Overcoming obstacles – a practical guide

This is the title of a presentation I’m going to be giving to the elearning support team from PEI k-12 on Wednesday. It’s my first time being asked to speak here, and I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to meet these people and get a sense of the challenges they face. My kids are 3 and 5 years away from the school system, so my interest is not merely academic. And No. this blog post isn’t the practical guide, but i think it wouldn’t hurt if we all created one. (or, better, found the one that someone is already building and added to it. I just wanted to think outloud about a few concepts and maybe ask you folks for some of your stories about obstacles you’ve met and how you overcame them.

Overcoming obstacles – being ready
I think the most important strategy for overcoming obstacles is to accept that they are coming… with a certain amount of equanimity. You will not run a web-based project without running into difficulties. It may be that people have forgotten their password, it may be, as once happened to me, that any time the students started circling each other in OpenSim the server would asplode. wipe hands. reboot. They will come, and I think a risk assessement, however informal, is critical to any web based learning project no matter how small. A default password for handing out just in case, a plan for doing your planning for the webbased project while the site isn’t working… it never hurts to have these things in the back of your mind.

Overcoming obstacles – needs and wants assessment and flexibility
Oh my. This is a bad one. On a pretty much daily basis someone says to me ” i have this plan, and I want to get students to X”. My response is usually some variation of simplicity. ‘Use wordpress’ for instance. The invariable next response i get is “that doesn’t do ‘exactly’ what i want it to do. And that is the place where you need (if you have the time) to dig in. You need to make two lists, the list of things that absolutely need to be in the project or it isn’t of interest or use to do and a list of things you would prefer for a variety of reasons. That second list is one that you have to be willing to cross things off of. Complexity is the killer of projects. The more things you cross off that second list the better the chance of actually starting the project and people actually finishing. Just send people the chart, with a line between the two questions… seriously, people love to have charts to fill in when they are interested in a project. The chart serves a secondary purpose. People unwilling to fill in a needs chart are not really interested in doing a project.

Overcoming obstacles – know thyself
You (or your client) really need to know what they are trying to accomplish. I saw clarence fisher’s idea hive video a couple of days ago when i asked him for something that represented the work that he does in his classroom. It’s the theory, the idea behind what they are trying to do. It is very difficult to feel good about success when you don’t know what you were trying to do in the first place. Getting the software to work is not success. Having kids writing get better is.

Overcoming obstacles – Finding other people
It is much, much easier to start working IN someone else’s project than it is to start another one. Far better to join youthvoices for a writing community than to try and develop, deploy and find a new community. I understand as well as anyone the temptation to be the person who starts something, to want to have the thing exactly as you like. But, and I feel pretty confident about this, no single person is going to come up with the best way to do any project. Your first draft ideas are probably not going to be anywhere near perfect. Work with the work of others, help make their work better and, if, after that, you still feel like starting your own go ahead. Your work will be much better for the time you took.

Overcoming obstacles – learning communities
You can’t collaborate alone (JM). Find learning communities. Connect with other people like you. You can all come to edtechtalk, we’d love to have you. There are tons of other great ways to communicate. Find one (or several) you like. If you are at all careful IT WILL SAVE YOU TIME. seriously.

Overcoming obstacles – be a smarty pants, be resilient, be whatever you need to be, just don’t give up.
I asked my good buddy John Schinker to do a little video talking about his experience working with Teachers without borders this summer. Some of the challenges they faces were ridiculous. How do you train people to use technology in a school without power? How do you form community with someone who needs to take A BOAT to get to the nearest internet cafe? Well… you can. you just need to want to. And you need to not give up. Here’s the youtube video. If you’re coming to the presentation… Don’t watch it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrGb__Hw1Ic (jk. you can watch it again on wednesday)

Overcoming obstacles – please add your strategies and stories. pls pls. comments. your blog. tweets… they’ll aggregate here.

18 thoughts on “Overcoming obstacles – a practical guide

  1. Working on a blog with my 5th graders (www.clc5.edublogs.org), I found that students needed a chance to get past the Facebook-ing phase of creating a digital education community.

    In overcoming this obstacle, I employed an old hands-on science trick: Let them mess around (explore) before trying to do anything serious. At first students treated the blog like instant messaging, or just another place for their socialization to continue. After the initial play around time, we started posting more serious assignments, and I encouraged students to be more “professional” with their comments.

    One assignment was to make 2 comments over a period of several days. Students were encouraged to expand on the ideas of the author, find and include links that supplement the author’s post, give feedback using the sandwich method (bun, meat, bun), and/or offer some other connection the post helped the reader make.

    Also, two of the class jobs are to be bloggers, whose responsibility it is to write posts, comment on other’s posts, and develop ideas for categories and such. I work with them on a one on one basis to help them develop their ideas and generate content. Students take their jobs very seriously and it translates to how they approach the “professionalism” of their work in the digital community. So, when the class has computer time to create a post, the culture has already been created partially by the people who are blogging daily.

  2. I like your list, Dave.

    One thing that I would add is to work diligently to develop relationships with district technology leaders. I know that for me, many of my greatest frustrations/failures when it comes to digital projects in my classroom start and end with tech glitches that:

    (a.) could have been solved if I had bounced ideas off of district specialists ahead of time.

    (b.) I would have known weren’t going to work if I’d spoken with the district tech gatekeepers from the beginning.

    All too often, district technology specialists aren’t teachers, so they don’t know exactly what it is that we’re trying to do with new tools in the classroom. If we could explain the pedagogy behind our ideas, they could help to facilitate access to the digital resources necessary for our projects.

    And all too often, teachers don’t recognize the complexity involved in managing system wide resources and computer networks or in following school board and state level policies designed to keep kids safe. We come up with great ideas that are just impossible given the digital or policy realities of the systems that we work in.

    A bit of relationship building between those responsible for teaching and those responsible for managing and supporting teachers would go a long way towards heading off digital nightmares.

    Any of this make sense?
    Bill
    @plugusin

  3. Excellent post! Just in time for a project I’m working on w/ a middle school and also just in time for me in my own personal work. For my clients I needed: “It is very difficult to feel good about success when you don’t know what you were trying to do in the first place. Getting the software to work is not success. Having kids writing get better is.”

    For me, personally: I so needed and appreciate reading the comments about joining existing networks instead of always feeling like I need to be the creator of something new. I just read an article earlier this week about developing creativity and how the best innovators and creative minds work collaboratiely with others. So true! Sometimes I have great ideas and wished for what I want to do, but I don’t know how to start – usually the starting is the problem for me – so finding a way to share my thoughts/ideas, listening, and receiving feedback – hearing what others contribute with their own individual creative abilities is so powerful! So necessary!

    For others I think the Anticipate Problems suggestions are invaluabel! It automatically lowers your frustration level to go into something realizing, “A glitch could come up. Kids could… The software could… etc, etc…” and combined w/ your Resiliency comments – don’t give up. Problems, even gigantic and frustrating problems make GREAT learning situations for us all! I don’t beg for problems, but having experienced so many in my work w/ technology and students working w/ technology has made me a better thinker. A little frustration is actually essential to learning – it is managing it that is key so you don’t quit. Now…how to get kids to this place…hmmmm….????

    and Bill Ferriter: Superb comments! i work in a school district (Library Media Specialist) and have found success more often than not simply b/c I stay in close collab w/ our Tech Department/ IT Guys. Helps, too, that Library/Media is supervised by the Coord. of Tech! I bounce ideas off the guys regularly BEFORE beginning many projects/endeavours – something that many teachers might not do simply b/c as the “educators” what can the “techs” teach us!? Wrong. When probs come up – who do you call? Your comment about pedagogy rings true, often, however, I’ve noticed that some of our Tech Guys are better natural teachers than some “professionally trained teachers” that I know, sadly, and perhaps should be utilized more frequently when planning and designing PD for the teaching staff. I think meeting together, respectfully is key – recognizing the value we ALL bring to the table. Great comments!

    Thank you everyone!

  4. Two things come to my mind:
    1. Involve parents – you can usuually find one or two incredibly knowledgeable and committed parents who want the child to embrace and sail through an online education. Some will volunteer during activities and some will help with techie stuff and some can speak to school administration to help you politically.

    2. Along with joining a community is the vision to use a model that someone else is using. Like Youth Voices, but something I could show my IT staff so that they might grasp what I wanted to achieve. My district IT folks had good hearts but limited resources. It wasn’t until I built my own Moodle and got my classes and some others on it that they started to grasp it’s power.
    (Thanks to DC who talked me through setting up my demo Moodle, 4 years this month>)

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