Gazump

Squeeeeze! (Lemon Grenade)Gazump. A situation in which the price for real estate or land is raised to a higher price than what was previously verbally agreed upon.* (1)

This week I lost half of my job. The half I formally started this year and was promised to go for another year, the half that gave me a chance to begin to wisen up on ICT, how to ‘infect’ people with enthusiasm for the impact and potential of ICT, the half that gave birth to Moodle and so many other valuable things at our school that have made an impact on the entire school community. Like many of my colleagues working for the same employer (largest in our State…have a guess), I was asked at the start of this job to come up with ways to better engage teachers and students with ICT in ways that are relevant and specific to the context of our school. A number of wonderful colleagues and myself worked hard to do just that this year, only to be…

gazumped!

I won’t bore you with details but here is a sketch. A fantastic programme with a wide scope and support for integrating ICT in teaching and learning locally and meaningfully has this year become a narrow selling vehicle for a pretty ordinary and massively expensive piece of proprietary software (a CMS of a kind) our employer had committed to. (Reduced) funding is now tied to adopting this ‘thing’ plus a few other strings.

Remember those couple of clips about ‘Moodle changing the school‘? “Nah, you can keep your Moodle but no $$ your way” the powers-that-be say, without bothering to even once call, email or, heaven forbid, come to our school and see what we have been doing so well! The official line is that instead of investing in development and strengthening of wide ranging, locally developed and context-relevant strategies at our school, we would be “better off” with 5 people trained in the use of this particular CMS (that is what the funding is for), who will attend the PD and then magically pass their knowledge on to other staff, probably through chunks of formal staff PD. This smacks of conspiracy of convenience, so aptly described by Charles Jennings.

Just as I wrote these first two paragraphs, I got a message from a colleague in USA describing how she and her partner were ‘gazumped’ by the bureaucracy they had worked for. Although from the other side of the world, the parallels were uncannily similar. Developed something wonderful and locally meaningful, often in their own time and following their own passion, only to have their ‘superiors’ outsource the implementation to external parties (no doubt with good intentions). The result was a flop since, in her words, “there was no teacher buy-in” and the two ended up leaving the district.

This isn’t about some silly CMS or a piece of software or hardware, not even about a particular training model. All of these have good intentions and will be successful to some degree (but possibly widely varying) in their mission to improve ICT integration in teaching and learning. It is not about the numbers’ game, it is about something that makes all technology go – the people.

It is a no-brainer that the best strategies for change are reasonable and make people call them ‘ours’. These two things make them ‘stick’.

But what is reasonable? Reasonableness (2) goes beyond the rigid, uncreative rationality of the ‘dollars game’. It is a social disposition to respect others, take into account their views, experiences, the context on which they operate, their feelings, and allowing own perspective to be changed if need be. Reasonableness allows us to arrive at the decisions and judgements we are prepared to own, enact and live by (for example, the implementation of Moodle at our school). Reasonableness is not always the cheapest or most efficient (but can be both!) but it is worth the price in the long run in terms of dollars and good nights’ sleeps because people own it and care about it.

What then is ‘ours’? As I use the term ‘ours’, I have in mind Professor Stephen Heppel’s idea of “us-ness” (if you haven’t seen his keynote to the 2008 K12 Online Conference it is a worth while 40 minute experience). In short, the idea of “us-ness” refers to the age old, powerful sense of community, which can be developed and tapped in so easily and affordably by digital technologies in ways that have been historically (near) impossible to do.

Developing and nurturing a sense of community of practitioners (teachers, students, parents, experts in the field…) who help each other out, struggle, succeed and learn from each other, first on-site then beyond the confines of school walls, is one thing. Another is sending 5 people to a few PD days, assuming they become the ‘experts’ about this ‘new thing’ upon their return, who are then expected to have all the answers (“because they went to the PD”) and then bear the brunt of dissatisfaction when things go awry. Both of these have been done before but I ask you which one do you think is likely to ‘stick’ more.

I borrow the concept of ‘stickiness’ from Gladwell’s well-known “The Tipping Point”. In this age of clutter and info-glut, the most powerful messages ‘stick’ and create ‘social epidemics’ because they address a personal need and people make a personal connection with them. Recipients need to get it at their own level. Any half-respectful theory of human communication will confirm these truisms, so no news here. As a micro example, coming to a teacher and saying a) “Do you think students creating their own classroom ‘wikipedia’ from anywhere, anytime would be a useful thing in your class? Yes? Would you like to learn how to set one up?” is different to saying b) ‘In our PD workshop today we will be learning about the features of the Glossary module’. Again, which one of these approaches will ‘stick’ more with (busy) teachers? Which of these approaches is more likely to see the teacher spending a bit of time playing with and working out that Glossary module, then quite likely helping others with it voluntarily? Which of these approaches will be more reasonable, create greater ‘us-ness’, ‘stick’ more?

Next year, I am going back to full-time classroom teaching (5 instead of 3 classes this year). Don’t get me wrong I love teaching. But this does mean less helping out, nurturing, mentoring, trialling, explaining, embedding of ICT with my colleagues. At the same time, I look forward to creating more useful ICT ‘tipping points’ in my class and hope these will push fellow teachers slightly (but in the right place!) to create ‘epidemics’ of useful, innovative practice that will affect one teacher, one student, one class at a time. Or as a reader of ‘Human’ and a good friend of mine Greg Thompson made a wonderful point recently:

I wonder if continuing to look for external inputs that will ‘prime the pump’ of change in schools is only going to offer more false gods and it is to the internal that we have to look to. Of course this is said completely aware that this is most likely offering another false god. Perhaps the best advice for change is to forget about the world and change one life at a time.

A thought to remember indeed (thanks Greg).

PS If you found this story resonate with your experience (and particularly if you are a local living in Perth or wider Western Australia) you may wish to consider joining EVICTS (Educators Valuing ICT in Schools) – a social/professional network of local and (inter)national teachers in a similar situation, who don’t despair but continue to support and learn from each other.

(1) Source: http://www.investors.com/FinancialDictionary/Term/Gazump.asp

(2) Splitter, L. J. & Sharp, A. M. (2005) Teaching For Better Thinking. ACER: Melbourne.

13 comments

  1. Sue Waters

    Unfortunately our organisations often take the view that one size fits all is the best approach and the better way to ensure you achieve greater adoption across the organisation. That way there is no need to provide support for a wide range of platforms and it makes it easier to address issues.

    While they continue to view professional development of ICT skills as only needing to attend a few workshops to be adequate at using them with students it will fail to happen. Up skilling educators needs to take a long term approach, with effective strategies put in place to scaffold their learning. But we both know that isn’t going to happen 🙁

  2. Darcy Moore

    Egad, it really happened.

    These big institutional systems just don’t get it at all but noisy buggers, like you Tomaz, will help affect change. Did you see these diagrams?

    http://www.ed4wb.org/?p=152

    I like the ‘institution as bottleneck one’.

    Chin up matey, I reckon you’re in with a show to win an Edublog award to close the year on a high :O))

  3. Tony Searl

    Tomaz
    So much of what you articulate is how I have felt, and still do. That is why I am contributing to the noise (conversation would be too generous) in our leaders ears, edubuerocracy, government and DET and although probably futile as it falls on deaf ears, it helps me.

    That is why our PLN’s are so vital. Compulsion, narrow, traditional, mandated professional learning boxes we tick off as if collecting are weak teachers, as you say it won’t stick.

    My dismay was expressed a few months back when told bluntly Moodle would not be supported in our College by our so called “ICT support” (which by the way is a non school based organisation that is far removed from what schools, other teachers trying to get on board and students need, go figure)

    I grin internally as these heavy handed simplistic and short sighted decisons will eventually bring about their own irrelevance. Mark Pesce’s Liquid learning posts are thought provoking and easy to see as a reality.

    Why can’t monolthic DET’s really close the ever widening chasm and actually make some braver decisions. By the time our wireless linux netbooks finish arriving in NSW they’ll be redundant, but the mantra of “thats progress”, as we know it, is simply responding to the lowest common denominator style of military training,”play it safe” not the new dynamics of SL, virtual, online, connectivism. PBL etal where more engaging learning is now taking place.
    I tried not to ramble,failed dismally, but boiling blood is hard to quell.

    For a lighter take on PLNs that reflects my inner boy, jump over to http://tinyurl.com/5bsuv6 and vote early vote often.

    A major “Ta Muchly” goes to you my friend, have a great Christmas break, coldies compulsory

    cheers

  4. cmatheson

    Sad to hear. Your vids on how Moodle changed a school are so inspiring I wonder how anyone could make a decision to move away from supporting grassroots professional growth.

    I just got my job as a tech trainer, I wonder how long it will last…

    And the need for ongoing training is HUGE. I gave an 1.5 hour intro to Moodle to 40 teachers as part of a district PD day. Of the 30 who had never seen Moodle before, only 7 have touched it again a month later! Obviously concept change conversations need to take place at so many schools. Admin/government/industry needs to fund the people to have those conversations or else school will be a technological black hole!

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  5. Mark

    Hey Tomaz,

    Sounds typical of the people either not involved in teaching or been out of it too long making the decisions. Unfortunately the hawkers of these products know who to target and have a convincing sounding sales pitch. So many institutions in NZ are moving to Moodle – the last one being Canterbury University. Until teachers start having a voice in school wide ICT decisions this situation will continue.

    I am fortunate (but wary) to be in the opposite situation as you – playback 1 year ago. Our Senior Management have decided to drop me from 5 to 3 classes to help grow ICT projects in the school. We are one of the only schools in the country that I know of to have appointed an eLearning Director. Our current LMS which is really a CMS is a bit of a flop so I have been given the freedom to promote and run Moodle alongside it. We are also going to adopt Google Apps Education, Mahara and a lot of other exciting products.

    As for your situation it is really sad that your experience and vision is being cut off at the knees at such a critical time. I have learnt a lot from your site and videos and wish to express my appreciation for it. I hope your blog continues with its truly inspirational message.

    All the best,
    Mark

  6. Jenny Luca

    Hi Tomaz,
    I’m so sorry to hear this. I’m new to what you have to offer but I can see you have helped so many with your blog and obviously you did make an impact in your school. It’s hard to come back from a blow, but you have such a solid core here you will find that opportunities will present themself for you to run with them. I’m sure of it.

  7. Sarah Hackett

    The trouble is that passion and the extra time spent on goodwill activities undertaken by a teacher who is in creative flow are not items that can be cost counted by the bean pushers.

    Plus at each stage of the process we come into contact with people in charge who have no idea what real online education is about. They know they have to have it in place by a certain Government guideline date and are feeling their way blindly tapping the air towards their own target. Wouldn’t it be awful if we have to wait years and years until the people who have done online education at University get into a sufficient amount of decider jobs in order that a difference can be made?

    As our paying clients, and by that I mean the pupil’s parents, are often none the wiser there is not nearly enough weight coming from that direction.
    My own feedback from double teaching pupils that I see in school directly into their homes is that we are nowhere near as far on as I was expecting. Very slow download speeds and I am repeatedly having to teach about downloading QuickTime, Adobe, what is a forum etc., and this just in order to teach fiddle online. Last term I even came up against a refusal to touch QuickTime in case their computer crashed! Way to go on putting paid to a teacher’s innovation in an instant!

    My current hurdle is that some school filtering systems are not word specific and refuse to allow Forums. As Moodle’s News Forum feature is what I use to discuss work and point pupils towards other things they can absorb during the process (e.g. Toyota robotics) this means at this stage of ICT development I might just as well have a webpage and sell videos from there to the general public and not bother about working in those schools. A school with this kind of filter can see my front page and nothing else. I haven’t given up on it by any means but if anyone has encountered the same I would love to have their hot tips.

    I can recommend an excellent school filtering system if anyone is stuck with a hopeless filter!!!!!!!!!!!

    In the meantime, totally gutting as this one size fits all situation must be feeling for you, I recommend a course of action that I undertake on a regular basis ‘Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again’. You will gradually begin to take heart with renewed enthusiasm.

    May I wish you a Happy Christmas, (and this is me speaking as somebody who absolutely used to loath ICT with a vengeance, cry, swear, bawl, wail… with no access to it at work I saw no relevance for it at all in my working life as a peripatetic music teacher – until the encouragement of Andy Roberts introduced me to making an online Christmas card in JellyOS and a creativity bell went ting). Didn’t stop me swearing etc., though but helped enormously. The following card was created for my pupils at the end of a folk fiddle project. Just to allay cmatheson’s worries that I might be having a greater effect on things than he is, according to my Moodle logs only one pupil has accessed it and they have not commented! The rest are outside accesses – that’s when knowing a symphony orchestra comes in handy for boosting your viewing figures!

    I thought if my pupils can see me having fun with ICT……..

    So here it is…..

    http://www.pimpampum.net/bookr/index.php?id=5077

    Regards

    Sarah

  8. Kathryn Greenhill

    Not much I can say, except I’m so sorry and p*ssed off to hear this. It happens so often – and I think part of the problem is that it gives people who are only vaguely interested change a chance to say “oh, well, we *tried* that in school XYZ, but that didn’t work” .. not mentioning that they only supported it for a year and then didn’t continue it. Aaargh!.

  9. Marie

    A sorry situation. How are teachers going to make changes without support. In NSW next year, high schools students are going to be gettting laptops (year 9 upwards I think). Haven’t seen anything about teachers receiving support about changing their way of teahcing as a result of this initiative. Seems to be bottom of the list!

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  11. Keith Lyons

    Tomaz

    I am sorry I missed this post. I have been off-line for most of the last month.

    I hope you find some new visionary employers soon. If they are visionary they will find you!

    best wishes

    Keith

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  13. Helen M

    Oh Tomaz!

    I’ve only just read your post. What a bunch of *&^%$ idiots! What a loss. Words fail me.

    You are such an inspiration to us all. Can I do anything? Lobby anybody?

    Take care,

    Helene

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