Collaborative social media: How do you do business?

Shifting practices

Not long ago, the MS Office suite comprised the bulk of computer applications in the world of mainstream business.  I have to admit that as a career biology educator and instructional coach, I have precious little knowledge of the “real” business world.  That said, this past year I have found my work overlapping many trends in business as I explore the efficacy of collaborative online applications in education.  I am deeply interested in them as a framework for professional development as well as for classroom utilization.

“Yeah, but mainstream businesses aren’t using the Web 2.0 stuff…  those are mostly a few cutting edge companies with money to burn.”

How much more “mainstream” can you get than Best BuyWill Richardson pointed to the above video a couple of days back on Twitter, and I have held that browser window open since that time.  I really enjoy some of the language found within.  For example, one gentleman interviewed said that Web 2.0 applications allow the workforce to “…try a lot of different things, fail really fast, and then try things again.”  I dig that attitude in almost any endeavor.  To me it is pretty clear that being fearless and willing to innovate is a big plus in much of the business world as well as in education.  I also like the fact that another interviewee listed the following things as benefits to social media applications being implemented within the company structure:

  • better loyalty
  • less office politics
  • ability to meet other individuals passionate about the same things
  • ability to stretch an idea across an entire organization

fail gloriously

Shifting schools

Now which of those things is not good as well for a school faculty?  Of course blind loyalty leads often to the Abilene Paradox, and this is never a good thing.  However, other than that, I’m betting that this list of four things is something all school administrators and staff would value in their world as well.

Those four items, as well as a few others, are a target of our school’s shiny new social network- Virtual Southside.  This site was piloted by a cohort of 20 teachers and administrators at Benton High this year in the midst of an academic technology integration program.  Starting next year, with our entire staff online in the program, this site will be a major part of how we conduct asynchronous staff professional development.  Today I interviewed several cohort members about the benefits of working within our social network this past school year.  A short list of their replies about our foray into social media is as follows:

  • develop general comfort with social media
  • ability to collaborate asynchronously
  • differentiated professional development
  • makes all staff a “professional developer”
  • makes professional work transparent
  • allows feedback from a wider dynamic of personalities
  • provides an archival record
  • creates an avenue for extrinsic motivation

virtual southside

Nearing the end of our first year employing social media in our school and in our classrooms, I am excited to see some of the benefits rolling in.  In my opinion, the featured video showing similar strategies in a mainstream business model provides another interesting nod to the value of utilizing these strategies with our teachers and students as well.  Are collaborative social tools being used currently where you work?  What role do you see for social media in our schools and with our students?

Artwork thanks:

*Thanks to Stephen Collins for the “fail gloriously” slide image.

Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at


  1. While I wasn’t interviewed personally for this post, I would like to throw in my two cents about the tech cohort at Benton. I agree with several of the sentiments expressed above, I believe the transparency of it all does go a long way to eliminate office politics and then to have documented evidence of the interactions that have taken place, it has been very convenient to have all of it in writing. I especially have appreciated the access that has been created through social media. I’ve been able to have conversations with colleagues that I would never have known to be supportive and encouraging of what goes on in my classroom. There’s been some failures along the way this year as well and it’s been helpful to have outside perspectives help perform the autopsies of what’s happened. Anyway, I’m rambling but I just wanted to help reinforce some of the positives we’ve had this year.

    • @Jeff Carter, there are “failures” every year in every class that a professional learning guide moves his or her students beyond the world of the textbook, and into the world of… our emerging reality in the world of education.

      This is especially telling: “I’ve been able to have conversations with colleagues that I would never have known to be supportive and encouraging of what goes on in my classroom.”

      Thanks so much for the hard work you have documented, reflected upon, shared, and assessed as a result of this project. Your work has helped immensely in the quest to move our building forward as a group of passionate people who care enough to want the very best for our students.

      I look forward to next year…..


  2. Not only am I a teacher at Benton High School and a member of the cohort there studying and practicing the world of constructivism in education, particularly through the use of technology, I am also coordinator of secondary communication arts for the St. Joseph School District. My experience as a first-year member of the tech cohort at Benton has not only greatly impacted my life as a classroom teacher and a member of the Communication Arts Department at Benton, but it has significantly changed communication arts in our school district. The curriculum writing team working the past two years toward our new district CA curriculum has used a wiki to share, collaborate on, and archive our work and a blog to share the most recent versions of that with all 7-12 CA staff–approximately 70 teachers! That blog has also allowed all of those following it to have input regarding the curriculum work in progress. We have established a district literacy network ning where we can continually share our questions and thinking about literacy education and practices and share teaching ideas. This is social networking at work among our educators! Through this process and these tools among others, our teachers have also shared tremendous ideas and findings regarding technology use in the classrooms, including how to utilize social networking tools to facilitate learning. As a district we are now well on our way toward an online curriculum with a digital resource library as we live in and prepare our students for the world of 21st Century literacy. Exciting! And we largely owe this to Benton High School for sticking our necks out to investigate and try our hands at this thing called technology in education.

    • @Tori Grable, Awesome.

      “My experience as a first-year member of the tech cohort at Benton has not only greatly impacted my life as a classroom teacher and a member of the Communication Arts Department at Benton, but it has significantly changed communication arts in our school district.”

      …that quote says mouthfuls.

      I have seen the CA Wiki… but honestly, it was too long ago. Shoot us a link here to check it out. I would love to spend some mor etime there, especially after so much more work has gone down there!

      Thanks much,


  3. And I think my favorite part about having a “transparent” conversations is that those conversations continue outside of the social media — losing documentation certainly — but these are conversations that never happened before VSS.

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