We call a lot of these new internet tools “collaborative technologies,” but are we really using them to collaborate? That question was raised in an interesting blog post by Mr Rezac, an Illinois teacher who is intrigued by the possibilities offered by technology in the classroom.
Collaborate – “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor” (Merriam-Webster)
Mr Rezac comments that while we’re often using these technologies to share content, we aren’t as often really using them to work together to co-create and collaborate. He observes that he sees “post after post but nobody is commenting” and “all we get are a billion people shouting with no one listening.” Ouch.
Several things come to mind:
The first is that Mr Rezac has a point. Our actions in these tools are more frequently to post to, rather than to actively collaborate through. Forrester research shows that 68% of US online adults are “spectators” (they read social content), but only 37% comment on what they see, and just 21% are actively creating online content. (It would be interesting to see “collaborator” as an activity category on Forrester’s surveys.) A discussion in the Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals course revealed that we often have trouble collaborating online because people don’t really want to edit each other’s work in a public forum (Wikipedia the exception that proves the rule). Another issue is that those of us who are creating online collaborative spaces (for coursework or as corporate learning resources) may be more frequently setting them up as online repositories instead of setting them up as live collaborative spaces.
But I think there is another dynamic at work here. The technologies are giving us access to the thoughts and contributions of other people who are working in areas that interest us. And while we may not be talking back to what we see online, we are talking about it offline– with colleagues, friends, clients, etc. Judging from my own experiences, online content creates a buzz that generates new insights and ideas. The people who post thought-provoking insights probably never know the impact they made. In reading Group Genius, I became aware of a phenomenon that might be called serial collaboration… people picking up on other’s ideas and building from them until we can’t even trace the foundations anymore. For example, the Learning Environment Design model was developed through ideas garnered from a wide range of sources, many of them online conversations which I only lurked in – and I’ll never be able to explain the exact relationships between those ideas and the model I put together. These are examples of collaboration of an entirely different sort. In addition, as Mr Rezac points out in his post, people often collaborate offline before they post, and that’s an important part of the process as well.
So, some things to consider… in a professional context, how do we (and should we)…
> help learners be more inclined to engage in collaboration (which is sometimes an interpersonally intense effort) online?
> encourage professionals to engage in online discussions with relative strangers to contribute additional perspectives and insights?
> encourage learners to share their own professional insights online so that they contribute to the collective genius on the subject?
> develop learners who value offering their ideas in a more public forum so that they can benefit from feedback and insights from a wider audience?
That’s what I’ll be thinking about this week.