You might call me a communist

You might call me a communist… but I'm not.

There is a big difference between building a community and being a communist.

No one calls us communists, when we here in Camilla, Georgia cooperate to build roads, schools, and put in stoplights to have order. We have a police department, a city hall. We have many things just to provide for our basic needs. We build sewer systems to be safe.

And that is what educators are beginning to do on the Internet. The massive open source efforts, collaborative efforts to create presentations, and link together are our efforts to civilize the new frontier of our society: the movement to build collaborative communities on the Internet. We webcast, we podcast, we slidecast, we blog, we wiki. We are building communities.

Although we may feel the Internet is maturing, these collaborative communities, particularly among educators, are still in their infancy. As of yet, we don't have a Slashdot for education (although we should), we aren't massively creating presentations on new software (although we should), and amidst a proliferation of databases and deep web resources, the organizations creating these databases still act like islands: Lone Rangers who don't even want a Tonto.

I'm not a communist, but we need to build communities. Communities of practice, communities of profession, communities of grade level. Not communities delivering dictatorial diatribes, but to facilitate functional useful information, creation of cooperative learning environments, and rapid exchange of best practice. As a side benefit, teachers are creating databases of information and practice ripe for data mining by researchers and observers whose very presence in a classroom creates bias in the results.

Even Microsoft, the champion of accusing open source creators as communists, has realized the power of collaboration with its request for a shared license from the Open Source Initiative last month.

But this is so far past open source. Our professional organizations, textbook companies, conferences, and all of those who serve the educational community need to assist us in connecting.

Textbook Communities?
I mean, why can I not log onto my incredible online textbook resources and directly link with other teachers who are teaching the same chapter of my book at the same time and share resources? Why can't all of the students using a particular literature book have a blogging community? Are the textbook companies afraid of what will happen when we cooperate?

And why don't they publish the textbooks on a wiki and allow us to edit, add references, and interact with the authors on an ongoing basis — we'd update the textbooks for them. And if they really wanted to release it on paper, well, they could just print the darn thing out every six months.

Professional Organization Communities and Conferences
Connecting and networking has always been a major reason for those who join organizations. And why the NETS standards don't have standard tags we can use is totally beyond me.

That way, when I had something that I did that met one particular net standard, I could tag it and then someone else could find it. What is so hard about that? The folksonomy purists out there don't realize that a standard tag, used sparingly and specifically could add some real value to things. I embed these tags on the wikis and send links to my students working on projects via del.icio.us all of the time.

And those who “pooh pooh” the use of Google in the classroom could be making their own searchable widely available databases by just creating networks on delicious. If you're going to complain give an alternative!

The Impact of Community
Perhaps why everyone tires of joining another “thing” is that we don't feel like we're hitting the mainstream of education. Where is the impact?

I guess having every eighth grade teacher or every teacher using a textbook network scares some people. That is communism isn't it?

I say no, that it is community for two reasons:

1) Choice — the level of involvement in any only community is to date voluntary and probably always will be. (The old adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.) You can make them join, you cannot make them participate.

2) Connection – We are making connections not dictating policy. And while connecting teachers scares some — teachers know that we already have networks. We have people we call and people we use as resources. I just argue that it shouldn't be so hard to connect. Surely we can move past the telephone and e-mail that so many teachers are using heavily to connect with other teachers.

It is not just about Wikinomics (can you tell I've been reading that book again) — it is about Communitynomics or Edunomics — whatever you want to call it — connection, cooperation, community…. but its certainly not communism.

Connection gives Power
If you think about it, right now an author can sign up to write for a textbook company and they may have never taught in a classroom. One person or group of people telling hundreds or thousands of classrooms what to teach.

If you have teachers connecting, and dare I say it, editing textbooks — you've then created something even more valuable. One author isn't telling others what to think…teachers are sharing instead.

I can just hear the critics say “But … But…”

But why not? Isn't there a method to set up a framework of editors, an approval process before things are posted into the “live” book that would allow teacher contributions. Maybe not the free editing method of wikipedia, but something with a multi-step peer reviewed process?

Will textbook companies hire authors to stay on staff to monitor and work with their evolving textbooks, much like Thomson publishing hires a prof at Florida State to do their coursecasts each month? If they don't, more projects like California's Open Source textbook project will be born. And why must it be just California?

Doesn't this hit on the frustration that many have with textbooks?

Why I'm not a communist:

  • I believe in free speech.
  • I believe in a person's choice of the way they live their life.
    • If people want to cooperate and provide an alternative to monopolistic businesses, then they have the right.
    • If someone wants to give something away for free that others charge for, that is their right.
  • I believe it is time to cut out the bureaucracy that divides us and to connect teachers directly with one another to share.
  • Openness — I believe that there should always be non-exclusive communities. Although ISTE and a textbook company may require people to join, I believe that there need to be things like the k12 online conference that allow anyone to participate. Exclusivity, snobbery, and elitism really rankle me… probably because I was the kid left out of things for so many years, however, I believe in welcoming newcomers. Including others, it is part of who I am. And I am so “out” of things most of the time… although some would consider me “part” of the blogosphere…I feel like the perpetual outsider…if I go to a conference, it is because I work my way there. If I get something new it is because I wrote a grant or it was free. There has simply got to be a way that someone like me can have my students included in this technologically evolving world… and there is because of the communities that are evolving in the new frontier.
  • Competition is always good. It makes you better. As much as I wished my competitor in the cell phone business wasn't there… I knew deep down as the General Manager of a cell phone market… I gave better service to my customers because of that competitor. Open source gave competition to a company that needed it. So, now we need open source web apps and search engines … there might be another one that could use a little competition right now.
  • There is still opportunity to make money. I am an entrepreur. Since I left college, there has never been a time I didn't have a business on the side. It is good to have profitable businesses. And big business is often born out of changing times… look at Microsoft… look at Google. And more are coming. Those who make the money will be those who embrace the changing model. Those who understand that connections are important and that if you can be the connection-platform of choice, you will wield an immense amount of power and profit in the coming years. You will be the NBC, ABC, or CBS of the Internet — you will own the eyes and the pocketbooks of the educators, teachers, and people you connect. I think Marc Andreesen had a great idea with Ning. I think that businesses that have an intent to help their customer will profit. But why are they spending a fortune on customer care reps in another country who don't even use their product, when they could take that same money, effectively connect their users, and let the users provide one another with support. The forums of most software companies are lame excuses of tech support — yes they give you more information. But what if I create a handout getting my parents going on PowerSchool, I can't share that with other folks who are using Powerschool — it sits in My documents and Rots. Businesses are missing the cost savings and profits by ignoring the mass collaboration potential of their own customers.

For to me, bureaucracy and monopoly are more communistic in nature than any of the communities to which I have become more active.

We are connecting because we demand to be connected. The law of supply and demand… there is no supply of organizations, textbook companies, or software companies that will connect us and so we will create it ourselves.

I sense fear. Fear that things are turning upside down. Fear of the tow-headed upstart college grad with the backpack strap mark still left on his shoulder upseating the bespeckled college prof who has his secretary print out his e-mail. Or vice versa, the high school kid unseating the pedigreed college grad. Or even more so, the retiree coming back out of retirement and taking the job of a college grad. Things not happening like they should.

Today I was talking to a reporter and he asked me, “How do people know about you… did 60 minutes do a report on you or something?” 😉

No. It is a new day… it is a day when a rural small town teacher can connect daily with Shanghai, Melbourne, Qatar, Dhaka, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Vienna on a class project. (See our flat classroom project that kicked off this week.)

It is a day when your ability is no longer determined by affordability.

It is a day when your limits are only inside your mind and when maneuverability is becoming an advantage again.

The bloated behemoth bureaucracies are drowning the educational process under vacillating filtration systems. And teachers are only supposed to connect in the teacher's lounge.

Those who are breaking free are the innovators, the renegades, the rare teacher with empowering administrators who allow their move into the wide world of learning that has opened up to us.

So, do you call me a communist?

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