Look deep into the crystal ball…

Innovation is an overplayed word. It has been misused, overused and misunderstood. True innovation though is sexy, smart and seductive. I know that it should go without saying, but real innovation is also truly forward looking. It can be frustratingly incremental at times while at other times it seems to leap forward in the blink of an eye. The incremental piece gets overlooked and we forget that great products are often paradoxically “overnight sensations that were years in the making.” When a truly brilliant idea finally comes to fruition as a usable product, it is the result of some carefully placed and forward thinking early bets by the creators.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both approached an important fork in the tech road; Jobs moved down the path of the “post PC” movement while Gates took the PC path. In the words of Frost (kinda), “(Jobs) took the path less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” Jobs looked into the crystal ball and began to position Apple towards eventual explosive growth. Incremental choices were made  that would ultimately converge into true disruption. Apple’s unveiling of the 5s and the 5c iPhones was an underwhelming event for some. I see it a bit differently. Two things really standout: the Fingerprint Security Ring and the 64Bit chip. The fingerprint security potentially could open up all kinds of integration. Think about the options for purchasing that come from the security of fingerprint level security. The 64bit chip also creates crazy speed and multi-tasking options for the phone. The shift towards mobile moves even faster now. The other key piece to consider is iOS7. It seems to me that the devices are being designed to showcase the operating system. The tech is the peripheral while the operating system takes on even greater importance. These seemingly incremental additions have to potential to eventually to lead to Apple’s next big thing.

Innovation is dependent on an overarching vision that is supported by smaller, integrated and forward thinking bets about the future. It is all about positioning hunches.  The vision of the future might be a bit fuzzy but there is a gut feeling about the correct direction.  At the outset of the creative process, rarely is the final product conceptualized or clearly pictured. Instead there is an understanding of needs, trends and possibilities for change. I have always been a proponent of the coaching adage, “practice makes permanent.” Just like the muscle memory that comes from repeated physical action, there is also institutional memory. This type of memory can be powerful or highly corrosive. In the right environment, the repeated practice creates powerful innovation and productivity. P&G, Apple, Google, Facebook, and numerous other companies are so successful because of the reflective positioning that creates the right institutional memory. Repeatedly bad positioning leads to the type of institutional memory that creates companies like ENRON! Each and every decision that an organization makes adds fuel to a feedback loop (picture the old cartoon image of the snowball rolling down a snowy hill).

In education, we are very much rooted in the now. Decisions are made based on test scores and other accumulated data. Analyzing this data is obviously important BUT it must be used wisely. Test scores are trailing indicators, good glimpses into “what was” that really need to be rethought before trying to use them to project what might be. We need to start being bolder with our interpretations of the data.  We need to use that data to start making important small bets now with an eye towards reaching a grander vision. Just like Steve Jobs aligned Apple with an eye towards the post-PC world, we need to start aligning all decisions towards a post-SCHOOL version of education. Instead of perpetuating and propping up the status quo of bureaucratic education, we have to start positioning our system to handle an “anytime and anyplace” version of education. Decentralization of education is underway and no one has a perfect vision of what the final product will look like. Our goal is to start making the decisions now that allow the learning to bloom. If we don’t, we risk irrelevance and obsolescence.

We have to take a glimpse into the crystal ball and try to make sense of the blurry future staring back at us. Let’s start the positioning of those small bets and hunches in order to create something powerful and self-perpetuating.

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Planning the improbable

The human brain is wired to interpret events in a narrative fashion. Events unfold and the brain seeks patterns and pieces things together to make meaning. In his book, “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out that this property of the brain leads us to believe that history unfolds linearly. If “a” is a currently the accepted mode of thinking, we will likely go along believing that “a” will continue with its dominance. We see this in sports when a team looks a dynasty in the making and all prognosticators will groupthink and pick that team to win before the season starts.

Taleb’s book contends that life is largely shaped by black swan events rather than by straight lines or consistent timelines.  As Taleb says, “History does not crawl, it jumps.”  A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences. For example, the Chicago Bulls were a seemingly unstoppable dynasty with no end in sight until out of the blue, Michael Jordan decided to retire (for the first time) in the prime of his career to play baseball in the Chicago White Sox system. In his absence, a mini-dynasty for the Houston Rockets sprung up, only to be curtailed by the return of Jordan almost two seasons later. In both cases, an improbable act radically altered the NBA landscape.

There are countless examples from countless disciplines and aspects of life highlighting the power of black swans. We don’t see these highly improbable events coming because of the manner in which our brain is hardwired. We place way too much emphasis on past events as a predictor of things to come. After the Cold War was officially dead and buried during the Clinton era, Francis Fukuyama famously stated that: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Great line for selling books but the rapid rise of China and 9/11 radically undermined his sweeping statement.

Black swans don’t necessarily have to be improbable or unforeseen. I believe that we can manufacture them (kinda). Predicting the unpredictable is a tautology but we can set the framework and create the circumstances that might create educational black swans. Any successful organization, be it business, sports, technology or any other sort is able to create the conditions for success. These conditions allow for flexibility, rapid iteration, disruptive innovation, systems learning and creative resource management. While Steve Jobs was most definitely an unmatched visionary, he was not a psychic. There was no way that he could have predicted the iPod or the iPad back in the day but he was able to design the conditions that would allow for such a disruptive device to happen.

In education, we need to start doing a better job of creating the conditions that will foster black swans from our students, teachers, administrators and system leaders. Connective technology will help us to extend our reach and aid in greater knowledge creation. Approaching professional and student learning from an inquiry stance creates a mindset that is open to possibilities. We need to start thinking less about definitive outcomes and a lot more about positive structures.

The educational landscape will most definitely not remain status quo in the coming years. Do we know exactly what it will look like in the near or distant future? Not really to the first and no to the second. We need to stop trying to create packaged or canned views of the future and start fostering a love of learning and a desire to be life-long learners. This will allow our students and us as educators to be adaptive and flexible enough to meet whatever conditions we are to face. That’s why I love the quote in the feature image to this post. When we build connections and look to share more regularly, we impact others and the ripples keep growing.

Being a tourist in your own Education System

Last summer my wife’s aunt and uncle visited us from Cape Town, South Africa. Her uncle wanted to visit all of the major Toronto landmarks. We took the red double-decker sightseeing bus all around the city. I saw parts of my own city that I had never really paid attention to before. Being a tourist in your own city can be  a very enlightening experience.

Taking that tourist approach to your own education system can be equally enlightening. I found this video on Edutopia from the OECD Education Everywhere series about education in Ontario. The video focused on Unionville High School (part of the northern Toronto suburb of Markham ).  Markham is an extremely diverse city with a very large Chinese and south Asian population.

The video paid specific attention to the role of the “Student Success” teacher and the larger Student Success team. The team meets weekly and focuses on coordinating supports for the transition of new Canadian students. The goal is to provide supports for the whole child and not only the academic side.

Additional information and perspectives can be found in this OECD document:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7X-Dkl-q6IfdWZDVFVRNnVHamM/preview

Social Media & Authenticity: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

As I inch closer to my new role in school administration, issues like culture and collaboration occupy a prominent spot in my mind. These are issues that are best approached with a design mentality.  The more integrated the approach, the greater the likelihood of successful implementation. Many initiatives that are rolled out by school boards and local schools are done in a piecemeal fashion. A paint by numbers approach may include all the correct elements but it lacks the impact of the real thing.

Companies that can truly call themselves “social organizations” approach culture and collaboration from a true design perspective and the impact is stunning. Starbucks makes use of social media not just to promote products but to craft an experience. The phone app makes life easier for the customer, a rewards program encourages frequent usage and “My Starbucks Idea” allows consumer to become co-creator. The level of integration makes the customer feel like a partner and the experience becomes truly organic. A complicated process becomes simplified and elegant.

Too often we decry the lack of parental involvement in schools and chalk it up to parental indifference. This mentality would never fly in the private sector. When Starbucks started to lose its way, it lost customers. Coupled with the “Great Recession of 2008”, a juggernaut really stumbled. Howard Schultz did not throw up his arms and blame the customers for not buying his product. He rolled up his sleeves, got back in the game and got busy reengaging his base.Does the education system treat parents and students as co-creators or passive consumers? Profits are a great motivation for change but moral imperative is even more powerful.

School boards should strive to become social organizations. Social media gets a bad rap sometimes from an organizational perspective because it is regarded as primarily a marketing tool. As it stands right now, most boards are guilty of using social media as a marketing tool. Plans are created within the hierarchy and then shared with the stakeholders as done deal via some social media platform. This is reductionism at its best. A powerful tool is stripped of its power and simply becomes a more expedient newsletter. The goal should be co-creation and consultation during the development phase, not simply notification of a completed product.

Fast Company’s Co.Exist recently published an article about how three old school, non-profits have used social media to great effect. Goodwill, The United Way and Red Cross are hardly sexy brands but they are creating a big social media footprint. The strategy was to connect with the support base from a new perspective. Rather than simply soliciting donations , these companies are creating partnerships with potential donors. A community is being developed that can be a source of support in both the short and long term. They have created an affinity for their organization and people are much more willing to lend a hand. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why school boards cannot do the same. People want to feel valued. A recent poll showed that people would be willing to take less pay for a job that made them feel valuable. Parents will make sacrifices if they feel valued. Volunteers teas and the like are wonderful but they do not create a sense of value. Real affinity comes from participation.

Below is a great infographic from Craig Newmark (Craig’s List Founder) showing the use of social media by public organizations.

Education Innovation

We live in a time of rapid innovation in the private sector. This innovation is being fuelled by connecting people through social technology. The walls between creators and consumers are disappearing with the paradigm shifting towards co-creation. The video in the header of this post defines innovation as the culmination of the tri-part process of IDEATE, CREATE, and VALIDATE. If private sector giants like Coke, IBM and P&G can shift course towards a more innovative, social oriented business model, don’t tell me that public education cannot follow suit.

It’s one thing to call for innovative change and define the process but it is an entirely different proposition to create that change. So my fellow educators how do we do it? How do we generate ideas, create innovations, and validate those ideas in an educational context?

It certainly won’t be through accumulating tech toys without purpose behind the acquisitions. It will come from an attitudinal shift that runs throughout the whole system. We must focus on building stronger networks of ideas and people. Secondly, we need to make organizational openness accepted practice.

Kevin Kelly, original executive editor of Wired Magazine, is renowned for his writing about the power of networks. Kelly wrote a piece called the “New Rules for the New Economy”. Amoung Kelly’s ideas include similar calls for more openness and connectivity.

Kelly places tremendous emphasis on the power of connected individuals with shared interests and goals as agents of change. He calls these networks “virtuous circles”. These circles are powerful feedback loops that can increase the rapidity of change through networked interactions. One good idea connects with another individual and that idea begets another and so on and so on. This loop builds on acquired knowledge at an exciting pace.

Key to innovation is also a philosophy of openness. Two of the biggest Tech titans in the world, Google and IBM have embraced open source technology because they have an eye on longer term prosperity. Open source like Linux is not really what I talking about though. A philosophy of idea sharing, with no concept of proprietary professional information, is more akin to the openness of which I speak. Ideas and information must be shared freely throughout a school, a superintendency, and even a board. If the end result of education is student success, then we must leverage every trick in the book.

As educators, we can take advantage of social media to become social organizations and create larger inter-school and inter-board, hell even inter-provincial “virtuous circles” of connected educators. There is no need to wait for a top down solution. Let’s take advantage of resources like Ning, Facebook, Google Groups and the like to connect teachers.

One of the real benefits of networked interactions and a philosophy of openness is nimbleness. It becomes must easier to change direction and deal with emergent problems quickly and effectively, when everyone is apprised of the problem. Networked solutions are also more comprehensive. Rather than allowing macro-educational problems to fester, openness can create a more rapid response. Openness also creates a more engaged work culture because people being to perceive themselves as members of a team rather than as a disconnected employee.

I think that an evaluation of openness should take place in every school. How often are ideas shared? Is information proprietary in your school? Do you have idea “hoarders” and “hermits”? If so, Why? How can we change their mindset? How do we build the trust that is so vital for openness?

I would love to hear from all of the educators out there. What successes have you been witness to regarding openness and networks? What are the challenges? Where do we go next? What tech tools can we use to support this growth?

Over the next few days, I will be sharing some more videos and ideas regarding networked and open innovation. Share your ideas on this post or on Twitter #educationcrowdsource.

Goalbook – Digital IEP Tool

Goalbook Beta Overview from Daniel Yoo on Vimeo.

As schools move toward a full inclusion model for special education, communication regarding students becomes even more important. A student with an IEP may work with several teachers during any given day which can make the tracking of modifications and accommodations difficult. GOALBOOK is a collaborative digital tool that allows teachers to track the progress of special education students based on the specifics of their IEP’s.

To create an account, use your board assigned email address(e.g – xxxxx.xxxxx@tcdsb.org). Once you have created an account, you can add your school and anyone with the same board assigned email stem can join as well. You can add your students and the particulars of their IEP to your own class and add the other teachers that work with that student. They will have access to that student’s progress and will be able to make updates as well. Student progress is tracked graphically and anecdotally. Privacy is protected because only invited teachers will have access to a particular student profile.

The potential for this digital tool is incredible. The more available that any resource is to a user, the more likely that he or she will be willing to use it. Likewise, the easier it becomes to track and coordinate the progress of a student, the more likely that a collaborative model will be used to support the needs of that student.

Crowdsourcing a Solution

UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has established 6 goals to ensure access to education for all citizens of the world. Click on the banner to see the goals:

 

The mission is to achieve these goals by 2015. This deadline will be impossible to meet without a new and more radical course of action. Rather than relying on big money consulting groups and think-tanks, UNESCO has partnered with NOKIA and several other groups to crowdsource the cure. Individuals from around the world are invited to share their ideas for using mobile technology to provide educational opportunities for those in the most remote areas of developing countries.  You can share an idea at: www.ideasproject.com/efa.

This idea can be easily applied to a North American context as well.  There is tremendous insight and collective knowledge in the ranks of each and every school board.  This knowledge just needs to be connected and networked. The power of crowdsourcing lies in the fact that no one individual needs to have the whole answer, each member of the community adds a piece to the puzzle. We have the technology to easily operationalize the age old proverb, “Many hands make light work.” We have to shift away from viewing schools and the individuals within them as isolated entities. Networking with colleagues should not occur at some workshop once or twice a year in a situation that has no context.

Imagine relying on fellow educators to help solve problems rather than have an outside “solution” applied to particular problem.  We can put an end to  “square peg and round hole” answers to localized problems. Tapping into resources like NING, Google+, Google Groups, Facebook, Edmodo, Salesforce Chatter, etc. could easily network schools.

The greatest resource that we have in education is each other.

Crafting Social Media Guidelines for your School

Social media represents the best and the worst of this digital generation. It can create strong collaborative cultures that serve to flatten traditionally hierarchies or it can become a marketing tool for businesses to shill their products.

In her book, “Get Bold”, Sandy Carter (IBM Vice President of Social Business) brings us the concept of a social business. Social business differs from social media in terms of the level of integration into the heart of the business. Social business should be a way of life that promotes openness within an organization and with its customers. We can adapt her concept of a social business to that of social organization in an educational concept. All schools must make use of the best aspects of social media to create an open environment that connects all stakeholders together to promote student success.

The darkside of social media means that schools must have a carefully crafted policy for social media integration. Steven Anderson, prolific blogger from “Blogging about the Web 2.0 Classroom” put together a comprehensive set of guidelines complete with resources to help both schools and boards create guidelines of their own. I have embedded this document into the image below:

Developing a PLN (Personal Learning Network)

I came across this great presentation on Slideshare. It is a tremendous blueprint for educators who want to start using the web to expand their professional and networked knowledge. Regardless of experience with Web 2.0, educators can find value in this presentation.