Sunday, October 31, 2010

Collaboration is Great but a Committee of One Gets Things Done

I know I am swimming upstream with my title statement. Today we are supposed to be all about collaboration. We are besieged with exhortations...

Make connections!

That is why I pricked up my ears when the keynote speaker at Internet Librarian West last Monday started talking about the power of one person. The opening keynoter was Patricia Martin, CEO of Litlamp Communications. An example she used was a man named Sam DeLaGarza (!/samdelag). He was given the daunting task of revitalizing and repurposing the Ford Fiesta. Since he was not expected to succeed, they gave him a meager budget. He used most of the money on social networking. As he was communicating with members of the groups he thought would be his targets, young adults just starting out in the world, he made a stunning discovery: a significant number of this demographic did not want a car at all but rather were looking ways to get along without one. Armed with this information he knew he had to convince these leery consumers to buy the economical Fiesta. His success exceeded expectations and the popularity of the Fiesta was one thing that helped Ford fare better than other car companies through the economic downturn. Quite a lot for one person to do!

OK he did not do all this alone. But HE was the agent of change. HE got the ball rolling. Somebody has to be that person in many situations. The reason this resonates with me is because I think in some schools there may not be a lot of enthusiasm for new ideas. I know there are all those great schools, librarians, and other educators who are doing great things with technology and the Internet. But I cannot quit worrying about those schools we do NOT hear about because there is precious little to hear. During my session at the Internet@School conference, I asked this question: "How many of you are at schools that are really zooming along with technology?" I expected to see a lot of hands...after all this was a conference for nerds and geeks. Not one hand went up. So I said, "Well how about if you are at a school where SOME neat things are happening?" That elicited a few half-raised hands, and frankly I do think these folks were being modest because I know they are doing great things. Even so, wow! Some in the room were presenters yet they thought things at their schools were not exactly zooming.

This reinforced my suspicion that while there may be lots of computers out there in labs and classrooms, they may be underused and not used with much creativity. I frequently hear this from my MLS students, some of whom enter our program with minimal computer skills and not much exposure to Web 2.0 applications or even more basic computer uses with kids.

Discouraging? You bet! Still, the story of Mr. DeLaGarza gives me hope. There CAN be change, even when there is just one person with vision. That is a message I want to get out to those who struggle against the odds with efforts to bring 21st Century Skills to their libraries and schools!

Plow ahead with those ideas!
Speak out against those ridiculous filters!
Refute the fear mongering and press for common sense access and use of the Internet!
Get your kids fired up!
Get parents on board by showing things going on at other skills that their kids are missing!

Pretty soon you will not be alone any more. In fact, by raising the subject you may learn you were not really all alone in the first place. As the popular saying goes, be the change you are waiting for.

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