Monday, June 29, 2015

R&D - the essential conditions

One of the most important aspects of successful R&D in schools is to consider the essential conditions that are necessary to grow the innovation from ideas to impact on learning.  Chapter 5 of R&D Your School outlines the 8 essential elements for this growth:

  1. Empowered leaders - which includes the framework within the school, a process for prototyping new practices and approaches and a commitment to innovation.
  2. Engaged communities - both within the school and beyond.  It is essential to develop partnerships in the global community.
  3. Intrinsic motivation - as it is impossible to force people to change.  At the heart of motivation are agency to make decisions and to act, expertise (knowledge and skills) and connection with peers to share the work.
  4. Future connection - it's important to understand global trends and how these will impact learning.
  5. Skill capacity - including recruiting curious, self-directed individuals and then encouraging professional learning and applied practice focused on innovation.
  6. Resource capacity - including a budget, facilities and materials.
  7. Design thinking competence embedded as a core process for research, capacity building and innovation (for example an always beta culture of ongoing development)
  8. Impact validity - R&D work is democratically developed using multiple perspectives, deepens understanding and provides new answers and new questions.  It's important that data is used to support R&D conclusions and that R&D work and its impact on learning is communicated to the community.
Chapter 5 of R&D Your School contains more information about all of these essential conditions as well as an outline of an innovation audit that can be used to assess whether your school is ready for effective R&D work.  This will help you to identify the important conditions that you need to grow, in order for innovation to succeed in your school.  If you would like a copy of R&D Your School it's available on Kindle and costs just $5.

If you would like to know more about how ASB can help you, please visit ReD Solutions which contains information about school innovation, technology integration, Maker, Design Thinking, social entrepreneurship and collaboratives.

How do you decide what to research?

This afternoon I will be manning the ReD Studio booth at ISTE.  The title of this blog post represents the most common question asked whenever I mention that ASB has an R&D Department.  Chapter 3 of R&D Your School contains a lot of information about where our R&D topics come from, and outlines the 4 main drivers that are used to ensure our topics are relevant and focused on the needs of our students:
  1. Current and emerging global trends - which are shaping our world and will shape the world of the future.
  2. Major relevance to ASB's mission and core values.
  3. Significant potential advantage to current teaching and learning.
  4. A sudden urgency to meet unexpected needs.
So how do these play out in reality?  Let's look at some of our recent R&D topics and see how they relate to the 4 main drivers:
  • Games Based Learning - this was a Task Force from 2011 (which later became Gamification) and was researched and prototyped because it has a significant advantage for current teaching and learning.
  • Mobile Learning - this was a Task Force from 2012 and was researched and prototyped because of current and emerging global trends.
  • Maker Mindset - this was a Task Force from 2013 and was chosen because of its advantage to teaching and learning and because Maker is an emerging global trend.
  • Social Entrepreneurship - this was a Task Force from 2014 and was chosen because of it being both an emerging global trend and because it has major relevance to our school mission and values.
Of course it's not just a matter of selecting topics, we also want to ensure that we can implement these topics in the context of teaching and learning at ASB.  To decide on this we look at the plus factors that will enable us to develop these topics and successfully and various areas of the school in order to really innovate teaching and learning.  These plus factors are as follows:
  1. Potential impact - there must be a significant advantage over what already exists.  Without this R&D will not make a meaningful impact or return on investment.
  2. Champions - R&D needs teachers who are committed to lead the work and who will persist through obstacles.  Without this there is little chance of success.
  3. Cost in terms of human resources - we have to ask whether the cost of developing and implementating is worth the impact.
  4. Degree of innovation - we ask whether R&D will bring something new to the school, or is it simply a revamping of what already exists.
  5. Receptivity to innovation - which can vary across divisions, grades and departments.
  6. Synergy - between the different R&D innovations that can multiply the impact of an innovation.
If you would like a copy of R&D Your School it's available on Kindle and costs just $5.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Is texting killing language?

On of the issues we have discussed in our Open University online course Childhood in the Digital Age is whether texting is killing language.  Throughout the course we have been challenged to see ourselves as optimists or pessimists on various subjects.  We know that children learn by interacting with people around them and exchanging ideas, and texting, social networking or instant messaging can be important ways of communicating.  The problem, as the pessimists see it, is that people are now creating/inventing new modes of communication as texting is a sort of new language that is still evolving and as such is threatening or ruining standard written English.  Others argue that texting is simply converting spoken language to written language in a very interesting way.

In this TEDtalk John McWhorter argues that texting is not negative, but instead is highly creative and has cognitive benefits - he refers to it as "miraculous".  I've added the video below as I think it contains a very interesting perspective.  What do you think?  Does texting have a positive or negative influence on children's language skills?



Photo Credit: amanky via Compfight cc

Insourcing expertise

Over the past 6 months or so, I've been thinking about what my next steps in life should be.  I absolutely adore my job at ASB - truly it is the best I have ever had - but I also have to consider the needs of my family, in particular my elderly mother who has recently been diagnosed with mild dementia.  I have signed a contract to stay for the next two years - but I have to be realistic and face the fact that this might well be my last contract here, and that at the end of it I may need to return to Europe to give my family the support they will need.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, I broached this subject, and we discussed what the next move might be.  At my age, I don't really see myself starting all over again in another school - but what else could I do?  She suggested exploring the possibility of consultancy.  This is fairly challenging for me, as while I know that many schools do turn to outside "experts" to plan and lead changes in the schools, at ASB we are really comfortable with "insourcing" expertise and leadership by developing our own educators.

One of the joys of working at ASB has been being on various R&D teams.  These teams are given the conditions outlined in self-determination theory (autonomy, competence and relatedness to others) in order to engage in research and prototyping based on our personal interests - as a result new expertise and leadership is emerging within the school.  We abandon status quo thinking as we read, learn and open ourselves up to new ideas, and then we bring these to our colleagues, eventually changing the professional culture of the school.  I suppose it is possible to take this expertise to others schools, but I definitely feel much more comfortable developing it within the place where I actually work rather than working somewhere for a short time as a consultant and trying to change a school community that hasn't yet gone through this process.  I wonder how many schools have an R&D Department - and how many of these are in Europe (actually I can't think of one).

If you are working at a school that is considering starting or growing R&D you might be interested in reading our latest book R&D Your School, which is available on Kindle for $5.  I have found it amazing to work at a school with an R&D department, and it's an idea that I feel many others might be interested in.

Photo of The Shard, taken from London Bridge

Innovation at ASB - R&D Your School

I'm at ISTE in Philadelphia, and one of my jobs here will be to work on the ReD Studio booth.  One thing I'm excited to share is that ASB's R&D Department has just published a new book entitled R&D Your School  - it's a practical guide for starting, growing and sustaining innovation, and the foreword to this book has been written by Suzie Boss.  Suzie writes, "ASB doesn't just talk about the importance of innovation; it advances new ideas by bolting research and development - R&D- right into the institutional framework .... ASB uses core innovation processes - explore, study, prototype, research, scale - to guide the work and set the stage for action.  By inviting participation from across the school community, including teachers, parents, and students, ASB ensures that diverse perspectives inform future decisions."

I was thinking about this yesterday as I attended the Hack Education Unconference at ISTE.  As I listened to other teachers talk about the challenges of innovation in their own schools, I realized just how much we take for granted at ASB.  We really have used innovation to create the "new normal" for education at our school.   At ASB, what was R&D four years ago, is now incorporated into what we do every day.  The R&D team that looked into the design of school buildings and classrooms, has seen the building of a new school and the redesign of an old one.  The R&D team that looked into school calendars has now seen a revamped school calendar which allows for 265 days of school that includes an intersessions programme that all students may participate in completely free of charge.  As Scot Hoffman and Shabbi Luthra write in R&D Your School, "We are transforming one prototype at a time."

Many teachers might find it a bit over the top that we have an R&D Department in our school, however we believe there is a real need for this in schools around the world.  Scot and Shabbi write in the Introduction, "Our shared future is coming at us with increasing speed, but the structures that have been our strength are not built for the agility, speed, and focus that schools need to meet the pace of change.  Schools and school leaders around the world are looking to innovation to create and develop the schools that students need."

R&D Your School has chapters that deal with intrinsic motivation and insourcing expertise, the keys for successful R&D in schools, where our R&D topics come from, the need for a "dual operating system", the essential conditions for successful R&D in schools, prototyping, accelerating R&D,  and chapters that outline our experiences of intersessions, Maker, Studios, learning analytics and social entrepreneurship.

If you would like a copy of R&D Your School it's available on Kindle and costs just $5.

A pyramid of digital engagement and learning

In Week 3 of my Open University online course Childhood in the Digital Age, I came across Steve Wheeler's pyramid of digital engagement. In this pyramid Wheeler claims that engagement online is very similar to engagement offline. At the bottom of the pyramid people start with passive activities such as watching, reading and lurking. He writes that children start to learn by watching and listening to absorb what’s going on, followed by internalisation of the process to the point where it can be used creatively to develop their own ideas. 

The image is of a pyramid in five differently coloured layers, each containing digital icons. The bottom level contains the eye symbol and is labelled Watching/Lurking/Reading. This wide base shows that children are fairly passive in the initial stages of digital engagement, they are mostly using technology for entertainment or absorbing content from blogs, videos, podcasts and are observing what others are doing online.  The next layer up contains the thumbs-up symbol and is labelled Sharing/Liking. The middle layer contains a speech bubble with quotation marks and is labelled Commenting/Discussing. At this point children are starting to engage in a meaningful way online, as they think, edit and communicate ideas.  They start to respond to others' content by commenting on blogs, status updates or reviews and actively contribute their ideas.  The next to top layer contains the compasses symbol often used in authoring programs and is labelled Creating/Inventing.  At this point children are writing and publishing their own content on blogs or other sites such as YouTube.  The top layer contains lines of text and is labelled Curating.  At this point Wheeler writes: "Asking them to curate the content of others and add value to it can be even more challenging, but in doing so, they will usually read more widely, and are then in a position to assimilate multiple perspectives."

This is the first time I have seen this pyramid, but I find it very useful as a way of thinking about students' use of technology for learning.  I'm thinking this pyramid may be new to many others too, so I wanted to share it.  Click on the image to view it as a larger size.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Digital friendships

I watched a TED talk this week as part of my Open University course.  This was a talk by the anthropologist Robin Dunbar, whose work on friendships and social groupings in 1992 resulted in "Dunbar's number" of 148, which is the number of friendships that people can maintain.  Over time, Dunbar has revised his theory based on the impact of social media, but it is interesting to note that even today, across 400,000,000 Facebook users, the most common number of friends that people have is between 120 and 130.  After hearing this I went and checked my Facebook friends and found I have 304 friends, however some of these are acquaintances I don't interact with at all, and the actual number of people I communicate with on a fairly regular basis is around 100, slightly less than Dunbar's number.  He argues that although we can in theory have thousands of global friends on social networks, the reality is that we are only regularly interacting with the same number of people  as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did.

He talks about concentric circles of friends.  These number 5, 15, 50 and 150.  The last circle is the "Christmas card list", those people we touch base with about once a year.  The inner circle of 5 friends (and only 4 if you are in a relationship) represents about half of our social time.  When you take the first 2 circles of 15 people, this represents around three quarters of our social interactions.  Dunbar talks about the number of friendships we can maintain being based on the size of our brain, in particular the social cognition circuit that lets us understand what others are thinking.  He asks if it is possible for this part of the brain to expand during childhood, perhaps as a result of increased numbers of online friends, and concludes that this is possible, though only up to the age of 20.  In general maintaining friendships takes a huge amount of time, as you need to invest time to get emotional closeness.

There are significant differences in males and females regarding how digital media can help maintain friendships.  Women account for about 2/3 of time on Facebook.  Men maintain friendships by doing things together rather than by talking.  Women, on the other hand, maintain friendships through conversations, therefore social media can maintain close friendships in women.  The most ideal technology for this is shown to be Skype, where there is a sense of co-presence and an immediate response.

I found this module of this week's course to be fascinating.  I'm looking forward to next week which is about learning to think in a digital age, where we will consider how different ways of thinking and learning behaviour might be emerging from an immersion in digital devices.