Working Together: Moving Away from Teacher Autonomy

Collaborating with other educators is becoming increasingly simple thanks to new Web 2.0 tools aimed to facilitate information sharing, interperability, and collaboration. The internet has exceptionally expanded accessibility to teacher resources and lesson sharing, and has made working in a group much more convenient.

In one of my faculty of ed courses, the class decided to create a handbook for first year teachers as a culminating project. Groups were formed based on interest, and what was to be included in the handbook was completely up to the students of the class. Some of the elements of the handbook included assembly organization, field trip considerations and destinations, DPA activities, classroom management, community building, and other issues deemed important by the teacher candidates. This project was a great example of how working towards a common goal can be beneficial to all involved, as the class members would be creating a truly useful and meaningful text together to aid them in the field upon graduation.

However, the real magic occurred with the integration of web-based technology. As mentioned in previous posts, LiveBinders is a website which allows users to create digital, multimedia representations of 3-ringed binders. Since I am the new unofficial spokesperson for LiveBinders (self-appointed), I was asked by the to facilitate a short workshop for my peers on the basic functions of the tool. 

The results were pretty remarkable.

Instead of each of the twelve groups handing in a physical written report, a LiveBinders account was created for the class consisting of separate binder for each topic. Students took advantage of the variety of digital mediums supported by the website by uploading images, videos, audio files, PDFs, and Google Docs into their binders. Since the account could be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, student candidates could work on the project on their own time without requiring a meeting time booked around five or six hectic schedules.

An example of a binder created by fellow teacher candidates for our class project.

At the end of the day, every member of the class gained access to an extensive digital compilation of resources specific to the context of being a new teacher in Ontario. If they would like, students could copy the binder to their own LiveBinders account and continue to add relevant information to the binders as they progress in their teaching careers. There is also the option to make the binder public to share with other Brock teacher candidates, or even new teachers from around the world. The possibilities seem endless.

After this practical application of technology for a large-scale collaboration project, I have seen first hand how simple teacher collaboration can be. None of the more than thirty students had experience with LiveBinders prior to this project. It took little effort to give a 'how to' crash course and direct them to online video tutorials. The feedback I received via anonymous online surveys stated that my peers found that the tool genuinely simplified group scheduling, and the sharing of teaching resources.

However, this integration of technology did not come free of challenges. I received many emails and questions regarding how to work certain features of the website, but in many circumstances it became a topic of conversation with those I had not socialized with all year. Also, we ran into some complications uploading Google Docs into the LiveBinders by copying and pasting their URLs, but this was resolved by linking the URL to words in a text box. In addition, there was some confusion regarding varying instructions for Mac users, as I ran the demonstration on a PC.

Finally, some of my peers appeared frustrated by the 'extra work' involved in comparison to printing out pages to hand in a physical copy. But for those, I say they missed the point. Creating a handbook for beginning teachers was not just another project to be finished and handed in then forgotten. The professor for this course aimed to make the year-long assignment meaningful and authentic for those in the class. Instead, creating LiveBinders was a way to learn and familiarize teacher candidates with a new digital tool, and collaboratively create a resource for all those in the class.

Personally, I cannot justify not taking advantage of such tools to better my professional knowledge and practice as a teacher. More importantly, I cannot justify not sharing such ideas, skills, and tech tools with other educators to simplify collaborative work for others. The information age has broadened our accessibility to information and people. As 21st century teachers, we must also change the way we communicate and share education resources.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you Cris that the “magic” of the culminating assignment was the implementation of LiveBinders as a way to disseminate the diverse work that so many diverse groups created and culled. At the outset of the course not knowing what assignment the Con Ed group would create was exciting for me for I truly believe the wisdom is in the room and unveiling that wisdom is a big part of the process. When the Handbook was chosen I was not crazy about the idea but I put my assumptions aside and just kept repeating my mantra “trust the process”. Once again the process did not fail and the final product is outstanding and has literally blown me away. The reason I think the final product is so good is due largely to LiveBinders. The accessibility and the interface with the Internet makes this a “live” document; one that is not static. In fact I envision this to be a fluid document, one that can continually be updated and embellished as each one of you enter your own classrooms. There is no limit to this resource if people are willing to continue to contribute to it.

    There was no risk for me in allowing you to bring forward LiveBinders since I firmly believed that as a collaborative group we would find the best medium that would support the dissemination of a Handbook. It was just allowing that knowledge to surface. Again trusting the process was paramount. The risk for me, however, was in the assignment itself since I was not certain it was rigorous enough. But now my fears have been laid to rest since the final product is outstanding and is an incredibly useful practical tool for not only beginning teachers as was the intent of the assignment but for any teacher.

    Thank you for offering to do an in-service on LiveBinders with our class and teaching them how to use it. It made the upload run smoothly [of course with your assistance behind the scenes through extensive emails...thank you for that].

    Your final reflection where you state “More importantly, I cannot justify not sharing such ideas, skills, and tech tools with other educators to simplify collaborative work for others” is one that exemplifies your altruistic nature. This kind of ontological notion of giving selflessly is far too rare in education and I truly appreciate what you and Rachel offered your colleagues and myself by sharing this web-based tool with us. You made the final product stronger and better. Thank you!

    Namaste and Ubuntu,
    Hilary Brown