This week our school district officially launched its Innovation Forum, an open discussion forum for discussions on education and innovation. We’ve been piloting the forum for a number of months, but finally this week linked the site to our district’s main site and introduced the forum to staff. We’ve been delighted with what the forum is doing for communication in our district. In case its helpful, I thought I’d take a moment to jot down some of the benefits that we’ve seen.
The Collision of Ideas
Steven Johnson talks about how important the Collision of Ideas is to generate better ideas and solutions to problems. Our Innovation Forum allows anyone in our district or member districts to share, combine, and read ideas on education. We’ve seen numerous cases already where ideas have spawned better ideas through discussions on the forum.
Talking at the Speed of Light
We’ve learned that in our district many ideas moved forward only when we could bring people together at the same place at the same time to talk about them. The problem with this model is that bringing busy educators together is usually a logistical headache. Our district is scattered at numerous sites, some of which are over ten miles apart. The result of this is that conversations about ideas and projects stalled sometimes for weeks until the next meeting. With a discussion forum, our ideas are constantly moving forward.
We All Hate Meetings
Used correctly, a discussion forum can save time by obviating the need for so many meetings. Meetings are usually an inefficient way to discuss ideas: people often aren’t there, the information from meeting notes only offers a rough outline of what happened, and the points of a meeting are often vaguely remembered. Furthermore, if someone gets added to a discussion later it usually results in yet another meeting to fill them in. With a discussion forum, it’s clear who said what, the record of the communication is permanent, and points are easily recalled. And no one has to drive to an Internet forum!
I Only Have to Say it Once
One of the big pluses to the forum that I’ve seen so far is that I can easily send someone a link to a discussion to fill them in. We’ve been toying with the idea of micro-sites for some of our various programs, and when someone new to the discussion wants to hear about the idea or the project, I can copy, paste, and email the link to the discussion to them. They can read it quickly, get caught up, and offer their thoughts on the project right in the thread. Perfect!
We Can Be Groupies
With the open source phpBB software that runs our discussion forum, it’s easy to create private or public forums for groups of people to discuss topics. We’re experimenting with a bunch of these smaller groups. Our Internet Filtering Committee, for example, is using a forum to discuss our filtering requests now. We used to used email, and it’s so nice now to have discussions in one place for all of us to see.
No One of Us is as Smart as All of Us
One of the first benefits we’ve noticed about the forum is that is diffuses knowledge through our district much faster. For example, I just got a question about remotely sharing a SmartBoard screen. I didn’t know the answer, and neither did the first few people that saw the topic. But one of our innovation coaches at another site spotted the topic and knew exactly what we needed. We’ve seen many other cases where we able to access the knowledge and expertise of staff at one site to solve a problem or move an idea forward at another site.
I’ll post more on this as interesting things come up, but feel free to get in touch with me or post here if you’d like more information on the project and how we put it in place. Also, if you’re inclined to do so, feel free to join the Innovation Forum to participate.