Friday, 7 December 2007


In the last few weeks I have felt hopelessly frustrated with our Asia-Europe classroom awards for last year’s projects. Previously, each year 5 projects were shortlisted for the award using a fairly good rubric to decide which projects were the most outstanding. The coordinators of the 5 shortlisted projects were then invited to present their project in the annual AEC conference, after which a panel of judges selected the 3 award-winners.

However, this year no conference could be organized, so the AEC headquarters came up with a new procedure. An online vote was launched between all the network members to determine the 5 shortlisted projects. All well and good, until one week before the end of the voting, they suddenly saw fit to open the vote to anyone, on the pretence of enhancing the visibility of the network. Out of the window with the rubric – or knowing anything at all about the projects (eg. some eligible projects didn’t even have a website to show what their work had involved!). We coordinators were just expected to rally for as many votes for our projects as possible in one week – from anyone in the world!

Now, why do I feel hard done by, even though I am a strong advocate of online social networks? Wouldn’t my networks serve me in good stead in collecting votes from around the world? I wouldn’t mind if we had been told this well in advance. But suddenly changing the rules, as it were, was highly suspect and against all my beliefs in fair play. What's more, I have some difficulty in applying the TV reality show format in education – ie. use any means to get anyone to vote for your project, or else you will be eliminated from the race! It shouldn’t be a popularity contest, but a fair assessment of the quality and merits of each project. To cut the long story short, in the end, the final number of votes weren’t even published, but we were told ambiguously ‘After consolidating the results, the six AEC projects that have excelled and eligible for Phase II of the online votes are…’ How about some transparency in the procedure, or maybe some impartial supervisors to monitor the voting??

And as if this wasn’t enough, we are now told to go through the same voting rumba yet again, to then finally determine the 3 award-winners, each of which will receive €2.000 in cash. As it turns out, to win that money, not only do we have to work ever so hard all through the previous year to produce a quality project, but we are also made to mobilize all possible people we know to vote for us – twice round! What abuse of teachers’ valuable time! Especially now that most of us are about to start our well-earned holiday breaks, during which we should be able to rest and recharge our batteries rather than worry about rallying for votes! Don’t I just love international project work?!

Naturally, I will have to abide by these ridiculous rules, since I still believe our projects are worthy of the award, but I may have jeopardized our chances of ever being among the 3 winners by voicing these concerns out loud to all the network members and administrators. Yet, my integrity wouldn’t allow me to remain silent. After all, the real reason for me to do project work is to provide my students with meaningful learning experiences. Honestly, I am not being hypocritical here! (Although, there is no denying, if money is to be had, too, it would be a nice little bonus!)

Another area where I have recently come across this idea of ‘quantity over quality’ is finding out about Facebook. Yes, I did get an account – with the good aim of knowing one of the vastly expanding social networks my students are increasingly involved in. I must admit, I didn’t get hooked, and am still in two minds about the purpose of me having my face there. At least I don’t see much point in sending anyone virtual dougnuts, not to mention all the time required to keep writing sticky notes or wall posts etc. Just goes to show that I must really be the boring, spoil-sport Finn my British husband says I am! (On second thoughts, planting a glorious flower in a friend’s virtual garden does sound half tempting, so perhaps I’m not a lost case yet, after all…)

Or maybe I am just naïve. You see, many ardent bloggers seem to be convinced we teachers now have to enhance our qualifications and polish our CVs by showing how many friends we have acquired on Facebook, for example. According to them, this would send potential employers the message that, if they hired us, they would not only gain a highly qualified expert, but also get the benefit of our wide social network to serve their school. In addition, they claim that there is quite a lot of money to be made by effective networking.

I hope I am not oversimplifying matters by suggesting that there must be some cultural differences in our attitudes toward the role of social networking. In Finland, business and education have mostly been kept strictly separate. Hence, it sounds rather alien to me that I should now start acting as a private entrepreneur advertising my impressive list of online contacts to earn a few extra euros. I have one year’s experience teaching in the American public school system (NB. this was 10 years ago when America was probably very different from today!), and I can well understand how this ideology would spread like wildfire over there. I can still recall how strange I found it when my American colleagues used to drop evidence of their excellent work in their principal’s locker at regular intervals. I would squirm at such competitive spirit among colleagues. But good luck to all of you, my overseas colleagues, who are much more business-oriented than us, products of the Scandinavian welfare states. When it comes down to global competitiveness, you are way ahead of us.

And yet, how sad that people’s worth seems to be measured by the number of names they are able to collect in their contact lists! I refuse to be reduced to just a name that someone needs for their own benefit! Aren’t we somehow losing track of the human element in all this frenzy to appear popular and important by numbers only? Indeed, I approached some of my online ‘friends’ through another network I joined, to share some ideas about project work – only to realize that they were probably too busy finding more new ‘friends’ to add to their list, and consequently unable (or uninterested?) in sharing thoughts with me...

I can’t help feeling a gnawing unease about encouraging this kind of competition in our schools. I keep wondering what I should be teaching my students about social networking. That it doesn’t matter who they are, for as long as they have as many ‘friends’ as possible! Quantity over quality at all cost, eh? This scares me! In fact, just last week I received an alarming email from a colleague in Japan, who described incidents in his school where students are suffering enormous anxiety and stress, and even staying away from school for weeks, because they don’t have enough online friends to constantly chat with on their mobile phones. He says it’s quite common among his students to count the number of their emails or other online messages to prove how popular they are. To quote his words: “More than anything else, losing friends is the most scary event and has to be avoided as their first priority. Their human network is totally trapped in the cell phone world. They are keen on their friendship and try to drop a line for fear of being isolated from their friends.”

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post, and me as a project coordinator desperately fishing for votes… Anyone out there in the blogosphere reading my blog – why don’t you cast your vote as well at

Hopefully you will have the time to check the websites of each project to make your choice! But if you are busy, I can fully recommend my project ‘Mastering Media – the Sequel’ or my Malaysian friend's ‘Cultural Kaleidoscope 07’ :)

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