What I am about to tell is inspiring yet tragic and it could be happening at your school right now. I had an opportunity to sit down with a friend and discuss how she would enhance her schoolâ€™s online community by building social environments and using technology to move her school into a new social, teaching and learning direction where all people are valued for their knowledge and experiences. Please understand that this is fiction but could easily be fact.
Tell me about your online course support system and any social building that occurs?
Iâ€™ll tell you, as long as you donâ€™t fall asleep. We have a Course Management Department. that helps teachers learn Blackboard, and social interactions occur between teachers and staff during their workshops or one-on-one consultations. A Desktop Department resolves computer problems for students, staff and teachers and interactions occur over the phone between teachers and staff, students and staff, or staff and staff. A Multimedia Dept. creates interactive activities for teachers, campus and departments and relationships develop through projects between teachers and staff.
The support systems donâ€™t seem to have a social building aspect. Why is that?
Most originated to solve problems like troubleshooting software or how to use hardware; therefore, interactions are limited to resolving a problem or producing a product.
How would you change the support system and add social networks?
I would form a team that included representatives from staff, students and teachers and then we would establish the outcomes for our new system. It would be important that the team understand that teachers, staff and students need social interactions and one cannot survive without the other. Additionally, each person has experiences and skills that are special and should be shared with the campus community at a macro and micro level. With this first step, we would establish precedence by bringing all the parties together and begin the process of social building within our support system. We would explore technologies that could bring the students, staff and teachers together in online social communities, for example by including discussion boards and virtual communities on a campus portal.
Would you survey what other schools have done?
Exactly! Our development team would survey universities and determine what programs have been successful. There are also guidelines developed by other universities that could help us establish a successful new system.
Are you sharing your ideas with the decision makers at your school?
I would love to make these suggestions, but there is a plan to centralize support related to teachers in one department. Instead of trying to bring together teachers, staff and students, this new agenda would single out the teachers and focus solely on teacher-to-teacher relationships.
There is also an underlying fear of technology and many believe that technology should not be used if a non-technical method will work. They preach, â€œIf the chalkboard works then use it.â€ On the other hand, I would suggest that if the technology can improve learning then letâ€™s move forward with technology to enhance learning and not step backwards.
It is tragic how a small group can direct a change that is focused on one group, but will impact our entire online community.
Why not work through your department?
Itâ€™s hard to believe that there are still people with biases towards women. For some, their social circles or life experiences never taught them to accept all people. Because of this bias, I could never go through our manager. This is another reason that social environments are needed to help people understand that everyone has something to offer.
There are so many other problems with our team, or non-team, that working through our department would be futile. We have conflicts that are never confronted by the manager and members are never allowed to set goals.
What will you do create change?
I will have to appeal to the school board, since I have no other avenues. I might say to the school board...
We need a director that is knowledgeable and skilled in instructional design, social building, technologies in education, and most importantly the director must have a vision and a willingness to consider new concepts, ideas and suggestions.
We need to think of our campus as one large community and seek methods and technologies that will create social interactions and relationships between students, teachers and staff. This type of social building requires a campus team that is able to share ideas, skills and experiences. Thus, the director cannot be a micro-manager, because there isnâ€™t a single person that has all the knowledge, skills and experience to implement such a social change at our campus.
Technology is here to stay and will become even more influential in the future, so we canâ€™t drop the ball now or weâ€™ll never catch-up. Keep in mind it isnâ€™t the technology that is important; it is how we make use of the technology to achieve our community goals.
This new leader must have a clear understanding of what it will take to survive in the future. Unfortunately, we do not have this person at our school, so we should seek leadership from outside our school to help lead us in a new direction.
The reality of this story is that every school has challenges. Schools can survive if they are able to adapt new technologies and accept new ideas. Schools will likely fail if they canâ€™t make technology work for their goals or are unwilling to try new ideas. We need school leaders to take us into the future and those leaders must accept all people, encourage dialogue, consider new strategies, and be knowledgeable with online pedagogy and technology. We have an incredible potential that can be released only through social environments and we must learn to work and share together.
This story is purely fictitious and any resemblance to individuals, groups or schools is coincidental.