Figuring out how to encourage workers to collaborate on the Web has become a common topic in online forums and actual meetings across many different types of enterprises. This section provides some ideas for providing incentives to those who are already inclined to use social networks and building scaffolding for those who are reluctant users.
It is helpful to recognize that one of the more appealing characteristics of social networking sites is that users are able to interact on a personal level about things in which they have an interest. Building a section where people can share informally -- in a manner quite different from the professional collaboration that is the purpose of the initiative -- can increase comfort with social media as a way of team-building. This open discussion area avoids a sense of the impersonal that is typical of corporate intranets and Websites.
If colleagues are to collaborate freely on the Web, then it is good to consider how to reduce exposure to the hierarchy that exists in a school or a district by limiting the participation of administrators and principals in the collaborative areas. The same sort of inhibition that prevents teachers from participating in staff meetings will be at play in a collaborative social networking situation. Some of this reticence to contribute can be overcome by offering rewards for participation. For instance, the teacher who is the most active on the collaboration network with solid and thoughtful contributions could be granted a free afternoon for which his/her classroom is covered.
If collaboration via social networking is treated as a building-wide or district-wide goal, then it can be added to annual teacher performance evaluations. It is important for building administrators, lead teachers, and well-regarded influencers to lead the way -- visibility of leaders in the collaboration initiative communicates that leaders value the initiative. This will heighten their ability to bring about the desired changes. It is important to recognize those teachers who put forth effort to learn how to use social networking for collaboration, encouraging them along the way as they build skills. And it is also important to acknowledge the support those teachers who are already comfortable with social networking and collaboration offer to their colleagues. As in any situation in which the primary goals are to encourage learning and develop a sense of mastery, balance is important.
If collaboration is to become the lifeblood of the school or the district, then steps have to be taken to ensure that the social networking collaboration initiative gets traction. It sometimes backfires to give support and attention to only one group -- as a pilot for the initiative -- because other groups may not feel they can catch up (or, in their eyes, compete) if they have been allowed to start with the tools at the same time as the first group or team. A better way may be to find ways to encourage teachers where they are in the learning curve. In this way, both enthusiasts and speculators can be on the same team, which will better equip the team to keep the momentum going. It is generally a good idea to provide time and incentives that encourage early users of social networking and collaboration to support others on their teams.
Use of Social Networking Across Generations
The sea-change in the way people communicate today has occurred cross-generationally. Research indicates that the use of technology is increasing for all age groups, though the manner in which technology is used and the locations in which users access technology may be somewhat different. In fact, as the technology evolves, so do the attributes of users, regardless of their age category. That social networking has become part of the communication landscape is clear, but what is less clear to those who don't study the market is well-put by Mancuso and Smith (2011) "If you have been harboring a belief about social media users as primarily young girls who are texting their friends from the mall, beware. It's time to refine your focus to account for the influence of social media across all age groups in your marketing and brand management programs." A 2009 report from Forrester, How to Reach Baby Boomers with Social Technologies, indicates that consumers in the 40 to 55 age bracket use desktop computers more than they do mobile connections -- laptops or mobile phones -- for their Internet activities. But technology users in this age bracket do participate in the same type of activities as younger counterparts. And this 40 to 55-year-old age group is interacting with technology with much greater fluency than just a few years ago, and also with greater frequency year-over-year. Although there is a 20-year spread across members of the Boomer generation, their use of the social media does not differ widely. On the ReadWriteWeb, Sarah Perez cited the Forrester paper, "In 2007, the percentage of Boomers consuming social media was 46% for younger Boomers (ages 43 to 52) and 39% for older Boomers (ages 53 to 63). By 2008, those numbers increased to 67% and 62%, respectively." In the interim period since the report was published, it is a reasonable assumption that those percentages have risen.
Forrester categorizes users of social media networks into six technographic groups: Creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, and inactives. The highest percentage of Baby Boomers can be characterized as spectators and critics, according to the Forrester report. Interestingly, creating content on social media networks is the least favorite activity for Baby Boomer users. Boomers tend not to write blogs or create and post videos. Though they are certainly not the Luddites they are often portrayed, older Boomers don't have much patience with social networking features that entail complex or multi-step processes. In addition, there is a strong bias toward online privacy in the Baby Boomer generation that is simply not present in Generation Y, whose users have grown up with different definitions of privacy.
While Generation Y may be the trend setters, Baby Boomers also seek and enjoy multiple digital devices that integrate social media, making frequent interaction seamless, and conveying user-generated content with a mutuality and intimacy that-in other times-might have been reserved for one's hairdresser. The 2010 Edition of the Global Trend Tracker on Social Media, completed by Gallup International Association and Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research, clearly demonstrated that social networking has achieved cross-generational acceptance.
The Changing Technology Landscape
In Espoo, Finland, Nokia's vice president of multimedia strategy and business development, Harry Santamaki, explained to Seattle Times technology reporter Tricia Duryee that Nokia no longer refers to their product as mobile phones -- they are multimedia computers. The product name is apt as these new digital mobile devices are designed to manage all of the information that a person needs to access online, including communication, entertainment, shopping, and document sharing. Antti Vasara, vice-president of corporate strategy at Nokia, explained to Duryee that the variety of Internet gateways will be compressed until the average user no longer gets content from desktop computers, TV set-top boxes, and handheld devices. Instead mobile will become the "one way -- the dominant way -- to access [the Internet]" (Duryee, 2006). This conversation took place about one half dozen years ago -- before tablets running on Android platforms.
Mobile phones became very small when they were used for voice communication. They grew a bit larger when texting began to erode voice calls, giving users a chance to do an end run around the high mobile phone service charges. Then cameras were added to SmartPhones and users began to actually do work with their phones, sharing documents and emailing prolifically. Mobile phones got a little larger again. With the advent of the tablet and readers like Kindle and Nook, the time users were engaged with their mobile digital devices increased -- larger screens were again desirable. With users relying more on mobile devices than any type of place-bound or stationary device, consumers are clamoring for ways to avoid service charges for all that work done on the fly. SmartPhones can now serve as Internet hotspots, and data can all be stored on the Web. Cloud computing has enhanced mobile connectivity as access to stored data no longer needs to be stored on devices.
The idea of a computer lab for students is no longer viable, unless the work undertaken requires expensive servers and routers to transmit large and dense data. Quite literally, the classroom can be taken on the road and field trips become the norm -- learning can take place anywhere and everywhere.
The Demographic Barbell of Educators
Although figures associated with the supply and demand are difficult to estimate as the relevant variables are not constants, estimates for the number of new teachers needed by 2009 ranged from 1.7 million to 2.7 million. This is actually an extraordinarily large range, but it is based on three statistical scenarios, all of which are…