The Ripe Environment

The Ripe Environment

I am tired of talking about the tools. Many of us have been talking about the tools for a long time now. We have said that using technology for technology’s sake is counterproductive. We want to use technology as a tool, right? But the tools for collaborating and creating are the largest sticking points for others. Teachers get caught up on jargon, on the basic skills of one program or process. They are still so focused on “podcasting” or “dreamweaver” that there is no room for creating the environment in which people will actually want to go beyond the tools, into true learning (you know, what we want our kids to be doing). What, then, is beyond the tools? What should we really be reaching for? The Ripe Environment. The simultaneous personal and public experience of using all of the tools at the teacher’s disposal to tear down walls, collaborate with each another, and question the traditional role of technology in the classroom.

So, how do we get to The Ripe Environment? Well, I have started to reflect on how I became a constant-learner and contributor to this thing I am more and more reluctant to call School 2.0. I want to replicate this process for others, and showing people my flickr account, my account, my blog, my podcast, my pedagogy, my wiki projects, and my twitter account just doesn’t seem to work very well. What does actually work is making sure that they have the right environment so that they can explore these resources on their own, through their own creation.

I am now proposing the 10 prerequisites for collaboration as a way of creating The Ripe Environment in the classroom, in a school, and in a district. There will be quite a few follow-up posts about this topic, but I wanted to get some feedback on what I have already written before I go too far off the deep end. Please leave a comment or e-mail me at

Here they are:

In order for the environment to be ripe for collaboration, educators and learners must:

  1. Have a genuine need to be heard by others and, in one way or another, receive feedback for contributions.
  2. See living examples of collaboration (not case studies or projects from a few years ago) that they can become a part of.
  3. Have the time to connect more than two dots together. (Rather than connecting: “My students need to know this” with “here is the information” they need to have time to connect “My student needs to know this” with “my students need to evaluate this for validity” with “my students need to know how to use this resource to find the information” with “my students need to create new information for others to use.”)
  4. See collaboration as an extension of their natural instincts as a teacher (opening possibilities for learning).
  5. Find the backchannels relevant to them (these backchannels must be encouraged and honored as vital sources of learning).
  6. Know that their products and ideas are valuable.
  7. Understand the marks of successful collaboration. (They have to know what it looks like.)
  8. Accept that questions are both for interdependent and independent learning. (All questions are serious points of inquiry in The Ripe Environment.)
  9. Believe that personal and professional change can never be institutionalized. (Individuals create change, not schools or districts.)
  10. Know that meetings, conferences, and workshops are not the places where the most powerful learning and change takes place.

I will be writing more about each one of these 10 prerequisites, but please let me know what you think about them as stand-alone ideas.


  1. One of the most important blog entries I’ve read in 2+ years, Ben. Thank you for pushing on the right side of the rock as we all head up the steep learning curve.

    Ironically — as a School 2.0 proponent — I’m not sure it was ever about the technologies. From my opinion, it’s always been about fostering 2-way conversations via a “ripe environment”. The tools are just a means to an end or a delightful rabbit hole to explore on occasion.

    Look forward to seeing you develop each of the 10 components in time.


  2. It seems to me your third point is one that gets in the way for the others to even occur. Many teachers see learning as a very linear process for their students, expecially in the age of testing. I personally feel as though the struggle for other educators to foster a ripe environment is that they feel as though the job requires having the conversation dictated by the state/feds. How do we address the conflict between government mandates and the neccessities for the Ripe Environment?

    Thanks for the ‘food for thought’!

  3. One question I have is do we as teachers always realize we have “walls” between us? And do teachers realize their ideas and products have value?

    Most of us teach as though we do. But many teachers I’ve had conversations with, particularly about expressing their ideas through blogging, have expressed to me that they feel they don’t have anything to offer.

    Of course, they have much to offer. If you have a conversation with a teacher, they always have a lot to say about education, about their goals, about what they have tried that works, and about kids.

    It’s the same issue with some students–providing an environment where we support what they have to say and give it credence and value. Tim Tyson talked about this at NECC.

    On point #10, I do believe teachers know that and when given the freedom to chart their own learning, many of them do so and would like to have more opportunities “within” the institution to do so as well.

    I’m intrigued by your term the “ripe environment,” and think you are so right. I heard someone say that we should determine our instructional purpose first and then choose the best tools to carry it out.

    Much to think about. thanks for sharing.

  4. Diana-
    I can’t help but think that most teachers do want students to know how to find information and learning for themselves. The struggle isn’t really with what is being mandated; it is with what isn’t being mandated. The critical inquiry piece should be something that is written into every standard, and the process of learning should be held as paramount. I think that if each teacher takes an inquiry aproach to their content, students will not only know “the stuff,” they will know how to find, evaluate, and create “the stuff.” We are not trying to give one another something extra to do, we are instead trying to provide an environment that allows students to retain all of the information that is “tested.” We all hear about life-long learning, but I think that there is still virtue in knowing. We need kids to be life-long knowers of certain things. We want them to be able to use the math skills that they learned in 9th grade in life, not just in 10-12 grade. The only way to make that happen is to provide a Ripe Environment. I guess that I don’t see the “Standards Movement” and the “School 2.0 Movement ” as being at odds. In fact, I think that the only way to make School 2.0 happen is to make sure that Standards are a part of it. What do you think, though? Can we put both of these (seemingly) opposing forces together and make it work?

  5. Carolyn,
    Thanks for your comment. I really think that your questions are right on, especially about teachers not knowing about the value of their own contributions. How do you think that we can value one onother’s contributions other than by using them in the classroom, or by providing monitary rewards? Do you think that collaborative value is enough to keep people collaborating? It is for me, but perhaps not for everyone.

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  7. I think your last two points are a bit too pessimistic, which is understandable given that most of our current institutions in the US are completely screwed up, in part by design. What is necessary is to create institutions and meetings, etc. that promote individual growth and change. That is very possible, and indeed, essential. Take lesson study in Japan, for example.

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  9. Tom:
    Perhaps the last two statements can be rewritten to make them more positive, but I think that they would not be as descriptive then. I don’t want to define The Ripe Environment by what it is not, but to a certain extent, we have to decide what we really want to change. I believe that most educators already believe that most meetings are not the places where they have the most profound learning. I do not view it as pessimism, but rather, an honest observation.

    I also believe that institutionalized change is called the status quo, and most people already realize this. I’m not sure that it makes sense to beat around the bush with these two statements, but I really would like them to be as applicable to all educators as possible. Does anyone have suggestions for revising them to be more positive, without getting rid of the potency?

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  11. Hi Ben, just listening to your podcasts and belatedly catching up on this post. I believe you are right. It resonates with me, particularly point 10. Will keep following the discussion with interest (from Australia in the grip of winter)

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  13. “3. Have the time to connect more than two dots together.”

    Is time really the issue? There will never be enough time to accomplish everything you want, and if something is really important to you, you will re-arrange things to make time. Connecting the dots shouldn’t be a solitary pursuit; sometimes you encounter a block and can’t make the connection no matter how much time you have. Connecting the dots with at least one other person should maybe be the jumping off point for collaborating.

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  26. This was an excellent post! The idea of interactivity is pervasive throughout the article, and, in my view, the most important factor in the teaching/communication process. And it is not a concept that is solely indigenous to the classroom. Businesses all over this country, both internally, and externally can apply your precepts with equally good effect.
    Collaboration and feedback are essential ingredients of the education/communication process.

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  28. FKJ

    I like your term “ripe environment” with green . I agree with you that all these digital tools will only help us when we integrate these tools in our teaching and create ripe environment. Teachers need to change the environment of teaching. In the end teacher is the only person who can bring change. I believe in interdependent learning and interdependent learning both.

  29. I think that may be the key to figuring out the road to change too. If you
    can place passionate people and not systems that try to remove people from
    the process, you will be guarenteed a better result.

    It is just a little hard sometimes to find those people.

  30. I think that may be the key to figuring out the road to change too. If yourncan place passionate people and not systems that try to remove people fromrnthe process, you will be guarenteed a better result.rnrnIt is just a little hard sometimes to find those people.

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  48. Reinsmoena

    Ben, I do believe that collaborative value is enough, the problem is to get people collaborating in the right way. When teachers are able to do this, they will see the value in it and will continue to want to do this. I have seen how my lessons have become so much better thanks to collaboration. When you provide rewards, incentives, then it becomes a must-work and people tend to no longer see the value in it.

    1. So, collaboration is intrinsic in value. I can see that quite easily. I’mrnjust not sure that everyone does. How can we get more people to know thatrnvalue of adding value to a process or product without needing an extrinsicrnreward?

  49. Julie

    I ‘experience’ that change can only be brought about by people not institutions and, in that regard, I am very lonely. I am working with ’emergence’ in my classroom practice and I need to share and have a dialogue about it with other sympathetic educators so that I can move forward in my own ripe environment and grow in the capacity to facilitate a ripe environment for my pupils. I’m currently ‘following my noise’ and I’ve found you here… and I’m not sure where ‘here’ is. I’m UK based. Where are you?

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