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Help us take shiftingthinking forward (or sideways, or…)

I’d like to welcome new visitors to this site, particularly those who’ve met me or Jennifer during the 2010 AERA conference in Denver. If you met us there or you’ve been following the “shifting research” blogstream you’ll know that Jennifer and I presented a paper about shiftingthinking. If you’re interested in reading the completed paper, please email me and I’ll send you a copy! And read on, because I’m about to explain the request in the title of this posting.

Briefly, our AERA paper aims to do three things:

  1. To give the “backstory” to the development of shiftingthinking (where did it come from? what ideas were behind it? what happened?)
  2. To reflect on what’s happened, and most importantly, what we have learned so far
  3. To open up some new questions for ourselves, and (we desperately hope!) for others to engage with us in exploring. For us one of the most exciting and interesting of these new questions can be summed up quite simply as: What next? (and why?)

I’m quite serious about this. One of my tasks for the coming year is to take a serious look at shiftingthinking and think about how it fits with, adds to, or could potentially change the shape of, all the various different aspects of our work here at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research: Where can we take this thing next? That’s kind of an “in-house” job for me – but the very nature of shiftingthinking as a publicly accessible online community/blogspace that these questions of “what next? (and why?)” simply demands a much wider range of views, perspectives, and inputs from the wider shiftingthinking community.

In other words, I need YOU!

A number of questions, ponderings, and thoughtlets have been circling around in my head (particularly after conversations I’ve had or sessions I attended at AERA), and I would seriously appreciate some input and feedback on these. I’ve numbered them below in case you want to reference them in your comments.

1. Who are you, and why are you here?

This question isn’t quite as existential as it sounds! For a long time we’ve been exploring different ways of knowing who’s visiting this site, why they came here, and how they engage. One way is to track our visitor stats, which tells us how many times we’re clicked on, and where those clicks are coming from. We also invite people to make themselves known by joining the shiftingthinking community where you can write a brief bio  about yourself (however, see Q. 3 below). And of course you can give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, or comment on our blogs. Over time we’ve developed a sense of who’s interested in the ideas this site, and we have a few additional ideas about who else we think might be interested. Lumped together, these two categories seem to include

  • Teachers and school leaders interested in rethinking their own or their school’s ways of doing things, including ideas about knowledge, curriculum, and teaching;
  • Other researchers working across the areas we are interested in;
  • University graduate students who are learning about, or interested in the educational ideas and theories pertinent to this site;
  • People who work alongside schools and teachers to support professional learning, educational transformation, etc;
  • Occasionally, other people such as parents, or other people with a general interest in these ideas even if they aren’t working in an education-related field

What we’re wondering is, what’s the “payoff” for each of these different kinds of people in being part of the shiftingthinking community? What are YOU getting out of being here (or if you’re not getting anything useful, why?). What else would be interesting/useful/engaging for you? And how did you find your way here – do you follow us on Twitter? Did you come here through a google search? Do you know our work at NZCER?

2. What do or don’t you like about what you’ve found here?

Given the somewhat “emergent” pathway that this site’s development has taken, it’s sometimes hard for us to step back and evaluate this site as a whole, and to imagine what fresh eyes make of it. In the past, people have told me they find the site a little confusing to navigate, and they’re not sure where to begin. That’s hardly surprising, as we are very much a web 2.0 space. I’ve tried to address this with the “where should I begin” comments on the home page that try to give you ideas about where to start.

We’ve also tried to develop a range of different kinds of content for the site . We’ve got blogs, theory pages, and various other resources, both text-based and multimedia-based. What I want to know is – what “things” on the site are interesting or useful to you? Do you come here to browse? To get information?  To engage in discussions about ideas? To find resources/videos/things that you can use with other people (such as teachers you work with, or students you teach, or anyone else you are interested in “shiftingthinking” with? What other “stuff” would be useful for you in relation to our wider goal of shifting towards 21st century ways of thinking about learning and education? And if you’re here because you’re interested in shifting other peoples’ thinking as well, who are these other people we ought to be connecting with, and what do you think would be interesting/useful/engaging for them?

Plus, does all the “stuff” on this site feel like it’s interconnected into the wider narrative of “shifting towards 21st century ways of thinking about learning and education”? Or does it feel like lots of disconnected “stuff”? If it’s the latter, how can you and we start to weave all these pieces together in a more coherent way?

3.  Whose space is this? Yours, ours, or everyone’s?

This site is built on a blogging platform called wordpress. It’s a free and relatively easy and flexible platform, which is great because we’ve built this site more or less on a shoestring. We describe our reasons for this in our AERA paper (email me). Way back when we started shiftingthinking we had a lot of competing ideas about who ought to “control” this space, who would be in charge of managing the quality of what went up here, and so on. We could have chosen to build the site using very web 2.0 platform such as a Ning or other “web community” platform  - which more or less enables all members of the community to create and post content (blogs, pages, video, etc). However, we were still grappling with our own competing ideas about what the site ought to be like, what content it ought to have, and how it ought to “work” in terms of engaging people in thinking about the ideas/theories/shifts that we think are important for exploring together. We also weren’t sure who might be interested in joining our community. And let me tell you, there is nothing sadder than building a web-based community that nobody joins – and hence nobody except you ever creates content.

So now we have a blogging platform which also includes a modest, slightly clunky community feature . At the moment only we (the NZCER team) can blog, although we have invited other people to be guest bloggers from time to time. Everyone else can participate through the “comments” function. Is this enough? Do we need to open up shiftingthinking more widely, to enable all members of our community to create and contribute content? What might happen to the site if we do this? What are the pros and cons of the current setup, in which our team sort of controls the “metanarrative” of the site, as opposed to a much more open, community-driven site like a wiki where the “metanarrative” is generated through the collective inputs of all its members?

OK, as you can see I tend towards long and rambly trains of thinking dotted with questions and half-thought-out ideas – so that’s basically your invitation to do the same. Let’s talk! (PS. remember, you can leave audio comments and webcam comments as well as written comments!!)


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  1. | #1

    Hi Mary, sorry for the long delay in responding, but yes I completely take your points above. I’ll acknowledge that we are really betwixt and between right now – is this a “community” (not really), is it just a way for us to ponder and muse aloud with the opportunity for others to comment (kind of, but is that really what we want?). The architecture of the site – it’s built on a blogging platform – has presented particular kinds of constraints on what is possible, and at times we have considered migrating to a Ning instead. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of examples of Nings that lie dormant, gathering (virtual) cobwebs, because no-one has the time or interest to go in and begin/engage with discussions. I guess the real question here is: which comes first, the community, or the platform? I can see it working both ways – sometimes the community is built through an online forum, but sometimes you need to establish the community first, and build a forum that suits the community. Another question for us is: who are we aiming at – to what extent are our interests “local” (shifting thinking in education in New Zealand), vs international (connecting with thinking about 21st education with anyone, anywhere in the world, who cares to join us?). At the moment I think we have aimed to keep all of these possibilities open, which is partly why nothing much has changed (yet)!
    We have made at least one conscious choice about building a community within NZ education, though, and that is through the integration of Shifting Thinking (the website) with Shifting Thinking (the conference) – we are in the planning stages for a 2011 conference on August 25th and 26th in Wellington – further details will be coming out in the next few weeks.

  2. Mary
  3. Mary
    | #3

    Hi, Rachel – long time since I came looking at the site as not much happened on here for quite a long time. then quite a lot happened elsewhere…

    I think maybe the site falls short of being a “community” because of the thing you’ve noted about it being quite clearly still owned by NZCER. That makes the rest of us fellow-travellers rather than full participants / members.

    Perhaps a hangover itself from the old C20th educators’ view that “SOMEBODY has to be in charge, and it’d probably better be me”?

    In its present form, the site is probably the equivalent of a FB page – where others can “like” you or comment on your wall, but not actually generate anything that belongs to the page itself. And – maybe FB or LinkedIn would be a sensible place for it, if that’s the protocol that you want to stick with. Actually, a LinkedIn group gives you more shared ownership thatn that, in that any group member can start a discussion.

    So do you want it to evolve as a community, or do you want to retain control of it? Seems to me that’s the $64,000 question…

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