Collabetition in education

A few weeks ago I went to the mall with my son to purchase a a couple of items, including a new Wii remote. The store I’d visited had only black ones in stock – but the customer-centric sales assistant told me that he’d “look out the back” for the white one I wanted. Several minutes later he came back with what I had asked for and the transaction ended with me leaving the store, a happy customer. What my friendly sales person didn’t realise was that I’d watched him go “out the back” – which in this case meant using a back door from the shop I was in to walk down the mall to bring back the item I needed from a competitor who had a shop in another part of the mall. While the two stores (each a part of nation wide chains) were in direct competition in the marketplace, they collaborated in situations where it enabled them to maintain their strong customer focus and make a sale – something known as collabetition. My brother is in retail, and tells me this is common practice in that sector.

So why is it so difficult for us to think this way in the education sector? This week I’ve been working in a local high school and a university where this issue has come into focus for me. In each institution were discussing the vision of education in a networked world, where students may physically attend and fully participate at a local school, but engage in studies provided online from another in order to satisfy the subject choices they have made. The focus and driver for me in my thinking on this is a learner-centred approach, focusing on the needs of the students, rather than those of others involved in the educational process, such as teachers and school leaders. While it is easy to talk about such a philosophy, my experiences this week have made me acutely aware again of the extent to which this creates tensions in our existing instititions, and how the immediate response reflects a teacher or institution-centric view.

In the case of the secondary school it was pointed out to me that schools in our city are in competition with each other, and to provide courses to students in another school where that course may not be available would be to provide a competitive advantage to that school (and potentially a loss of students at the host school). It was seen as potentially OK to provide courses to schools in rural areas (ie those that don’t represent a threat), but not to others in the city who may be regarded as competitors.

Now I’d be the first to agree that there’s a certain logic to the argument – and it certainly isn’t worth fighting against at this stage. If providing courses to rural schools helps get the process of distributed learning underway then let that be the case. However, I’d like to challenge the basis of the logic – it is looking at things from an institutional-centric perspective (need to sustain growth, reputation, quality staff etc in order to maintain programmes etc). If, on the other hand, one takes a student-centric approach, the picture changes. We have large numbers of students in our secondary schools right now who are taking second and even third choice subjects in order to fill their study quota. Wouldn’t it be better if they were able to have all first-choices? Wouldn’t it strengthen their sense of loyalty and belonging to the local school they attend if that institution demonstrated that it cared enough for them to make that provision available?

I’m not convinced that the competition argument is relevant any more. I know, I know, in the short term it will cause ripples – but in the longer term, a 21st century view of the world, the notion of a completely stand-alone school will be history. We need to be thinking of what education will look like in a networked school environment – for the sake of our students and our staff. (Imagine the opportunities in a networked school environment for specialist staff development and professional growth and extension). We need to learn a lesson from the retail industry about collabetition and how this might really play out in education.

6 thoughts on “Collabetition in education

  1. Great article! You make some really good points. When I speak in schools sometimes I find that even teachers do not collaborate with other teachers in the same department let alone with teachers in other departments or other schools. It is not because they don’t want to collaborate or do not believe it would help students by collaborating, but they are overwhelmed with their own classes and students and are not often encouraged or given time to collaborate. There are also many opportunities that are being missed for parents and teachers to collaborate with each other for the betterment of students, teachers and schools.

    I have lived, studied and taught in other countries and truly believe that the American Education system is among the best in the world BUT it could be better and will be better if we can work together as parents, educators and citizens. Thanks for your article and your ideas.

  2. “So why is it difficult for us to think this way in the education sector?”

    Essentially, ego. While secondary teachers continue to categorize themselves as “Historians” or “English Language Specialists” rather than “teachers”, ego will obstruct the movements you and I seek. While a secondary teacher categorises the academic year as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, on the basis of his/her examination success, there is little chance of significant change. While secondary schools publish graphs in their prospectus, year after year, showing the public how many examination subjects exceeded the national average, the potential for change is low. While egocentric Principals promote their schools on the basis of their academic record…

    Arrogance and selfishness can sit alongside ego. When a school claims it is the highest achieving state school in New Zealand, why should it give any energy to even thinking about change, of any sort? The status quo is OK: No change required!

    I don’t believe the model some promote, that schools should embrace open-learning, almost by predestination, has much value. That is a dream. Instead, keep working with those teachers who are already involved and nurture them with every energy. In other words, work around schools, subject orientated teachers, and work instead with a lead team already dedicated to open-learning.

    Teachers tend to show interest in anything that is new when they can see what it achieves. That happens after: I haven’t got time! How much will it cost? It’s too complicated, blah, blah, blah, blah.

  3. Hargreaves?, I think, promotes the concept of education being a regional venture as opposed to just being the concern of the school. As a cluster-leader, I am often put in the position of trying to persuade schools to do something that at first glance is against their own immediate interests. It helps, of course, that I don’t put the interest of any one school first – but how many NZ schools have the luxury of an independent cluster leader. There is good evidence that collaboration between schools can have a positive impact on learning (and schools) e.g. but NZ appears yet-to-be-convinced about this at a system-wide level. Here in South Canterbury we have some problems that are region-wide (consistent access to Te Reo Maori provision for example) and will only be resolved by schools working together. The Tomorrows Schools model seems inadequate to address the problems we are now facing and certainly encourages, as you point out, the use of modern technology in sometimes perochial ways. Just consider the definition of the internet – a network of networks as a case in point.

  4. Thanks for these comments Trevor – we’re both on the same page 🙂 Your experiences in South Canterbury are an excellent illustration of the points being made.

  5. Some really interesting discussion going on here.I think the problem lies in the hierarchal system of education that prevails in New Zealand. When I know of two integrated girls schools that sit literally across the road from each other both which like to establish their supremacy in league tables and competing against one another, it makes you wonder is the thread of society and the “old boys/girls network” not to dominate in our schools.

    Personally I see the merits in school without walls concept but it takes visionaries to establish this kind of networking in schools. Also as schools are funded per student the funding becomes an issue that has to be negotiated.

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