June 27, 2006

Exc-el moving forward 3: Bringing 'em in - Audience

One of the main reasons for publishing your thoughts or student work on the web is that doing so takes these thoughts and efforts to a larger audience. Publiushing on a blog or wiki allows that audience to show their appreciation or points for further development.

If you’ve ever kept a blog, though, you know that raising audience doesn’t just happen. For an Authority-wide project to gain audience and, by proxy, gain critical mass in uptake requires a targeted approach. The ‘portal’ page needs to feature on every piece of school and Local Authority stationary, the ends of letters, on business cards, on posters for educational events. At the beginning of the school year a standardised letter from the Director of Education needs to outline the importance of publishing student work on the web and producing digital media. It can then ask for permission to use that child’s photograph or video footage on one of the Exc-el sites, while also publicising the initiative.

More importantly, is that on every blog or wiki site there is a list of fellow community members, a blogroll of related blogs, in order to decentralise the distribution of information. People shouldn’t have to go to the portal again once they have found a blog that they like. This blogroll should be updated with most recent, most read, most related reads, using RSS as its motor (see my previous Exc-el post for a definition)

Exc-el is a community site, not East Lothian site. Handing over ownership of the community is a tricky task, though, as the innovators and early adopters have tended to be senior stakeholders or ‘the usual suspects’, those who are IT literate in their schools. Boundaries have started to appear around the roles of those working on the project. Extended use of something like Feedburner's Buzzboost or introducing the blogroll is one way to decentralise the distribution of information further and make joining the community less daunting.

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As an outsider looking in to Ex-cel, I'm impressed by the idea but concerned about the uptake. As you say, many of the main contributors are well-known names who would be expected to run with the idea. If East Lothian can't make this work for their community, I wonder what will happen with the community elements of SSDN. If people won't contribute ideas or resources at a local level, there is little hope of them contributing to a national project. My own site - www.abernet.org.uk - has been running for a few years now and although there have been nearly 170,000 downloads, there have probably been less than 100 items contributed.
We need to find ways encouraging people to feel that they are part of a community with reasons to share and contribute.

I agree with Andy. Look at the masterclass on LTS and how difficult it has been to get participation from so-called ICT specialists.

SSDN uses the Sharepoint discussion system where the discussion groups are accessed via different home pages and are not automatically listed as a unified collection. This is going to make browsing very difficult.

The MFLE community has worked incredibly well in getting contributions through discussion, but less well from people actively submitting resources. Our community attracts over 50 per cent of the LTS community forum traffic - you can see that from the daily interactions that take place. It is HERE that we find the most valuable contributions on practice, techniques, ways of working stuff out, phone a friend...

Hi Ewan,
Lots to think about here, maybe something that could be discussed at the September Meetup?
Using RSS is a great idea, filtering by date, tag, popularity etc in a non-geeky way is a challenge but there are a ton of possibilities.
All the online communities I've belonged too, from mail lists to wikis have had large readers:writers ratio.
Why do you think the MFLE has 50% of LTS traffic and Masterclass for instance has much less participation?

From our reader stats I'd reckon there are between 100-200 East Lothian people who access exc-el on a daily basis. This figure is certainly backed up in my day to day travels round East Lothian by the large number of people who know whats happening in the authority through the blogs. However, many prefer to lurk in the background and don't yet have the confidence to participate.

Our challenge is to create a culture where that interest is turned into an active involvement. Part of our strategy must be to stick with it and recognise that cultural change does take time happen.

I think the work we are currently doing to encourage blogging with children in schools might encourage staff to access blogging tools and contribute in a 'non-threatening' way. This might encourage more to participate in Exc-el.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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