-by Sue White and Terra Graves-
What you are about to read is a behind the scenes look at part of the FLR team’s process to create this very publication. There are four of us in the group: Sue White (Woodstock, IL); Terra Graves (Reno, NV); Dan Jones (Mansfield, OH); and Tom Mennella (Longmeadow, MA). We have yet to occupy the same physical space.
It’s been almost four months since we began our official project as a collaborative group. In some ways, it seems like we’ve known each other for years. Successful collaboration can build bonded relationships with people you’ve never met in person. Brought together through our shared passion for Flipped Learning and our intense desire to influence systemic change, we embarked on a mission with vague parameters and endless potential.
Some of the parameters:
- Bring the Flipped Learning Community into the 3.0 era
- Become the leading source of insight on the future of Flipped Learning
- Bridge the understanding gap between Flipped Learning 1.0 and 3.0
- Thoughtfully engage external thought leaders in discussion
- Publish radically candid, well reasoned, well-supported think pieces
- Join the global education conversation
Before we could determine our focus, we had to decide where our work would live. Here, we share with you our pros and cons of the technology we selected (and rejected) to facilitate our collaboration.
Where we started
Long before we became the “Think Tank” project, we were enmeshed in the Flipped Learning Global Initiative’s International Faculty development program. This work was done entirely through the community forums and messaging within FLGI’s WordPress site http://community.flglobal.org/community/. We had been participating in discussions with educators and other professionals using Flipped Learning in our quest to become selected for the International Faculty. Throughout this process, we tried to keep up with the conversations, but some of the features of WordPress made this a much more daunting task than it should’ve been. Some of us grew frustrated using it because not only was there A TON of posts to look at, when you wanted to reply to someone, it would open up the reply window at the bottom of the entire list of posts. This made it really difficult to refer back to what the person had written because you had to scroll all the way back up to their post. We knew that we didn’t want to use WordPress for our main line of communication. The only positive for using it would be to keep our progress linked to the FLGI “home base” as much as possible for other faculties to see what was happening with our project.
Need for something else
Google Drive and Docs
Everyone in the group uses Google Drive, so we created a shared folder to hold all of our meeting notes and resources which would guide our work. Google Drive is very user-friendly and easy to use for collaborative work. Collaborators can edit documents, slides, or spreadsheets concurrently from anywhere in the world. We were even able to hold early synchronous meetings in a Google Doc with all members of the group chatting via text in real time. It’s always a good idea to select a tool that people use regularly. When it’s part of their normal workflow, they have an easier time staying connected to the collaborative effort.
Once we got our collaborative ball rolling, it became clear that we needed to move on to a better way to communicate, organize our information, and improve our workflow. One of the issues we were having included long threads of discussion in Google Docs as we brainstormed ideas. Folders upon folders were being created to house different information with links to many different things. Going back and finding a discussion on an earlier idea proved nearly impossible. Although Google Drive is generally an excellent organizational tool, it wasn’t the tool for us; we needed something more. After a series of online searches, we found Slite. Slite is a perfect complement to Slack. Slack focuses on team communication, whereas Slite focuses on team collaboration of content. What we needed was a way in which we could work in collaboration, fully organizing all of our ideas and content. As a team, nothing is less efficient than searching for a shared folder for documents. With Slite, we have organized our work into “channels” and share and communicate directly with one another there. We are able to add links to our work and comment to one another as well. It’s proven to be a powerful collaborative tool, especially for its price- FREE!
At the beginning, we really felt the need to meet synchronously. Having a live meeting was a necessity for us during the brainstorming phase. This mode of communication is typically much more effective than emailing or texting, and it makes the collaboration more personal and ‘human’… The challenge for this was to find a time that would work for everyone in the group since we are in different time zones and have jobs and families. In the beginning, we met about twice per week, then stepping down to once per week, and eventually using Hangouts only as needed.
It was clear after a few days that there was still a need for more immediate communication. We created a group text thread for this purpose. Most of the texts at the beginning were meant to “poke” each other to go look at what we had added to our notes since the last meeting. We would also try to coordinate a live meeting on Google Hangouts and texting was easier than posting in a forum on WordPress just because we would get lost in the sheer volume of posts. Sending a group text is still a prevalent form of communication for our team, as most people have their phones on them at all times.
Finding our rhythm
We are now in our third round of writing for the Flipped Learning Review, and we have finally found our rhythm. Here’s our workflow:
- We brainstorm in our group text regarding our ideas for the upcoming issue and we each “claim” our pieces. Even though we all have our main lane to stay in (Higher Ed, K-12, Edtech, Book Review, etc.), we work together on pieces, find topics we can directly collaborate on, and/or “trade” lanes depending upon what we are passionate about regarding the theme of the upcoming issue.
- We each write our pieces (usually two each) in Google Docs, and then share it with the group for feedback (with links posted on FLGI’s WordPress site to keep the editors in the loop).
- Each person takes a look at each piece and provides feedback (usually through the comments/suggesting feature).
- The author goes back and revises the piece, notifies the group of changes, and requests one more look.
- Pieces are then formally posted in the Flipped Learning Review group forum for the specific month so that our senior editors, Errol St. Clair Smith (Irvine, California) and Jon Bergmann (Lake Forest, IL) can look them over for another round of feedback. Sometimes our pieces are ready for publishing; sometimes we need to go back and revise.
- And then, another issue of FLR is released – just like this one – for all of you to read!
Implications for Flipped Learning 3.0
Global collaboration is one of the defining characteristics of Flipped Learning 3.0. As educators, we tend to be isolated, usually only collaborating with colleagues in our own school or institution. We must break this habit. Our students need to learn how to collaborate globally so they can be prepared for their future careers, and we need to model this experience for them as the lead learner in our classrooms. Technology is the conduit through which this collaboration happens. It’s important to select the appropriate tools to fit your purpose and ensure efficient workflows. What technology tools have you used during your collaboration? Who knows… maybe we’ll even borrow a few of your ideas over here at FLR…
Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy. Don Tapscott