Khoi Vinh is the design director for the New York Times online. He has written a tremendous piece about the state of online design criticism that mirrors my assessment of the state of online teacher criticism down to the last word:
Sometimes I wonder, then: given that everyone in design seems to more or less know everyone else, are we really having the kinds of meaningful, constructive, critical discourses that we really should be having? Are we too quick to take offense at the opinions of our peers? Or are we pulling our punches too much when discussing the merits of the work that our peers turn out? To put a finer point on it: are we being honest with one another?
TomApril 13, 2009 - 5:20 pm -
We’ve been fighting through this same thing as a large group creating content modules. We had to go so far as to create a whole formalized feedback structure to get people to start being more honest and direct. It’s weird. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard but it sure seems to be.
I’d say it’s even worse online. You’ve got more complexities dealing with written text and less of a chance to explain yourself. Things can go bad quickly with no body language or tone to help mitigate things.
I don’t think there’s anything to do but to start giving feedback. See what happens and try to learn from it.
MichaelApril 13, 2009 - 7:18 pm -
What happened to thinking outside the box? If we only talk to people inside the box how will we ever know the box isn’t a box but just a square? Anyone read or watch Flatland?
The day we stop willing to listen to someone who has a different idea from ours is the day we truly loose creativity and progress. I don’t know how many ideas that I have had from networking with people who challenge my thinking, like Dan and this blog and all those who comment.
JeffApril 14, 2009 - 6:12 am -
I agree with what Tom said, and I’ll add the fact that you typically don’t know these people in real life compounds the issue. For some people, like I used to be, it can be a little uncomfortable to be that guy (or gal) who is brutally honest without knowing the person you’re addressing. Out of politeness, you don’t want to step all over someone you don’t actually know. This notion of feeling like you know someone, of course, gets turned on its head when the connections are all online.
Hopefully I’ve overcome that, and am willing to share honestly when I have something of value to add. Constructive honesty is something we certainly need more of in our profession.
TomApril 14, 2009 - 6:56 am -
Coincidentally, I’m now at a staffdev workshop for our admins and they’re getting advice from one of our attorneys. His comment is essentially that admins often have trouble giving clear feedback to teachers and that leads to all sorts of issues when attempting to build documentation and fire problem teachers.
The point being, feedback is not done well at most levels of education except when it’s teacher to student. I find that really interesting. We ought to be good at this. I’ve got some guesses why it’s easy to give constructive criticism to students but not to fellow teachers. None of them make me very happy.
MichaelApril 14, 2009 - 2:12 pm -
I think it is easy to give constructive critisism, but I think that people get discouraged to give it when the people receiving the constructive criticism refuse to consider it as a valid observation or idea, irregardless of their intention of using it. Do we have a perfectionist society where we don’t ever want to hear that we are not perfect at whatever we do? Are we afraid to be wrong? Are we afraid to make a mistake?
I can not improve unless someone else shows me an area where I can improve and perhaps (hopefully) they share how I could be better. This is so important to all of society.
I don’t know how much research about Internet use and the security issues therein where young students don’t know the rules or social norms of downloading information, sharing information, and protecting personal identity, but once told and instructed how to protect themselves, they tend to be more conscious of their choices on the Internet.
Perhaps we all could use some focused training on how to give and receive feedback.
EApril 14, 2009 - 6:07 pm -
I’ve seen this as well. I’d relish some constructive criticism and assistance. But often online criticism is simply “flaming” someone. I intend to blog about something similar to this in the next day or two. I’m retired military and in the military, constructive criticism is a way of life…as a matter of fact, it can save your life. Somewhat a three step process: Problem, Discussion, Recommendation. When I first joined the military I hated criticism. I took it personally. By the time I retired I craved it. I was always seeking to improve my own performance as a leader and soldier. Why educators can’t do this is beyond me, except that perhaps each teacher feels they are “king” or “queen” of their domain (i.e., the classroom) and that no other should intrude. Of course, I’m still a year away from actually graduating so I’m merely speculating. Constructive criticism takes genuine effort particularly in an online forum – but it can be done.