I am trembling as I write this. I am reading carefully chosen words and sentences that have powerful meanings. I am reading online conversations and interactions and opinions that come from teachers and students. I am wanting to reach out and make everything right in the world, make people get on with each other, make people realize there are other people out there and that the world does not revolve around themselves. I am wanting to cut through complacency and excuses, cut through boredom and inactivity, slice through selfish attitudes. I want to demand engagement and higher order involvement of people I have never met, students I will never have in my class. I want to tell everyone that life is too short to be making excuses, life is too short to do nothing and life is too short to be invisible.
Our Horizon Project 2008 is in its last 2 weeks of student activity. The pressure is on to complete personal videos and wiki editing, teachers and students are getting tired, nerves are taut. There is still time for everyone to pull together, make a last effort to communicate and collaborate, exchange video clips, add some content to the wiki and finish on a high. However, now is the time when inactivity and involvement with the project really starts to be noticed.
Why are some participants more engaged than others? Is it technical ability, or lack of? Is it an unwillingness to be part of an online learning community? Is it just sheer confusion, an inability to understand the requirements and a feeling of being overwhelmed? Is the project too hard? Is it that they just don't care about grades, team members, the challenge??
In a recent blog post on our project Ning, Vicki Davis wrote,
"We have some students contributing, communicating, responding and participating. And we have some students who simply AREN'T THERE!
We are entering a new age in our society with Face to Face (F2F) is simply not enough because so many of us are communicating computer to computer (also called Peer to Peer or P2P). I say that we need effective "techno-personal" skills."
In response, student Jonathan C wrote,
"I find it slightly ridiculous. I've been busting my tail off to try and get the C3D group to work, but right now, the most complete page is the main page. A few of the pages still have very little information, and people are only editing small things without contributing anything substantial.
I am getting quite angry because of the inactivity of my peers. People are slacking off because they get out of school in less than a week, and while I agree that summer is nice, they have a responsibility to the rest of their team. I have seen pages with very little editing in the last 5 days, and i have not gotten any responses from anyone, except Mrs. Lindsay.
The students who are involved, yet do not contribute are not part of the effective Horizon Project. One of my friends commented that they would like to get rid of the people who were not contributing so they could learn who was reliable, and who wasn't. They need to learn that there are real people on the other end of the internet connection, who are pushing to get something done."
Then today Jonathan wrote a blog post titled, "Day 57 - Desperation" in which he said,
"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."
If anyone had any doubts about the benefits of project-based learning, global collaboration and relevance to real-world scenarios, you need look no further than this project. Students and teachers who are committed in value and time, and students like Jonathan who DO get it and ARE VISIBLE.
Vicki talks about the 'currency of reputation', and addresses student complacency with this:
"What would your currency of reputation be? Although now, in high school, you can take on this project and literally goof off, take the C or F and move on with your life. Very soon, you'll develop a reputation as a non-existent person who cannot be counted on."
Is the Horizon Project/Flat Classroom Project a microcosm of real life? In many ways I believe it is, there are achievers, conscientious contributors, excellent communicators, creative thinkers, and there are many who do not put in the effort, for what ever reason do not participate at all or not often enough for us to really see what their strengths are except that they are just not there.
How can we change this? How can we change the world? Is our current education system(s) promoting effective global communication and collaboration? Are these skills valued enough to be part of what we do in schools on a regular basis?
I have plenty of questions.....I do not have as many answers. For myself I lack understanding sometimes, as a highly motivated person, of those who lack interest in exploring new terrain and taking on different learning modes.
Do you, as the reader of this blog have any answers?
A special thank you to Jonathan from Glenbrook Academy for freely sharing his thoughts and concerns about the project with us.
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