The Goal of Edtech: Transparent, Tangible and Trustworthy

This post Lies at the intersection of 3 recent events:

  1. My intuition (and experience) on the need to make tech easy for teachers to adapt into practice
  2. A recent post by Jose Ferreira on Big Data and the Mathematics of Effectiveness and
  3. Comments of charter school educators I heard at the recent NYEdTech Meet up on 4-15

First, I believe that design should be an important factor in the coming ed tech revolution in educational practice.  Tech must be designed in 1 of 2 ways.  Either design it in a way that it can easily be adapted to existing practice (one comment at nyedtech was; “I don’t have 2 professional development days to learn a new computer program”.) or we should see a redesign of practice that is both relatively easy to implement and worth the effort.  I believe that real progress will require some type of redesign, but it has to fit the larger picture of what is needed in education as it evolves into a data intensive practice and it must make teacher’s work more productive.  Anything that increases the workload will not cut it.  My own take is in some version of the flipped classroom that involves adapted learning.  Lower level knowledge tasks are handled by technology and are linked to higher level skills that are more teacher intensive.

Data intensive technology is certainly the future of education, but as InBloom has highlighted, people are very sensitive about students data.  InBlooms CEO Iwan Streichenberger and Jose Ferreira both characterize this sensitivity as a misunderstanding, however this mischaracterizes and trivializes valid concerns.  For data to have meaning, it must be embedded in practice.  What critics of InBloom were mostly worried about were potential problem in practice.  The Reuters Article K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents, Quotes Frank Catalano:

“The hype in the tech press is that education is an engineering problem that can be fixed by technology,” said Frank Catalano of Intrinsic Strategy, a consulting firm focused on education and technology. “To my mind, that’s a very naive and destructive view.”

Frank also recommends:

We need to pull back and think small, not big.  . . .  By precisely packaging and identifying what data is gathered, how it will be analyzed (or “mined”), and what result is anticipated, you remove the vague what-ifs. Everyone is then judging discrete products that can be understood, poked, prodded and dissected.  . . .  Transparent. Tangible. Aiming for trust. It’s not a perfect plan. But it sure as hell has got to be better than what’s happening now.

Finally there was a comment by Dr. Eric Tucker of the Brooklyn Lab School on the schools role in identity formulation.  This wasn’t highlighted in the wrap-up, but I think it deserves recognition that the impact of data should be conceived as a educational outcome, not the solution of an engineering problem.  Students are not widgets.  Nore are they data points.  We must not loose sight that we are building educated people and the core of that process is found in identity formulation.

#CCK11 – The Bias in Frames are an Integral Part of Design, Innovation and Education

Serendipity drawns me back into the frames discussion, this time through Jon Kolko’s Magic of Design series on the Fast Company Design Blog.  This post also relates to an assertion that the arts are integral to the 21 Century economy.  Most people’s everyday work lives operate in something close to a scientific orientation, but we still need access to a more biased and creative orientation.  Integrating the arts into our social workspaces give us inspiration to add design thinking to this workspace and the process is explained through Jon Kolko’s Magic of Design.

I’ve previously discussed Jon’s first 2 posts on a process for innovation and providing work space to explore deviant ideas.  His last post in this series is about the importance of bringing frames, perspectives and biases to the design process.  The statement: “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time” is attributed to F Scott Fitzgerald.  To participate in design processes, the trick is to bring both diversity and this type of intelligence to your processes.  In this case, we can not ignore science as a way of driving our actions, but we also need creative innovation, and in some ways science and innovation are at opposing ends of a spectrum.  Sometimes we need to embrace our biases.  As Jon explains it:

For as a designer stands in front of a whiteboard in a war-room, surrounded by anecdotes, quotes, pictures, sketches, and working models — and searching for a new, innovative, and persuasive idea — she is relying on her ability to connect something in her own life with something in the data she’s gathered. She is purposefully applying a frame of bias to objective, empirical data, in order to produce something new.

This is called sensemaking.  . . . the interplay of action and interpretation rather than the influence of evaluation on choice.”  . . . all of this (design activity) is useless if the people doing the synthesis aren’t very interesting. Synthesis requires a team of varied and highly eclectic designers who are empowered to embrace their biased perspectives. . . . Groundbreaking design doesn’t come through statistical regression testing, metrics, and causality. It comes from the richness of a biased perspective on the world.

Here is the primary Issue: How do we hold the multiple perspective as important and shift between them on an everyday bases?  There is no place where this is more important than in education.  What kind of Environment can help us to function better in this way?

Encouraging Innovation, Demystifying Design

This post is based on Jon Kolko’s Fast Company’s design blog post and follows Jon’s previous post on design synthesis here and a post on playfulness here.

Demystifying design could be a good theme of Jon’s posts.  Today he looks at the relation of playfulness to innovation and the work cultural requirements in three points.

Embrace dynamic constraints.

Any design or artistic endeavor needs constraints to focus participant activities within an endless universe of possibilities.  Jon’s point is that the best art accepts constraints and then selectively finds innovation by stepping outside of those constraints.  Hence, accept constraints, but also accept the possibility that constraint may take on a dynamic character.  Encourage a culture of functional flexibility.

Provide a Runway (Space) to Explore Deviant Ideas

Don’t allow decision processes to squash deviant ideas during design processes, even conflictual ideas.

The notion of being playful is to appreciate and encourage divergent thinking and the shifting, flexing, and removing of constraints. Play is about exploring “what-if” scenarios; that is, dream states. Our lives, jobs, and compensation are so frequently tied to rational thought that we have often forgotten how to actively dream, yet these dreams — the ability to generate ideas, outlandish or otherwise — are at the core of design innovation. Design synthesis embraces this divergent dreaming.

Encourage Flow and Autonomous Decision Making

Jon references psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow; an “automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness.”   I diverge with Jon on this point.  I like the idea of flow, but I’m going with Hagel’s  knowledge flows, not Csikszentmihalyi’s version, which I think takes us back toward magical thinking.  I interpret Hagel’s flow as much more than a rational process.  It is a social, emotional and unpredictable process that has some similarities with Jon’s approach.  It fits the idea of playful design spaces, but doesn’t depend specifically on a hard to define altered state of consciousness, which may or may not be available when they are needed.

How Do You Innovate

Jon Kolko wrote How Do You Transform Good Research Into Great Innovations? on the fast company design blog.  I would summarize his view as design synthesis which involves:

  1. Visualize your data
  2. Search for Patterns
  3. Develop and experiment with different models (his definition of models = a visual representation of an idea, an artifact)

A good process.  This point is important:

Because these are thinking tools, tools for synthesis, there’s only one wrong way to do this: not doing it at all. Looking at the data and talking about the data doesn’t count. If it isn’t modeled, written, drawn, and otherwise solidified in an artifact, it never happened. (Emphasis added)

A “Clean-Sheet” Perspective for Education: A Rationale Derived from Hagel and Brown

Interesting HBR article: Innovation Blowback: Disruptive Management Practices from Asia (Hagel & Brown, 2003).

Their main point

Companies offshore production to cut wages, gain access to skills and capabilities and seek new markets, but they fail to gain more than a small affluent segment of these emerging markets because they do not seek the level of innovations to target the demands of the larger low-wage market.  Long-term they then are often undercut by the local companies that do seek this level of innovation.

What do the authors recommend:

  1. Specialize, develop partnerships and orchestrate the resulting process network to extend your capabilities.
  2. Develop open collaborative environments and orchestrate innovation within these partnership networks.
  3. It is not enough to strip costs from existing products.  Instead, redesign products and processes from a “Clean-sheet” perspective in a way that amplifies your own distinctive capabilities and those of the partners in your network.

Relevance for Education

Whether it’s high school dropouts, workers needing re-training, organizations with new learning demands, higher expectations from graduates, or a multitude of other new demands for learning; we too are facing new and different “markets” for learning.  It is not enough just to make small adjustments to existing systems that were designed for other demands.  We need to redesign our educational products and processes by innovating within our own capabilities and by seeking open network partnerships to extend those capabiities.

The Focus of Education

American Design Schools Are a Mess, and Produce Weak Graduates by Gadi Amit

In this fast company article Gadi says:

The first five years in a designer’s career are absolutely critical and the true educational experience. A young designer must appreciate that opportunity to mature while on the job and take nothing for granted. A willingness to do anything and everything he or she can to get experience and learn, from the ground up, should be reinforced by the schools.  . . . — your first job is your true MA, your best chance to establish a career path, your opportunity to work on the coolest projects . . ..

First a revision to the thoughts behind my posts of 11-23 and 11-12.   Schooling and development are very important and much of the structure to our educational institutions is appropriate.  We need to introduce students to traditional ways of thinking and knowing and then help them find new ways of thinking and knowing.  But this is the beginning of education, not the end.  Students, and indeed, all of us need support as we address real world context and achieve Morin’s contextualization principle of knowledge.  This is what Gadi is referencing, contextualization from the ground up.  This is where we need personal learning networks in the broadest of conceptions.  Peers, mentors, coaches, customers, digital acquaintances from around the world, textual friends from our readings; we need all kinds of help to find our ways and we need institutions, learning structures, designed environments and the like to help us achieve this type of learning network.

This is the task assigned to us by Hagel and Brown: to find a new common sense for how to operate in this 21st Century Economy.

Some Factors that Support Creativity and Innovation

A couple articles relevant to my 12-6 post, which may also form the beginnings of a partial psychological explanation of Richard Forida’s Spikey World and Creative Class theories.  (Note – Florida’s data is primarily a correlative macro-analysis, however, these theories must also function and be analyzable at a micro level in a way that represents people’s everyday relationships.)

First, the opposite perspective – What will not help Education

Recent news is reporting on America’s falling test scores and the potential dire consequences if improvement is not found.  Now, I really can’t make a judgement without delving deep into the data, but I suspect that the most direct route to improving test scores will be some form of discipline and it will be exactly the opposite of what would help us devise a competitive advantage vis a vis the rest of the world.  Test scores are not the answer.  The answer is innovation for business and economic success.

How to Create Innovation and a 21st Century Economy: Play

I’ll examine 2 articles that make the case for the importance of play and a positive playful attitude for creation and innovation. Furthermore, read below the surface and you will find that this is not just for children.  A playful attitude is important wherever creativity is needed and today that is almost everywhere.

Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving by Benedict Carey

Main point –

. . . people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused . . . positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.  . . . “It’s imagination, it’s inference, it’s guessing; and much of it is happening subconsciously,” said Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of “The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life.”  “It’s all about you, using your own mind, without any method or schema, to restore order from chaos,”. . .

Those whose brains show a particular signature of preparatory activity, one that is strongly correlated with positive moods, turn out to be more likely to solve the puzzles with sudden insight than with trial and error . . . “At this point we have strong circumstantial evidence that this resting state predicts how you solve problems later on,” Dr. Kounios said, “and that it may in fact vary by individual.”

The second article is from Fast Company’s Design Blog; Frog Design: The Four Secrets of Playtime That Foster Creative Kids

There is a myth, common in American culture, that work and play are entirely separate activities. I believe they are more entwined than ever before. As the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.” A playful mind thrives on ambiguity, complexity, and improvisation—the very things needed to innovate and come up with creative solutions to the massive global challenges in economics, the environment, education, and more. . . . How then can we get our youngest generation to embrace the role of designer rather than (game) player? Fundamentally, it starts by letting children be the inventors of play.

The article recommends 4 ways to make this happen.

  1. Open Environments – open environments are those in which the child gets to be the author and the medium is open to interpretation.
  2. Flexible Tools – Part of being open is being flexible. Technology has given us a whole new set of tools, though they’re being used in ways not necessarily planned for.
  3. Modifiable Rules – Being open and flexible within parameters is necessary and even helpful, but what happens when the parameters themselves no longer fit our needs?
  4. Superpowers – the physical and mental skills that we develop to adapt and thrive in a complex world while exploring the creative opportunities made possible by global progress.  . . . It’s crucial to understand that we aren’t born with playful minds, we create them.  . . . When 85 percent of today’s companies searching for creative talent can’t find it, will more focus on standardized curriculum, testing, and memorization provide the skills an emergent workforce needs? Not likely. Play is our greatest natural resource. In the end, it comes down to playing with our capacity for human potential. Why would we ever want to limit it? In the future, economies won’t just be driven by financial capital, but by play capital as well.  (Emphasis added)

The Play Ethic

In the Afterword to the book Education in the Creative Economy (Play, the Net, and the Perils of Educating for the Creative Economy) Pat Kane speaks of a new basis for work informed by the play ethic (and a new common sense):

(A)fter the obsolescence of the work ethic . . . (t)he play ethic is an alternative belief-system that asserts that in an age of mass higher education, continuing advances in personal and social autonomy, and ubiquitous digital networks (and their associated devices), there exists a surplus of human potential and energy that will not be satisfied by the old workplace routines of duty and submission.

Kane calls neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal) the basis of our biological non-specialization that allows us to respond uniquely to unusual circumstances.

(W)e are not determined by our environment, but make and construct our worlds? This is mirrored by the “permanent precarity of jobs,” where we wander nomadically from one cloud in the nebulous world of labor markets to another.

While this state has the potential to produce anxiety, it also holds the possibility to unleash the “constitutive power of play” that can be productively used, especially if we can wed it to a resilience and supportive infrastructure

A Cognitive Aesthetic for Everyday Design

Interesting article in the recent issue of the e-journal  Cognition & Culture titled The Logic of Disorder: A Dynamic View of Cognitive Aesthetics by S. Schartman, who states (from the abstract):

In observing various patterns of organization I have come to a . . . conclusion that there is a neg­entropic drive towards order . . . (and) an entropic drive (germinating from human phenomenology) towards chaos . . . along an order/disorder axis.  As these drives follow along this continuum in opposite directions a tension, or force dynamic relationship is created  . . . that results in aesthetic appeal or dynamism and is a discrete character of the cognitive underpinnings of the aesthetic experience.

Schartman provides examples of how the effects of this “force dynamic relationship” can be seen at work in numerous artistic works, but I think that this is a good model of, shall I call it, an aesthetic impulse that has much wider analytic application to everyday life and many everyday activities.  (I think Schartman might agree with this interpretation, but she only specifically addresses artistic, not everyday works.) That this model provides a useful analysis is especially true in light of what has been called the experience economy, the wide application of design thinking, and the idea of pull platforms.  I think this model of aesthetics can be a useful mode of analysis when superimposed on other interpretations of what is happening in the world.  (Note; I’m not thinking of order /  disorder as good / bad, but rather as the raw material / experience (phenomena) out of which an aesthetic mode can be used as a way to create one’s life.)

Example 1, Hagel Brown & Davison’s concept of “Pull”.

Previous management methods primarily strove to help organizations improve performance by increasing order and predictability.  The problem, as Hagel et al point out; this method’s progress seems to have peeked in that further performance improvements have been conforming to a decreasing returns curve.  Hagel et al point out that things are swinging away from the idea that increased order = performance improvement.  We’re heading towards the idea that performance is now being driven by open networks where progress is ruled by serendipity.  He is not advocating for chaos, but his method of “pull” could be described as a method for creating the conditions where an aesthetic experience can occur, an experience that better uses the order / chaos tension to generates innovation and progress.

Example 2 – The proliferation of design thinking in many disciplines.

I’ve spoken before of the application of design principles to many different situations not usually thought of as amendable to a design aesthetic.  I gave examples for why I thought  this was occurring including the following:

  • The design of our world is not just for decoration, the design of the world (like Peirce’s semeiotics) reflects who we are and who we are reflects the design of the world.
  • Tools (artifacts, concepts, theories, etc. . .) are needed to act on the world.  Science is not just about experiments.  It’s also about developing innovative, new cognitive artifices that bring new understanding about the world, help us to act in new ways and can become aesthetic instruments for conducting and creating our lives.

Example 3 – The Experience Economy

For much of human history, securing sufficient food was a major problem that was solved by the agricultural revolution.  Securing shelter and clothing was a problem solved by the industrial revolution.  These material concerns are being commoditized and what constitutes their quality is determined by the experiences they help us create in our lives.  Therefore, the quality of our life can be seen by the quality of our experience, especially in the aesthetics of our everyday experience.  The struggle between order and chaos can be viewed as the backdrop for the creative development as the artist of our own lives.

From Push to Pull: It Will Change What Education Means

Ever since I first read about the concept of post-fordism in the early 90s, I have felt that there was a new educational world taking shape; one that would have a profound effect on society.  Hagel, Brown & Davison’s The Power of Pull (2010) provides the best explanation I found yet that gives voice to and makes sense of this feeling.

The idea of pull logically grows out of the author’s conception of how the world is changing, which they call the “Big Shift”; change that is coming in three waves.

First Wave – Access –

  1. The growth of the digital infrastructure and open trade policies provide access to instant information, communication and allows economic activity and the means of production to easily flow anywhere around Thomas Friedman’s flat world.
  2. Why it is changing things – The opposite of pull is push; predicting where information and resources will be needed and pushing it out to those locations.  This is becoming a problem because:
    1. the world is changing faster than organizations are able to predict and
    2. people who have mastered the methods of pull, and are supported by the 1st wave, are able to allocate resources more effectively and efficiently.
  3. What does it mean – Organizations that continue to push in critical areas will find it increasingly difficult to compete with organizations that can reorganize around pull.

Second Wave – Attract –

  1. How do you make use of 1st wave capabilities?  Just because you can access the worlds information does not mean you can tell what’s important and how to use it.  People are the resource that helps us to interpret and make use of 1st wave capabilities, but it is a resource that can’t be predicted.  What is needed are robust networks of people in which knowledge is flowing freely enabling the ad-hock connections that make information useful.  The knowledge you need is out there, but you need a network to help you find it an form it into a useful form.
  2. Why it is changing things – More than knowledge, you need access to the knowledge flows that are at the heart of networks of people committed to solving the same problems that you are.
  3. What does it mean – The knowledge stocks you possess are depreciating rapidly and are already less valuable that the ability to tap into knowledge flows.

Third Wave – Achieve –

The wave is not yet clearly formed because it is just beginning.  Hagel et al have predicted that, as more and more organizations harness the power of pull, it will have a transformative effect on general society.

How Will Pull Change Education

The idea of “Pull” (Hagel, Brown & Davison, 2010) will change the way we orient ourselves to just about every aspect of education and learning.  Here is a list of some:

  • Leadership – Most discussions of leadership focus on how to develop individual leaders who then lead (push out change toward) other people.  Simple models of leadership risk over simplifying what is a complex, collaborative and integrative process.
  • Curriculum – Most curriculum pushes knowledge out, but what is needed is the ability to join in with robust learning networks that can attract the most valuable knowledge flows toward us.  Skills are needed, background knowledge is needed, but collaborative networking is the real source of value.
  • Educational Institutions – These bodies previously nailed down the core knowledge that professionals needed, but Hagle et al argue that today’s important knowledge flows on the edge where people are wrestling in creative spaces “with how to match unmet needs with unexploited capabilities and uncertainty” (p. 53).  Institutions need to become “platforms to amplify (the quality and diversity of) networks of social and professional relationships” (Hagel et al, p.107) and to encourage people to identify and pursue their passions. (parenthesis added).  We need institutions that can serve as creation spaces to “scaffold scalable colaboration, learning and performance improvement” (Hagel et al p. 139).
  • Being an educated person. That used to mean knowing a lot of stuff, but to pull something different is needed:
    • A disposition for exploring the new, the unexpected, and the patience and listening skills to perceive what is going on at a deeper level.
    • finding ways for people to find us and for us to find relevant others,
    • relationship skills for deepening our networks,
    • a comfort level for living on the creative edge.

If anyone reads this and thinks of more, or disagrees, please comment and thanks!

    Architecture for Learning: The Importance of the Built Environment

    Recently I’ve been reading Hagel, Brown and Davison’s From Push to Pull and  Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City and have come to the conclusion that architecture and the design of physical and social space is important to learning and education.  Both books suffer to a certain extent because they are based on data that is primarily correlational not causal, but they do help to make a strong case that:

    1. Learning throughout one career(s) is more important that ever for individual and organizational success.
    2. Social space is important to enable and deepen learning.  The conversations and social interactions we are involved in have a strong effect our thinking and the built environment could have a significant impact on shaping social interaction.
    3. While the internet has enabled conversation without regard for distance,  most social interaction still our in physical space and tacit aspects of learning are still important.
    4. The physical and social design of space has an important effect on who we find in our spaces and what conversations we have there.  I think this is especially true for people together from different disciplines.
    5. Most new knowledge and new ideas today require creative processes, most creative process depend on synthesis and the cross-disciplinary fertilization of new ideas, the design of social space is important in bringing about cross-disciplinary fertilization.

    Let’s bring another idea into play, the movement from the production of products to the production of experience.  Apple makes money selling various computing devices, but they compete on the basis of consumer’s computing experiences.  The desire fro experience will also change builders and architects.

    I think Rob Pitingolo’s post make a good point about choosing where to live when he says:

    (A)menities are great once you’re settled in a city. But they aren’t necessarily the things that draw people there in the first place.  Now, ask someone who is transplanting themselves to a city like New York or Chicago and there is a decent chance they will say the things they find appealing include: the vibrancy, the energy, the freshness, the opportunity, the culture.

    Rob is right when he goes on to say that these are abstract ideas, but I would also say that what these people are really looking for is the quality of their everyday experience.  That is the job of architecture today; to design social spaces around experiences.  And it is not just for individuals either.  If I am the CEO of a biotech start-up, a bank, or any business that depends on innovation, I care not only about who to hire, but also about putting them in the social space where they can be most effective.  I need them to be someplace that is fresh, vibrant and full of good energy. The American Institute of Architects discusses designing spaces for knowledge communities, but John Hagel et al make it clear that these communities need to go far beyond the university campus to our everyday spaces.  Yes, you want to hire smart people, but their most important learning will occur after you hire them and you want them in a space where their learning and success can be maximized.

    Architects have designed amazing buildings, but we also need amazing communities and architects also have an important role there.