Perhaps without even knowing it, this seems to be the riddle many of our communities and schools are writing for our young people. Just how many communication streams, technologies, websites, platforms, etc. can we ask our youth to check on a daily basis just to know what’s what?
(To be clear, part of what is driving this is the rise of social media and the death of email use by young people, even as it remains the communications staple for much of the adult world. Only 6% of students check email daily and 39% never check it at all.)
One student I talked with recently actually added up his logins for me: he had 8 just to manage his school, social, and extracurricular activities. He told me he checked two daily and 3-5 on a weekly basis. Two of them were his chosen social media channels; one was an email account (used only by his school), and one was a class-specific platform. Another login specifically to check his grades was also in circulation. The rest were largely ignored to the point where he laughed about how many times he had had to reset has passwords because he so rarely logged in.
During our beta period, we worked with two-dozen local high school students as school ambassadors to help us listen, learn, and improve Zeumo for education. They helped us connect with teachers and other students to better understand what technologies were being used and what was actually working or not based on their experience. What we found were two primary sets of technology systems:
Regarding the institution-serving technologies, students have often heard of but have little-to-no engagement with them. (Teachers all know about them.) SMS’s, LMS’s, ISS’s simply aren’t built for students (and most teachers say not for them either!). Even those that might claim a student interface or “portal” clearly ignore the user experience, or just really don’t understand youth. (For the record, even the best student isn’t going to log in and navigate 6 clicks only to land on what is essentially a spreadsheet more than once.)
For the classroom, there are actually some really interesting products out there. But, if we choose to consider the student, I believe classroom management technologies suffer from two main problems:
Please ignore the finer points of my math here and follow my logic: A student spends 20% of his waking hours in school and has roughly five academic courses core to his education. So, each class makes up roughly 4% of the student’s time (to make for easy math, this is being extraordinarily generous, and assumes a student is focused solely on his core academics during that 20% of school time).
So, what login do you use, or are you at least asked or “required” to use, on a daily basis that is solely relevant to less than 4% of your life?
What if you had to keep a different phone or a different calendar for each individual client you had, or an entirely different email account for each person who supervised you, or who you supervised? What if your organization had a different website for each product you offer even when the products serve the same customer base? (If you do, we may have just identified a problem.)
And yet, this is the kind of technology noise we are inadvertently creating for students.
What if we could provide a single login and password where a student could safely aggregate multiple communications channels from their school and community (and not have to be connected with “old people” in their social media space)? What if schools could communicate with students on a platform they actually want to use (i.e. not PA systems or emails)? What if community organizations didn’t have to compete with Twitter and Facebook noise hoping their youth see important posts?
The Gallup Student Poll shows that only 44% of high school students are engaged, or you might say “logged in” to school.
So I wonder: How much more would a student log in, if a student had just one login?
I had the pleasure of sitting and talking a few weeks ago with Bill Milliken. And, among the countless gems that began to flow when he started getting into the rhythm of the conversation, he dropped this:
“If I am on an operating table, I don’t want collaborators. I want an integrated system!”
With his sharp wit and wily twinkle in his eyes, Milliken is relentless in pushing us to “get it right” in our collective work for and with young people. This is what he has done and advocated for decades (it’s what makes him Bill Milliken!).
His charm aside, I thought this quote was worth exploring a little further.
So, I started thinking about the difference between collaboration and an integrated system. And, while there are certainly many specific differences to consider, I believe that, at its core, the difference is that of shared strategy (not to be confused merely with a shared strategic plan, strategic vision, strategic alignment, or any other narrow bastardizations of the concept of strategy).
As collaborators, we typically bring 1 and 1 together and celebrate how we “strategically” made 2. To use another analogy, in collaboration, I have my puzzle piece and you have yours and we navigate around the edges a bit to see if we can “strategically” fit them together.
But, collaboration is too often just that – around the edges – and generally happens downstream of our truly strategic organizational and institutional decisions. In other words, the critical decisions (who we serve, how, when, where, etc.) are already made by the time the collaboration tries to fit them together. Collaboration becomes a reactionary tactic attempting to overcome the lack of an actual integrated system!
In an integrated system, we co-create in an ongoing manner our collective strategy, which guides and determines organizational and institutional decisions, key roles, responsibilities, and tactics. I work in this area or on this issue because it complements (not simply adds to) what you do and how you do it toward our common objective (also an element of strategy). An integrated system, therefore, requires constant communication, reflection, and learning so that together our 1 + 1 achieves the proverbial 3.
Cynically, then, an integrated system comes at a cost: our work must actually be about our work, not just our organization or institution. Our work must be about the young person, for example, not whether or not I work in a school setting or an after-school setting.
Let’s be honest, in most of our communities, the “systems of support” (or lack thereof) we have created for young people have been created because they work well for us as adults and the organizations we lead. Even in some of the best cases, our efforts represent an attempt to add things up for young people, but never really ask us to change what we are doing to make the system more complete. We generate plans of systems but claim expertise or blame funding for why someone else needs to change or do more, and not us.
We rarely, if ever, achieve an integrated system at the level of shared strategy. We rarely, if ever, achieve the sort of integrated system that would actually work for our young people.
Unfortunately, no amount of collaboration can overcome this reality. And, even more unfortunately, collaboration can obscure the weaknesses within the system by averaging them out. This, in turn, makes future efforts at a more integrated and strategic approach that much more complicated because we appear to be better than we actually are. It also makes it more difficult to identify and address where we are falling short.
If I am on the operating table, I do hope my surgeon is part of an integrated system with the nurses and the doctor who diagnosed me. And, once there, I certainly hope the stellar work of my surgeon doesn’t obscure or average out the marginal work of my anesthesiologist!
So, Bill, thanks for the analogy, the push to work smarter, and for ensuring the next time I have surgery that I will be completely scared-to-death!