I wanted to expand on my video introduction to attempt to clarify a few of my remarks that didn’t exactly hit the mark when I listened back to my on-the-fly video. I said (or tried to say) something along the lines of, “our virtual network has been good at starting conversations about issues, but they haven’t seemed to be as effective as a means to implement solutions” … or something like that.
I think an example would help to illustrate my point. As I mentioned in my intro, I’ve hung out my freelance shingle and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the ease in which potential projects (or problems / needs / opportunities) have come my way. Seems the world has lots and lots of issues / problems / needs / gaps / opportunities looking for solutions. However, as one lonely gal sitting in my home office in Chicago … I am quickly realizing that collaboration is essential to take on the projects that I want to do … and projects that real live actual PEOPLE want to have done (as opposed to the solutions looking for problems that we educators / designers / fill-in-blank love to tweet and blog about).
So, one day this summer I received a “cold call” email on my website contact form from someone who works for a non-profit in Chicago. She was in need of “instructional materials” to be made for her volunteers to use when they go into high schools to talk about drug addiction. She knows a lot about the drug addiction part, but less so about the creating “instructional materials” part. Our initial phone conversation quickly led me to believe that some of the best solutions I could come up with on the fly were likely going to beyond my technical expertise … and the initial problem she contacted me to solve. Rather than just pumping out some content-heavy instructional material (print or Flash based), my mind jumped ahead and I started asking her about the other layers of her needs. At one layer .. yes .. they need instructional content … but they also appeared to have deeper and far more complex needs, such as the need for a repository to store, categorize, and share these resources, and an online place that both learners and educators could use as a learning space or home base. While I’m as good as the next gal at setting up my own Moodle or Word Press blog, my talents don’t stretch nearly as far as my ideas.
So … I headed out to my virtual network to see if I could get any takers to partner up with me on this project. While I had a HUGE response from current instructional design students in need of project experience (not something my contact was much interested in … nor was I much interested in taking on in a mentor role at the time), I heard crickets when I reached out to “experts” in my virtual network. Therefore, I let the project go … as I’ve said many times on EdTechWeekly, “It is hard to collaborate alone.” Do not even think about stealing that as your next book title … I reserve all rights 🙂
On a pragmatic level, I totally get it … people have jobs, lives, families, their own pet projects. And … this project was small, probably not a lot of money, and likely messier than I am painting it here … and a whole host of other reasons not to do it. Again, I get it … I’m as good a naysayer as the next person … after all, I was a casualty insurance underwriter for 15 years… I was paid big bucks to say, “no” to coverage requests.
But, on a zealous level, we (as a virtual network) seem to have plenty of time to pontificate … and plenty of things to say about how our solutions to the world’s educational problems are the most enlightened and exciting. Yet, beyond talking, how great are we as a virtual network at DOING … actually helping to solve problems like the one I presented, or do we need to leave that to the traditional and formal organizations .. the educational institutions and instructional design firms that we so often criticize and make the butt of our edupunk jokes? [btw … an instructional design firm DID end up bidding on the project.]
Which brings me to my questions … can we leverage the brain trust in our loosely joined virtual network of experts to DO something when asked? To collectively work together when called upon? Is the virtual network best served for lip service / sharing of ideas / here’s a link to the latest and coolest resource? Or … can we work together to DO something? To do someTHING that actually matters to those outside of the echo chamber of our virtual network? Solving a problem that someone brings to us? A need that someone else identifies. Taking action that will move a solution forward. Can there be collective ACTION in our weak tie virtual network? Is the strength in our weak tie virtual network ONLY the diffusion of ideas (and, I know … professional development) and NOT collective action, as research has already suggested. If so, that makes me sad, because I want desperately for my virtual network connections to be able to BOTH diffuse information AND to take collective action when called upon.
Clearly, there are some great examples out there where the virtual network has rallied around a cause, but the initiatives that come to mind are largely driven by a few dedicated souls (benevolent dictators as Jeff Lebow calls them) with a hodgepodge of very well intentioned volunteer helpers who may be excited and engaged for a while, but also may disappear as quickly. For example, Wayne Mackintosh with OER University is one of the best examples I can come up with right now … and, yes .. I fall into the well-intentioned disappearing lurker category in the examples that come to mind.
So, in a nutshell, this is what I want to ponder. Is there a way we can leverage the relationships in our virtual network to take collective action when called upon? Can we WORK with our virtual network at a level beyond volunteering …dare I say to make a LIVING in partnership with my virtual network contacts? Maybe all I’m suggesting is a virtual instructional design firm with a loosely tied cluster of (strong tie) interested participants? Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad start …