the back burner. My principal has dismantled all technology activities except for my electives (should I be scared?). I’ve already described the results of his policies. I agree that teachers have too much to do and have no idea how to embed technology. Unless the leader says, “YOU WILL!” they won’t even try.

    We’ll just have to keep plugging away, hoping that our excitement will become contagious, or more likely the kids’ excitement will make their teachers curious. I will be thinking of you and considering ways I can become part of global collaborative projects one way or another. I refuse to give up and I’m trying to stay optimistic!

  13. It’s good to know that there are others who are experiencing similar frustrations. It’s one thing to know that projects might fizzle, but it’s another to actually experience the disappointment of it!
    Chris’ idea of creating a ‘drop-in’ model sounds like a really strong one to me. Also, maybe creating ‘micro-projects’ within the one collaborative project could work. Something that will only take teachers half a lesson etc. I know that probably requires a but more planning, but if they can then see the benefits then perhaps they will be willing to do more next time. That is how I’m going to have to approach alot of the staff at my school.

  14. Sylvia,

    I emailed a copy of your flyer to all of our elementary teachers, handed one personally to our elementary principal, and contacted all of the SLMS in our regional BOCES.

    SOMETHING should come of that!

    diane

  15. Thank you to all for leaving a comment. I can read in each one that everyone is dealing with the same issues more or less.

    I know that I am not alone in my frustration, but that does not make it any easier.

    I am reading, as a summary, of all your comments and your own experiences, that we need to learn to deal with the stalling, fizzling out, non-interest or initiative from others ANDkeep plugging away anyway.

    If we make a difference in one class, with one teacher, or with one project that does get completed…then that might ignite the fire for others….or not…

    Chris C. I like your suggestion of taking a class over, but I am hesitant because we are so desperately trying to move AWAY from a separate class and babysitting services for the teacher.

    I need classroom teachers help to tie it to their curriculum. I am NOT a writing, math, social studies, etc. teacher. Only they know what the skills and objectives are that they need their students to accomplish. The students need to understand that technology is the tool to learn, create and deliver, not a separate entity.

    Lucy,
    I have added the Teddy Bear Project to the Global Collaboration wiki and also posted to several ning sites.

    Diane,John, Susan, and Chris.
    Thank you so much for passing out the info of The Teddy Bear Around the World project. Maybe this will get the ball rolling.

  16. I just commented on Graham’s post and followed here. What I said there was based on my own experience as a classroom teacher who designed and actually succeeded at a very ambitious six-week 1001 Flat World Tales writing workshop on a wiki.

    It was exhausting. Took ten years off my life, I’m sure.

    So my new mantra: smaller and simpler are good. Quick in, quick out.

    Until the old curriculum withers away, and makes more room for this, big projects probably are most often “doomed to fail.” They’re competing with too much dross from the 20th c.

  17. More: as tech infrastructure inevitably improves in more and more schools, and as account-creation for web 2.0 services inevitably becomes simpler at the same time, these projects will become easier. We’re just at the thin end of the wedge, working possibly before the time is ripe and the, um, how do I finish this metaphor, firewood is dry?

  18. I am learning the ropes of collaborative projects this year. I have participated in the past, (I am a classroom teacher) but this year I am coordinating. Started off the year with lots of people interested, but as the year goes on, everyone gets busy and I have less and less participants. After being an international teacher for several years, I was surprised that I was unable to make any contacts at the schools in Africa, Asia, and South America where I had previously taught. Those who have participated have enjoyed the project and the kids love connecting. Wish we could keep up the momentum.
    Shameless plug for my latest project at http://tinyurl.com/yvfvmv . Here’s hoping…:)

  19. Silvia,

    I know exactly what you’re going through – you’re right that we all experience the same frustrations.

    I think part of the real frustration for me is that without a real roll model of how technology can be used to enhance learning and engage students, resistant teachers are never going to want to come on board.

    So we’re trapped in a Catch-22:

    — can’t get any teachers to try it out in the way that we would do it if we were on our own (but of course, we don’t want to do it for them, because then all we’re doing is enabling them to continue to avoid the issue)

    — we don’t want to have our own classes to show them how it’s done because we certainly don’t want to fall back into the old “sending the kids to computer class” model.

    As Reuven pointed out, I think some of the modeling must be done by school administrators. Too many times I’ve heard teachers say things like: “If no one tells me I have to do it, why should I?” An easy question to answer, but not if you want to build any sort of relationship with that teacher.

    I’m very fortunate that my administration is so forward thinking, but even with that support, I still struggle.

    I need to make some New Year’s resolutions and I think one of them will be to focus on taking smaller steps – making sure that just one teachers is really on board, that just one teacher really understands what this is all about.

    And while that approach make take more time (and I know we don’t have any time to waste), I think it’s that much more powerful coming from a classroom teacher than it is coming from me (the “tech expert”).

    So, you’re not alone. We’re all right there with you!

  20. Thank you so much for your post! It’s so wonderful, when we can share our experience. It was also very useful to read the comments. I’ll be happ to help with spreading the word, by the way. I think that Web 2.0 technologies are already playing a very important part in education. Collaboration projects live thanks to them. For example we had and international project, which involved about 15 students from different countries. We were using Wrike (www.wrike.com) for collaboraion and it helped a great deal. In fact, I can’t imagine how we would organize our work without it! Tools like Wrike can be irreplaceable, when be speak about global projects.

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