This week in my graduate class we discussed how web 2.0 tools can be integrated into the workplace, and how we can foster an environment that is welcome to change. Since I work in a regional educational institution, where making any cultural revolution where we embrace change has been compared to changing the course of an air craft carrier with paddles, I thought I would dig up some material from a management training I went through a few years ago. I vaguely remembered some concepts that I liked and thought I would do some digging. In their book “The rights and rituals of corporate life,” Deal and Kennedy dissect the components of corporate culture into a few areas. One such component was the informal communications network that exist in every organization. The informal communication networks have a few players that are involved:
Storytellers: interpret what goes on in the organization.
Spies: keep their fingers on the pulse of the organization.
Priests: are the guardians of the culture’s values.
Whisperers: are the unseen powers behind the throne.
Cabals: are groups of two or more who join together around a common purpose.
I will concentrate on the storytellers for now. According to Deal and Kennedy, storytellers preserve institutions and their values by imparting legends of the company to new employees. They also carry stories about the visionary heroes or the talented outlaw. Storytellers will also reveal much about what it takes to get ahead in the organization. Thomas Watson Jr., son of IBM’s founder, often told a story about a nature lover who liked watching the wild ducks fly south in vast flocks each October. Out of charity, he took to putting feed for them in a nearby pond. After a while, some of the ducks no longer bothered to fly south; they wintered in the pond on what he fed them. In time they flew less and less. After three or four years, they grew so fat and lazy that they found it difficult to fly at all. Watson had discovered this story in the writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. And he always ended it with the point that you can make wild ducks tame, but you can never make tame ducks wild again. Watson would further add that “the duck that is tamed will never go anywhere anymore. We are convinced that business needs its wild ducks. And in IBM we try not to tame them.”
After reading through the material I thought this was all a waste of time, but I gave it a try anyway. To my amazement I was able to identify people that fit into the above roles at my agency. And their influence was noted and used in making some headway into changing how we do things. This seems like a simple thing to do in any organization, especially in education where we do need to stay wild in order to be innovative and receptive to all the new things that come our way every day. The nay sayers will always be quick to say that what works in business does not work in public service, but is that really true? I think not.
I live in a rural community that is still leery of strange new things, where the first instinct to anything new and strange is to shoot it. This mentality has carried through to the school system as well when it comes to new technology, but rather than shoot it (because we obviously cannot) the answer is to block access to it. A more recent development around new technology in schools has been web 2.0 tools. The students find it first and many times are masters of the tools and the teachers are totally unaware of it, so this becomes a distraction in the classroom. The administrators get complaints from teacher and are asked to find a way to stop the disruption.
The case in point; just last week I get a complaint that Facebook and YouTube are causing distractions in one classroom and asked me to block access. When I did block access, I got another complaint from a teacher in the same school saying the students do not have access to these sites that he uses in his classroom. When I ask principal how to proceed, the answer is “just block it we do not want content from these sites incorporated into the classes.” You would think that there is an age difference between the classroom teacher and the principal that would explain the different viewpoints, and there is. Even though there is an age difference, it is the younger principal who wants the content blocked. Of course for everyone out there this might seem like a backward thing to do at first glance, since we are talking about the rural school system which is on the poor side. But the reality is that most students are not meeting the basics in reading and writing, leave alone creating YouTube videos. The fact is that the web 2.0 tools are very distracting when the teacher does not have control of the classroom. The point of the lesson is lost and the students are just concentrating on playing around with the tools. My observation has been that most of the teachers are using the tools as a means of keeping the students in the classroom and out of trouble; or to be able to go to regional conferences and say yes I use Facebook and YouTube in my classroom, but if you ask them what difference it has made in improving the student performance there would be no concrete answer. One example of incorporating technology into the curriculum from the past has been the use of palm pilots for English classes. I asked what the students were learning from the palm pilots and the answer was that they can “beam stuff” to each other. Only the adults in the room were impressed with the beaming, it was old new to the students. How useful would this skill be to an employer?
To use these tools so that they are of benefit to the students, the teachers need to have a paradigm shift in what is expected of the students and how they are evaluated.
Using web 2.0 tools in the classroom to enhance instruction seems like a good idea, if the teacher has a good grasp how the tools can be used to enhance the basics like reading, writing, and math skills and has control of the classroom. We seem to do things out of fear of being left behind even though it might not make any real sense. Of course this comes with a hefty bill to boot.