Why Projects Failed This Year

I’m beginning to get into “end of the year” reflection and planning mode. One of the things that’s been simmering in my brain for a while now is why projects failed this year. Yes, I figured you might want to read about what didn’t work, as well as our success stories.

Snow Days
In February this year we had several snow days. This made it very difficult to reschedule; and often teachers felt that they now had less time to cover the required curriculum. So in a few instances, we just never rescheduled. Unfortunate, but if we want teachers to keep using VC, we have to be flexible and understanding of the constraints they work under.

For one of our project ideas this year, both schools were blocking the emails of the other school. What’s the chance of that? The project planning started in November with sporadic emails back and forth through March until we finally gave up. Email filters have been especially annoying this year. At the slightest doubt of whether they received the note, you should pick up the phone!

Some of the great ideas that my teachers had this year never came to fruition due to a lack of follow-up. With more pressing active projects moving along, I didn’t have time to email and call teachers who weren’t responding. I have a Filemaker Pro registration system to keep track of ideas, requests, and program registrations, but there are always those project ideas that didn’t ever happen. Ideally, at least once a week I should be checking up on the progress of project ideas. But the busyness of RAP this year derailed several other project ideas. (On the other hand, we had 80 RAP connections, so that’s nothing to sniff at!)

To really make follow-up work, a coordinator needs a system for keeping track of ideas, a method to consistently check in with teachers, and time set aside regularly (weekly?) to work on it. Do you have any other follow-up strategies or ideas? Please comment and share!

Building Coordinators
This year I’ve invested a lot of time, training, and mentoring into my local building coordinators, especially those involved in our RUS grant. This has heightened my sense that building coordinators are crucial to the success of videoconferencing. It’s not enough to have a district level person, or a regional level person promoting and supporting videoconferencing. The building level coordinator, whether they are a teacher, media specialist, media parapro, or even a secretary, help so much in the facilitation of VCs in their building. The teachers already know & trust them!

So because I’ve been noticing this more in my own area, I have come to the belief that one factor that affects our projects with others is whether or not THEY have a building coordinator. I worked with a regional coordinator for 3 or 4 projects this year and none of them came to fruition. This organization doesn’t have a building level coordinators. I could never get teacher email addresses from my contact so I could email everyone with what needed to be done to get the project off the ground. Without someone local to help make it happen, it’s very difficult to make the project actually happen.

Project Definition
I’ve thought for quite a while that the fastest way to make a project happen is to have it clearly defined. If you describe clearly exactly what you want to do, what you want the other class to do, and be very specific on the dates & times, you can make a project happen fairly quickly. That’s why I make everyone in my online classes write up their project! And why I recommend very specific ads for projects.

When you say, let’s do something on x topic and find a partner, then you have a lot of negotiating to do. More often than not, the project falls apart. Times don’t work out. Topics don’t work out. It takes so long to negotiate that the teachers are past that curriculum by the time the idea is defined.

Roxanne Glaser, wrote an interesting post on her blog last week about the difference between collaborations and projects. I think this idea should be explored more. As we can define recommended procedures around these activities, it will be easier for newbies to jump in and participated effectively. I think that Read Around the Planet is more of a project because the teachers sign up for dates & times and because there are teacher materials etc. for it. Sometimes the teachers negotiate what they are going to do, but more often they prepare a presentation and show up & do it. Maybe it’s more of a continuum with strict structure on one end, and open negotiation and shared planning on the other end. I know I’ve spent most of my time and energy trying to help teachers define their projects with fairly good structure. More time could be spend on planning tools for the collaboration/negotiation end of the continuum.

How ’bout you?
So what was your experience this year? What made your projects fail? And what lessons can we all learn from that?

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