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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Don’t patronize me!

Raising the level of teacher and/or student engagement is an ever popular topic. Many question how best to raise the level of engagement. I wonder though, should we even be asking that question? or more practically, maybe the question itself IS the problem.

Engagement can be a pretty one-sided venture. Depending on how you approach it, engagement could be viewed as a static activity whereby an individual is investing emotional energy into a fully formulated or prepackaged vision. When a canned board or ministry program is released to the education community, the goal is to engage the teachers and the learners. Success in this case is measured by how willing the participants are to get with the program and put it to work. Is this what we really want? Sounds kind of patronizing to me. Not to be trite or hyperbolic but doesn’t the “no taxation without representation” refrain of the pre-American Revolution times come to mind? You want my engagement but not my involvement in constructing the program or its implementation. Gee, thanks!

Rather than addressing the level of engagement, I think that we need to reflect on the level of participation. Many parts of our lived experience are so entrenched because there were no other options at the time of their creation. Educational programming has been top down in delivery and creation for so long because that made it easier to get the product to market. Connecting large numbers of people to contribute to an idea was either cost and/or location prohibitive. We see this model being chipped away daily thanks to the  rise of connective technology. Rolling out a program without larger participation is no longer done out necessity, now it is a matter of choice. I am by no means suggesting that we run education referendum style where every decision or idea requires the consent or contribution of the entire education community. I do believe though that creation of policy and programs must become much more participatory in nature.

As an administrator, I believe it to be a fool’s mission to drop an idea on a staff without some form of participatory decision making. It doesn’t have to be the whole staff but using your School Improvement Team as key partners in the creation of policy is hugely important. It lifts moral since it doesn’t feel imposed but it also becomes a “smarter” venture because more ideas and viewpoints were added to the puzzle. This is not a difficult proposition because it is done within a single school. The challenge comes when you try to scale this type of participation to a system level. Connective technology makes this type of large scale participation possible. The doubters will claim that the level of participation will likely be low. SO WHAT? I am an administrator in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. We have approximately 9000 staff directly involved in learning (teachers, support staff and P/VP’s). Even if an open challenge initiative was to receive response from 1% of that population, that’s 90 people. Ninety new views, ideas or even idea fragments added to the pool of innovation. A slick campaign that combines substantive issues, good presentation design and heavy celebration of success is bound to attract more users with each iterative attempt.

21C is about opening up traditionally closed structures. It is about approaching problems from new and broad-based perspectives. It would be hypocritical to preach collaboration as a new world virtue to our students without doing it ourselves. This small example of a Twitter conversation has HUGE potential for student learning. An enlightened and open educator, Ms. Heidi Siwak puts out this amazing invitation and another amazing teacher Stepan Pruchnicky directs it to myself and the TCDSB SEF Lead Jan Murphy based on his knowledge of a collaborative inquiry of which we are a part. Sandra Mustacato from AICT joins and hopefully carries this on to her circle.

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OpenIDEO scales this idea to a worldwide reach. IDEO partners with various NGOs, companies and non-profits to open large scale social problems to proposed solutions from the global community. The process is an intricate but accessible one, far beyond just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Ideas are put through a rigorous design process to reach a workable solution based on communal decision making.

E-waste is a global problem that should be open to a global response. The goal is not have people engage with a ready made solution rather the goal is for large scale participation. Education has always been a complex entity. We must start to harness the collective energy and ideas of our learning community. I truly believe that if we want 21C fluencies to take root and eventually bloom, we must cultivate a participatory culture. It is time to move way beyond engagement and think participation.

Open-sourcing Education

 

IDEO is a leading design firm that has entered into the field of social innovation. They are using design principles to solve MAJOR global issues, for example How might we restore vibrancy in cities and regions facing economic decline? The site aggregates ideas from participants and follows a process leading to action. This open-source approach uses technology as a vehicle to CONNECT. Check out the video below for a quick overview:

We need a forum to connect these ideas. Its time to value the knowledge within the system and use technology to connect educators in a revolutionary and solutions based manner. What would the educational version look like?