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How innovative is an education project?

In a recent article, the NY Times told the story of technology giants that have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale. DreamBox Learning – spondored by Netflix –  developed a math-teaching program that use artificial intelligence to adapt math lessons to students. The math program worked a bit like the software Netflix used to customize its video recommendations. At Summit Public Schools – sponsored by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg – Summit’s platform came to show students every lesson they will need to complete for the year and they may tackle lessons in any order working at their own pace.

Innovation in education is often confusing and questions quickly arise: Are we fascinated by the power of data or by the children capacity to learn on their own? Are we impressed by the absence of teachers or by the redefinition of their role? And above all, is it really new and does it really work?

There are no answers yet but we all acknowledge the importance of designing innovative education projects without knowing always how to do it.

I will suggest 10 criteria that could characterize an education project.

 

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1- Innovative learning experience

An education project should foster student’s ability to learn how to learn and develop as a human being.

2- Participatory Method

An education project should recognize the unique capacity of children to engage with essential problems in their community and lead the change by bringing new solutions.

3- Sustainable impact

An education project must have a long-lasting effect in the school enabling the staff to take full ownership of the project, integrate it into the school’s global project and improve it constantly.

4- Creativity 

Educative projects should enhance students’ creativity, make them think differently, unveiling their talents and helping each of them to take the best of them.

5 – Teacher’s role

Projects need to be designed from the perspective of the teacher rather than using him as a mere instrument for projects that have been designed neither with him nor for him. Teachers should be directly involved in project’s monitoring and evaluation.

6- Knowledge activation

An education project is not so much about the quantity of knowledge it deals with but about the opportunities provided to students to activate knowledge in real-life situations.

7- Behaviour change

An educational project is a transformation tool enabling behavioral changes on a number of issues. Students as individuals and in groups should be empowered to investigate a problem, design solutions, take actions and evaluate them.

8. Families’ involvement

An education project has to be inclusive and take into account multiple learning spaces, thus strengthening family participation in the learning process. The intergenerational dimension of learning is essential to social and family cohesion.

9. Community impact

An education project should have a transformative, multiplying and long-lasting impact in the surrounding community involving local actors in a shared learning experience.

10. Contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Any education project should consider all SDGs as a transversal priority for the whole learning process and should directly contribute to the goals’ achievements.

 

“Most likely to succeed”

Is change in education most likely to succeed? We are such in a hurry to see it happen that we are ready to do almost anything and pay whatever may be needed to change education NOW!
Edtech entrepreneurs, policymakers, thought leaders share the same urgency –  for different reasons – to make change happen. We built over the years strong research evidence that demonstrate why and how change could happen. We got convinced that evidence was enough to engage teachers and principals in the change process. We forgot some basic questions: Why would they change, who would drive the change, what is the change about?
Designing the change is not an easy path. I asked my friend Yishay Mor a very naive question: how do you engage teachers into change? Remember, he said, “the first step in design is empathy”. Understanding who is your target audience, what are their needs, desires, fears, constraints. Finding them “where they are” and taking them to “where they want to go”.
Urgency makes us believe that “teachers are generically at school” and that it is more important to know “where we want them to go” than “where they want to go”.
Unfortunately designing the change has rules that are difficult to change and that we are prompt to forget. The first one is that “designing for anyone i.e. any teacher” is equivalent to “designing for no one”.
To make change in school most likely to succeed, we must take time to understand what are the concerns of the teachers, how do they learn, exchange, construct knowledge. We must build personas, empathy maps, force maps, transition matrices… that will best reflect what teachers are really into. We must identify their learning instruments: Do they meet? Use whatsapp groups? Facebook? Take courses? Register for MOOCs?
To do that, we must enter the schools, listen to teachers, co create the path with them. A new report on Evidence-informed teaching concluded that “most teachers were unlikely to be convinced by research evidence on its own: they needed to have this backed up by observing impact themselves or hearing trusted colleagues discuss how it had improved their practice and outcomes for young people”.
Teachers need informed debate from the inside. And there are multiple ways to initiate it: a documentary like “Most likely to succeed” can launch a debate as it has been proven in hundreds of schools all over the world. But debate only makes sense in a well-designed and timely framework addressing teacher’s attention, passion, information, knowledge, action, habit, identity.

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Community learning

What is community learning?

Let’s imagine people with “common needs engaging in shared discussions that will continue and grow over time, leading to complex webs of personal relationships and an increasing sense of identification with the overall community”. This is how John Hagel describes virtual community and this is how we could describe any learning community.

Take a school or a company. Students or employees get together on a daily basis, they share discussions, develop relationships and a common identity.  They build joint ownership, trust, mutual understanding.

I’d like now to take a sideway, sit in a park, enter a metro station or a public library, meet, listen, talk to people, start a dialogue. Another way to explore community learning.

Learning anywhere, anytime… Dismounting learning boundaries… (Re)discovering learning spaces.

Real and virtual worlds collide. Social networks boundaries get blurred. Real people meet in a coffee shop and later in Second Life.

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Can it be sustained?

Social interactions are central to learning. They can grow or disappear as quickly as they grew.

Any learning space, a park or a classroom has to be sustainable.

We use Hagel’s metrics to identify three main sustainability indicators any learning space’s designer should pay attention to:

- Return on Attention (RoA) – a learner has little attention to give and many options from which to chose -;

- Return on Information (RoI) – a learner has to share a lot of information about his aspirations and needs and requires a lot in return -;

- Return on Skills (RoS)– a learner wants to see his/her talent develop quickly.

A learning space is like any transactional space: exposed to harsh competition. Hopefully, this is above all a competition for happiness!

The learner power

One of the conclusions of the “Education and Skills for Life Report” is in words of  Sir Michael Barber, Chief education advisor at Pearson, that ”even the highest-performing countries in The Learning Curve Index are far from providing education that would ensure every single student is prepared for informed citizenship and 21st century employability.”

This may mean that an improvement in the education systems alone will never be sufficient to respond to people’s needs and expectations. Education is increasingly happening outside schools and universities. And the power of education can’t be easily controlled.

The “Learner power” may well be a new descriptor for the revolution that is taking place and the expression of a complex reivindication to learn the way we want. Learners claim for the right to design their own learning path, identify their own learning sources, create their own learning contents. Learning and learners can’t be confined any longer by school’s walls.

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Learners see themselves as makers and have the capacity to transform the communities they live in. They may not need the schools we know to but innovative learning spaces where knowledge can flow freely, be used, transformed and reused by others. Learning in the street, in a park, in a public library, at home… explode the boundaries of all education systems.

The transformation that is taking place from the inside of the systems, changing curricula, training teachers, introducing technology are therefore nothing compared to what is happening outside. Instead of strengthening the systems and improving them, it might be more efficient to prioritize the “learner power”, fostering peer learning and mentoring, acknowledging informal learning and creating learning hubs at the community level that will progressively complement then substitute our schools.

Svenia Busson, one of her newest education thoughtleader is starting her edtech tour in Europe. Her journey takes us closer to the “learner power” at the periphery of these education systems that can’t be reinvented from the inside.

 

 

 

Dar tiempo al tiempo

Education is in a hurry to change. PISA has just been released and ministers all over the work are going crazy to innovate and improve. For them, time is an issue. In other words, they need change NOW! Time has always been an issue: it takes too long to innovate, too long to change the sytem.

Time is certainly the most crucial problem raised by teachers when they are asked about innovation in the classroom. Time is a “scarce good”. Teachers need time to prepare their lessons. They need time to teach. They need time to spend with their students, listen to them, help them. They need time to investigate new methods, new tools. They need time to train. They need time to work with their colleagues on joint projects, time to spend with the headmaster, … Time they simply don’t have.

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Students also require time to study, time to do their homework. They need time to team up with their mates and jointly work on projects, time to think and investigate. They need time to relax and play. A time they usually don’t have. They also require time from their teacher to help them learn better, time from their parents to get guidance… time none of them usually have.

The paradox is well known: (good) Education needs time that no one has! Time is a key challenge for education entrepreneurs. Innovation in education should enable teachers and students “buy back” the precious time they need to teach and learn better. Often innovative solutions are too complex and take too long to be implemented in school. Innovative solutions for the classroom should be time efficient, respectful of both teacher’s and student’s time constraints.

“Dar tiempo al tiempo” (give time to time) could very well be the new edtech challenge.

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