Sometimes, the Crowd need help

I’m all for collaboration and bringing many brains together, and I love how technology makes collaboration so much easier. But some recent developments with a project made me realize that there is a limit to “many hands on deck” that I need to keep in mind in the future.

I am part of the Massachusetts New Literacy Teacher-Leader Initiative, which began last June with a week-long institute in Cambridge, and which is set to continue through the course of the year with three professional development sessions. There area about 100 teachers, administrators and technology coordinators involved, and I am one of the ten teacher-leaders who are trying to run and organize the initiative, which is sponsored by our state. (We had help last summer from the New Literacies Collaborative folks, but they have moved onward and left the project in our hands.) The other teacher-leaders are smart, interesting and are on top of things. It’s a good group to be part of.

Since mid-summer, we have been working on coming up with a plan for an October session. Since the ten of us leaders live and work across the state, it seemed to me to make sense to do the planning virtually.

First, I created a social networking space on Grouply, which wasn’t that popular, I guess, since very few of us used it for much at all.

Then, I started up a Google Doc for us to use, but soon realized that there just too many of us to keep track of the changes and ideas floating around.  To me, it became chaos. And even then, not all ten of us were even using the document.

Someone suggested Elluminate, but none of us followed up on it.

We were then left with a wall of silence for a bit, as I think we were all bit confused about where to go now. Plus, school was starting up.

We’ve now reverted to good ol’ email, with two of our team (not me) designated as “project leaders” setting the agenda options and allowing the rest of us room to add ideas (around showing new tools, and allowing the teams time to connect and share out, etc.) in email responses. I like that approach much better, even though I have to give up an amount of control, and tracking the emails can get nutty.

This experience had me wondering: where is that Golden Limit on number of people collaborating where collaborative flexibility transforms itself into chaos and too many voices make a muddle of things?

I think the number for me is about five people trying to plan a document together. After that, the best option is to designate some leaders and resign yourself to the role of a follower-collaborator. And this seems to be one of the ongoing weaknesses of the Crowdsourcing movement, right? Chaos reigns easily. Even Wikipedia has editors or gatekeepers.

Peace (in the organization),

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