Connecting Communities through Video & Online Collaboration | IDEA

Connecting Communities through Video & Online Collaboration

Posted by Dana Bennis on Jul 10, 2014 - 06:54 AM

A few weeks back I shared an overview of IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series that began last fall and continues through summer 2015 with 8 teams working together on the shared challenge of educational transformation for youth (Check out that article for an overview of how the LBS works).
As a collaborative change project with teams in widely different locations and communities around the United States and Puerto Rico, we've had to think creatively about how to bridge the geographical challenges and provide opportunities for authentic sharing and feedback-giving during the Action Period months between in-person Learning Sessions. The Action Period is a critical time when teams implement the plans they crafted during the Learning Session, and we knew there would be great benefit if LBS participants could provide feedback and support to one another during these months, albeit from a distance.  
While at the first Learning Session in Jackson, Mississippi, we took time together as LBS participants and IDEA staff to brainstorm ideas to overcome these challenges. We were looking beyond the often-unproductive yet typical ideas of large group conference calls or email lists, and no one felt inspired by social sites like a Ning or creating yet another group on Facebook.
                               Shared work at the first Learning Session
What we did come up with was an idea that turned out to be not only productive and a helpful learning experience for teams, but also fun - we called it the Action Period Team Video Sharing Activity. Here’s how it worked:
In April 2014, about 4 months into the Action Period, each team used basic technology - in most cases a smartphone - to record a 5 minute video that shared an update on their team's progress in achieving the plans they devised at the Learning Session, reporting on challenges they've faced, and asking questions they'd like help with from the other teams. They then uploaded their videos to YouTube - a remarkably simple process that is often just one click from many smartphones. 
We then created an Action Period Video Sharing GoogleDoc that includes links to each video, the main questions each team is asking, and gave space for all participants to offer feedback in the following 3 ways:
  • affirmations - what resonated with you from what the team shared, what did you find compelling?
  • provocations - what disconnects or assumptions did you hear, or what new thinking would you recommend the team explore?
  • direct responses - to the team’s questions and feedback they are looking for 
Once the videos were all up and shared, the feedback began coming in, offering teams insightful, supportive, and helpful inputs for their work.
While we see ways for this activity to strengthen in the future (for instance, getting 100% engagement in offering feedback is a goal I’d like to see us reach), a few factors helped to make the activity an overall success:
  • Participants brainstormed and helped design the activity. We can't underestimate the value of having participants involved in creating the agenda and making decisions. The same is true for teachers and students in schools, neighbors in a community, and citizens in a society.
  • The group had experience offering and receiving feedback to one another. At the Learning Session last fall, we held provocation rounds where teams shared their thinking thus far and heard affirmations and provocations from the others, helping to surface assumptions, disconnects, and new ways of thinking (we adapted the School Reform Initiative's Tuning Protocol to serve our needs). Also, during teams’ final presentations at the conclusion of the Learning Session, participants gave feedback on stickies in the form of pluses and deltas. So, our LBS crew was an experienced group of feedback givers and receivers, who'd learned to trust and move beyond the defensiveness that sometimes comes with these kinds of activities.
  • We used simple collaborative technology to make this accessible and easy to do. Smartphones, one click uploading to YouTube, collaborative GoogleDocs. A great recipe for success.
Here now is each team's video, along with a brief introduction about the team and their goals. Check 'em out! Then go back to the Team Video Sharing doc to check out participants' feedback. And in the spirit of collaboration, feel welcome to add your own feedback too! 
Minnesota Team
Composed of youth workers, democratic educators, and young people largely in the Twin Cities
metro area, Team Minnesota is focused on bringing youth work and democratic education practices into the daily experiences of young people in Minnesota through building connections with other organizations and individuals, showcasing powerful examples of schools and programs, engaging in youth leadership, and connecting with policy-makers.   
NYC Education Justice Team
A collaborative team of members of the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Coalition of Educational Justice, the NYC Education Justice Team is working to engage with the Mayor and Education policy leaders in NYC to advocate for parent and youth voice in educational decision-making, and for key goals including restorative justice practices to end the school-to-prison pipeline and opening more Community Schools. 
The New England Youth Organizing Network, or NEYON, is a coalition of multiple youth-led and youth-focused organizations in the New England area that have come together to align their energies and activities so as to create more momentum for student-centered educational change in the region.
Oregon Team
The educators and youth advocates of the Oregon Team are working to make sense of the educational landscape and create the conditions for educational change by building collaboration among organizations and individuals, engage directly with youth to shift the balance from an adult-dominated perspective, and help people see that learning happens both outside and inside schools.
Vermont Team
Including educators, parents, and sustainability leaders, the Vermont Team is building connections among the bright spots throughout the state of Vermont, from schools to youth programs to sustainability initiatives and more, to spur change rooted in a common set of values and practices.
Puerto Rico (Boricua) Team
The educators and organizers of the Boricua Team are working on many fronts to give more youth the opportunity at an empowering democratic education, from community organizing efforts in the Forastieri neighborhood of Caguas where Nuestra Escuela is located, to spurring dialogues about alternative education at the University of Puerto Rico, to building connections among families, the local elementary school, and the Community Council of the Barriada Morales neighborhood, among other initiatives.
Stay tuned for more LBS updates, including live tweeting from Learning Session B in Puerto Rico this September.  #ideaLBS