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[ICTs in English] ICTs in English Weekly Update - Why Collaborate?

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  • From: Hamish Chalmers <hchalmers AT>
  • To: "ictenglish AT" <ictenglish AT>
  • Subject: [ICTs in English] ICTs in English Weekly Update - Why Collaborate?
  • Date: Fri, 22 Mar 2013 18:28:45 +1300

There seems to be a bunch of reasons to do it in teaching. Resourcing an entire course is pretty challenging. Resourcing more than one course (and many of us are teaching more than one) is even more challenging. Textbooks are all well and good but usually we're taking parts of them rather than the whole as it's pretty much impossible to find an entire resource that is exactly what we need at the time. So how do we resource a whole course as well effectively on our own? I think the reality is that we don't. On our own I mean.

Non-teaching friends often ask me if it's easier to teach once you've spent your first couple of years building a supply of resources. I always answer with something like, "yeah... sort of." I'll then have a go at explaining why a resource almost never survives more than a years without significant or complete re-design. When I look back over some of these resources I'll often remember the moment another teacher gave me the bit that went there or when I was working with someone on a resource and we did that. It really brings home to me how much of a collaborative effort teaching really is. Even if we are usually the only one standing physically in front of our students.

Much of the communication that takes place between us English teacher seems to support the assumption that collaboration is essential to good teaching. Fishing for resources for that new text we want to teach, discovering our students have a need that we haven't had to fill (or noticed) in the past and then needing a resource for it really quickly or we might even go looking for someone  who knows something about a relevant part of the curriculum and ask for a hand. It  also makes you feel pretty good when you've been able to supply this for someone else. When something you've designed has proved helpful for a colleague and their students.

Collegial support goes beyond resourcing too. We're rather good at supporting each other through difficult times with a well-placed word of advice or perhaps even an offer to observe and give some feedback. Everyone has different strengths and interests and it makes total sense to get these from others in areas that we might find challenging.

There's a bunch of things that get in the way of collaboration however. Despite best laid plans, we might realise a bit late in the piece that there is a need for something we haven't pre-made. The complex dynamics of student learning and the way our classes run day to day, mean we're often caught on the back foot and even though we know someone else out there might have a better way of doing something, we'll still make our own. Perhaps this is simply because it's less hassle in the short run. But what are we missing out on if we always take this option?

Now more than ever we have the tools to collaborate across geographical boundaries (and not just beyond schools, within them too!) chronological boundaries (unsyncronised courses) and even subject boundaries. Instant messengers, email, the teacher resource exchange,  open web technologies like wikis and social medias, published teaching as inquiry findings; there's a heap of ways to meet that need quicker than you might realise.

But sometimes the barriers aren't just practical, our mental models can be a problem too. How many of us publish our resources to the cloud and make them accessible for other teachers? Often, using a new technology requires us to recognise the potential benefits and then change the way we do things. With file storage and sharing setups like dropbox, it's becoming increasingly easy to share and collaborate effectively. If you still want to save something to your computer locally, a file sharing app can automate the actual upload, all you need to do is tell it what to "cloud" when you set it up. That extra bit of time we might put into making something just useful enough for another teacher may well be paid back and more if we get to use resources designed by lots of others in return.

It's actually even a little bit beyond me why we still need to store our course resources in a closed learning management system at all. Opening up access to individual resources within the framework of a course could make them even more useful for a colleague from a different school as they can better see the intention of a particular resource within the context of a whole.

So other than time and organisation pressures, not to mention barriers to sharing because of hyper-competitiveness (probably best not to open that can) what else is there to stop us from collaborating with all the fancy ICTs available to help deliver awesome-er learning outcomes to our students?

Hamish Chalmers

Facilitator: ICTs in English

  • [ICTs in English] ICTs in English Weekly Update - Why Collaborate?, Hamish Chalmers, 03/22/2013

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