NECC 2008: Keynote

I'm sitting in the lobby of Ballroom C with Chris Smith, as we were waiting for Laurie Vitale and Pat Galuska to make it in from the airport. Currently, James Surowiecki is speaking on groups and making decisions. There has been much research done on how groups tend to make better decisions than individuals, but there are characteristics that the group needs, such as a diverse group and a group that has independence.

Listening to James led Chris and I to talk about the Central PA CFF Collaboration Days. We were talking about how not only do groups do well at making decisions, but they also will almost always rise to the occasion to offer the best that the group can offer. You often see this with students, as well. They don't drop to the lowest denominator in the group. They will excel to their best, often leaving the stragglers behind.

This makes me wonder about our large edtech group. Not just in our IU's or our states or our country. But everyone who is represented here in this conference. We're the leaders. We're the facilitators. We're the ones doing the collaborating. Those that aren't with us are often left behind. Think about it. There have to be teachers in your district that have just said no to technology in their classrooms. Have you tried hard to change their mind, or are you focusing on those that want to change? I know that I have focused more on those that are willing. I don't give up on those that aren't fully willing, but I don't make myself go crazy trying to get them to change, either.

So how do we advance all of education? Force the change? That won't work. There are so many diverse opinions out there that it is hard to make a solitary change. We still need to give people the choice.

With the independence part, it is important to have a group of people who are willing to do something different. But with groups, there need to be those that are going to move beyond imitation and actually creating new knowledge and new thoughts.

Going back to the Collaboration Days, I feel that our group has done that. When we all starting our collaboration, we did it on our own. We were a small group within a much larger group of CFF coaches and mentors, but we felt independent enough to start out meeting as a coach group to support each other. We all had strengths and weaknesses, and we knew it. And knowing that allowed us to grow and learn from each other. And our collaboration days grew into full teacher collaboration days that have turned out to be spectacular professional development days that have led to collaboration between teachers and classrooms and, ultimately, getting our students to collaborate with not only students in the same school, but with students in other school districts across the state of Pennsylvania.

There are things to look out for, such as talkative people. These people don't just talk a lot, but they often tend to shape the direction of the group. "This would be great if talkative people were smarter." This is James again saying that a group has better wisdom than the individual. We all know who these talkative people are. They are in every group. They will get their name out there. They will add information and talk louder. Yet, often we notice that those that speak less have better information to share. Neither of these statements is always true, but they are helpful. So make sure to spread out where you get your information from. Have a wide network of people with varying levels of experience.

This has me thinking of my twitter and plurk networks (I am misterlamb on both). I communicate with people from all over the country, and many of them I haven't met. Yet I know some things about each of these people, from where they live to who their favorite sports teams are and what they teach. I also know some of their strengths and weaknesses, and that we have helped each other with ideas without even knowing it. And I think that is the strength of groups. Not that we necessarily decide to set out and help in one particular thing, but that we help each other out without often knowing it.

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