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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Heartfelt posts from the Horizon



This week a student from the Horizon Project had a very heartfelt blog post. Every time we do these projects we have one or two teams who don't "engage" and a few students who just "goof off" and wander aimlessly. (This is where a good teacher comes in.)

The student says:

"If you are reading this right now, I thank you, because no one seems to understand the concept of communication. We have all these problems regarding completion, because people are wondering what they are supposed to be doing. Well, if you don't check the discussion on the wiki pages, or if you don't check your group, well, then it is awfully hard to know much of anything, now isn't it?

Because people are not taking the time to look into what they are supposed to be doing, or they are not taking time to contact their project managers, there is a little bit of a problem, in terms of horizon project completion. Project Managers and Assistant Project Managers can only do so much. Sub groups need to be taking the initiative, and they need to start working together to solve problems. No matter how much cyber urging the PM does, if you do not check your discussion on the wiki, or if you do not check your main page, than the group is doomed to failure.

Another problem that I am seeing across the board, is a problem with activity and motivation. A few students are working because their grade depends on this assignment. Others are contributing because they feel it is their duty, not to let others down. Others aren't contributing because they don't know what to do. Others aren't contributing because they don't have the tech, or do not have the grasp of English. Other's simply aren't . There is not much that someone can do to urge someone who has no interest in the project. You can't yell at them in person, you can't plead with them, you can't do anything. They simply disappear. They see that email notification of a post on their Ning, but they won't check it. They will see that their was a comment on a discussion board, but they won't check it. Follow up is key to the survival of this project, and the fact that people are in la la land, is not helping.

So now that I have talked about the problems that i have observed, specifically with the metatrend, computing in three dimensions, what do other people see? APMs at GBA are reporting similar problems, but how can we remedy them? Is there any one out there who will answer this question?"


Don't we see this in the real world all of the time? Here was my response.

This is something that we see in a project such as this and I talked about it in a blog post a few days a go. This is why the teacher is so important -- they have to reach over and give their students a nudge (if they're doing their job) -- but sometimes there are students who want to make excuses.

As I always tell my students who get frustrated with this - -and it happens in a good 30% of the groups in this sort of thing -- often you learn the most by having troubles happen. Anyone can succeed in a group where everyone is connecting. Anyone can succeed in a world where everyone is working and doing their best.

Truly, those who are world class succeed anyway. In the business world, one time I inherited a team of people to manage who didn't communicate, pretended they didn't know what to do (or maybe they really didn't) and didn't connect with their task. They showed up at work, took up space, took home a paycheck and added nothing to the bottom line. Nothing.

It was my job as their manager to 1) get their attention and 2) hold them accountable. That is the job of the teacher in this case. And yet we struggle that sometimes we as teachers are learning something new too! Some teachers are overwhelmed!

This is the largest project of its kind done to date.

The pioneers out West in the US had a difficult trail -- in fact, they had to make the trail. And when they found the best way to go, the trail out west became deep deep ruts for others to follow.

As we work through this, we are the pioneers. We are finding the best way to go. The best way to do things. You are a pioneer because you are taking the task to heart and you are openly and transparently discussing the struggle.

I applaud you with thunderous applause. I wish there was a way I could literally reach through the Internet to those who have not engaged in this project and "snatch a knot" as we say in South Georgia, but there is not.

I can, however, reach through the Internet and tell you that you "get it." The beautiful thing about wiki projects is that although a wiki could literally be a "C" wiki, that an outstanding student can still make an "A." And vice versa -- a student may be on a team that has an "A" wiki and still make an "F." Think about it, in the history of school, never before has their been such a tool to allow us to create team projects AND STILL reward individual effort towards that team goal.

I am here and will do what I can to help you in any way. Send me a private message to let me know what I can do and make sure that you submit your PM report each week (if you are a PM).

I'm sorry for your struggle and yet, I hope that you emerge as a strongly opinionated person about the importance of online engagement in collaborative teams.

Online activites have offline consequences and it is glaringly apparent that our global education system, except in a very few instances, is not conveying that. We see evidence in the news each night and evidence in this project.

Some would rather surf and pretend to work than to get the job done and engage. It is harder to engage. It is a struggle to do the right thing. It is tough to grapple with new subjects and draw conclusions. In education, we call this higher order thinking. Keep going -- keep reflecting -- keep being honest.

But also be aware, sometimes the greatest life lessons come from the most difficult of circumstances. Be the pioneer.

I've seen PM's in the past make last minute adjustments and agreements with the team members who are engaged and simply take over, reorganize and get it done anyway. Use your judgment.


We have Project Managers and Assistant Project Managers report weekly and teachers address each student privately who is on "the list" of those not engaged. Typically we reach 95% engagement -- now we have 250 students and perhaps at this point are 75% engaged. All students are on the wiki and ning and doing something, however, true "engagement" is obvious and lack of it even more so. And to students, anything less than 100% engagement on their team is unacceptable.

They get angry when even one student isn't doing their part.

I say, let them get angry. Let them understand what online collaboration means and emerge into the world knowing how to be successful. For, truly their success will come from their online collaboration abilities - it is an inevitable part of their future.

Should we give up because we cannot reach 100% engagement. Well, we haven't given up because every kid in the classroom doesn't pass. We work to improve, make it better and MAKE SURE that we are fair to those students who do put forth the effort.

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