In this conversation with Matt Candler, who collaborated to start dozens of schools around the country and now serves as Founder and CEO of 4.0 Schools, we explore the future of school, access and equity in education, the importance of innovative with people instead of innovating to people, the value of thinking small, as well as the importance of iterative experiments in educational innovation.
What are open badges? Why do they matter? What challenges and opportunities do they create for democratizing education while increasing access and opportunity? What role do they play in helping us to tell the story of our knowledge, experiences, and accomplishments in a connected age? These are some of the questions that we explored in this interview with Sheryl Grant.
In this episode, we visited with Max Seidman, a game designer at Tiltfactor. Tiltfactor is a serious game research center at Dartmouth University. In this episode we explore how to design games for social impact, the role of design thinking, the importance of measuring impact and results, and more.
- Unity – mentioned on the show as a tool for game design
- Twine – another tool mentioned on the show for non-linear interactive storytelling and game design
- The Tiltfactor Webstite
- Awkward Moment
In this episode we look at the power of connections among educators in the digital age. In this interview with Tom Whitby (teacher, author, and co-founder of #Edchat), we learn about how to build powerful networks and communities, and we consider the benefits of these digital connections in education.
- Tom Whitby on Twitter
- Tom Whitby’s Blog
- Tom Whitby on Edutopia
- EdChat Interactive
- Tom Whitby on SmartBrief
- Tom’s book, The Relevant Educator
- Tom’s book, The Educator’s Guide to Creating Connections
In this episode, we explore the role of games in learning, specifically the use and design of BreakoutEDU games, which allow you to take the fun and intrigue of the escape room into any classroom.
BreakoutEDU on Twitter – @BreakoutEDU
Connect with Tana on Twitter – @TanaRaiyne
Games Mentioned in the Interview (you will need to register for access)
In this episode, your host, Bernard Bull interviewed author and innovator, Don Wettrick, as they explored taking 20% time and genius hour to the next level in school, shifting away from a culture of earning in education, finding the right balance between foundational studies and passion projects, and much more. Don is author of Pure Genius and Host of the the StartEdUp podcast.
In this episode on relevance in education, Bernard Bull, interviews Dennis Sheeran, author of Instant Relevance: Using Today’s Experiences to Teach Tomorrow’s Lessons. You can also follow Dennis on Twitter.
Amid all the buzz words, trends, policy debates and the rest in education, what really matters? In this episode, Dr. Bernard Bull draws from his 2016 book, What Really Matters?: 10 Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, to share what he considers to be among some of the more important issues that we must address today.
Following are the show notes in an article / transcription format.
What are the most critical issues in education today? Answers to such a question are shaped by our own experiences, perspectives and positions in the modern world of education. Nonetheless, this is a useful question. It challenges us to rank the many issues and challenges, allowing us to consider where we will devote our time, energy and resources.
While this is undoubtedly an incomplete list, following are the ten issues that occupy much of my thought. They also represent the types of issues that are likely to influence my future work around educational innovation and entrepreneurship.
Wasted Gifts, Talents & Abilities
This is a broad topic and I’ve written about it before, but one of the most troubling challenges in education today is the same challenge that we’ve had for millennia. Education, at its best, is about helping people discover, refine, and develop their gifts, talents, passions and abilities; and then helping them discover how to use those gifts, talents, abilities in ways that benefit others and oneself. There are too many places where this does not happen. Too many learners fall between the cracks. We have existing learning organizations where learners are part of that organization for years without having this journey of discovery.
This is also the motive behind some of the best work that I am seeing today with regard to educational innovation; efforts in personalized and individualized education, ones recognizing that each person is unique, not just another widget.
At the same time, it is with this category that I also place the critical issue today of access and opportunity to education around the world. In the end, not pursuing educational access and opportunity is a terrible waste and loss of the gifts, talents, abilities and passions of those people in different parts of the world.
Testing & Assessment
In itself, testing is not that critical of an issue, but today it is the tail that wags the dog. I included testing in this list because tests have, too often, become the focus. Testing should exist as a servant to the main goals of education. Whenever people start to build learning organizations and experiences around tests instead of designing tests to serve and amplify the organization’s mission, vision, and values; we have a problem.
The other issue is that there are not many jobs in the world that pay people to be good test takers. What we want and need are assessment plans that bring out the best in people and organizations. As such, creativity and innovation around assessment might not sound interesting to people, but in this current age, getting involved in the assessment domain is a valuable way to effect positive change in education.
This is another topic that gains frequent attention on my blog. Credentialism is the concept that credentials sometimes become unnecessary and inequitable barriers to gainful employment and other aspects of society. A commonly given example is a job posting that lists a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for applying, but if you assess the knowledge and skills actually needed for that job, there are likely many people without a bachelor’s degree who could thrive in the job. In those cases, we have created gated communities in the world of work that limit access and opportunity to otherwise qualified and hardworking people. The same thing is true with recent changes to the GED. While raising be bar seems like a good thing, it can also limit access in destructive ways.
Non-cognitive Skills / Character / Signature Strengths / Virtues
Getting personal for a moment, all of my greatest failures, embarrassments, and disappointments come back to failures in character, not competence. I am reminded of this truth daily.
Character, virtues, and non-cognitive skills have always been an important part of a person’s growth and maturation, not only into adulthood but throughout life. If we want to invest in aspects of education that have a huge impact on the lives of individuals, their families, their communities, their places of work, and the entire world around them; we are wise to devote time and attention to how we can nurture these important elements that less frequently show up in a list of learning objectives for a course or goals for a formal program. We are talking about traits like grit, courage, conscientiousness, integrity, personal ownership, the capacity to postpone gratification, collaboration skills, the ability to plan and prioritize, and many others.
Also within this category, I look to two traits that I am drawn to exploring an addressing, namely curiosity and the love of learning. Ultimately, if we are able to nurture or awaken such traits in people, then we will have made great progress in creating a culture of learning that will benefit countless people.
You might argue that I could put this with the last category, but I give it such a high priority that it deserves a category of its own. Human agency is about the capacity for people to understand that they have choices that impact their lives. I use it in contrast to a fatalistic or deterministic mindset. It is recognizing that the choices you make have a large and lasting impact on what happens in your life. Yes, there are many things beyond our control, but nurturing a sense of agency in people makes a difference in their outlook on life, their engagement in civic life, their approach to personal and professional activities. A lack of agency is consistently detrimental to the well-being of individuals, families, communities and nations.
Purpose & Meaning
Similar to agency, when purpose and meaning are absent, despair and depression are soon to follow. One of the most dangerous ideas in society and education is the idea that there is no purpose or meaning to a person’s life or to life in general. We can’t pretend that we are able to somehow create educational contexts that are neutral about matters of purpose and meaning. They are fundamental to the educational endeavor. Without them, education itself loses purpose and meaning. As such, we must resist educational and societal efforts that insist on simply deconstructing anything and everything around us, leaving it as refuse on the ground. When and if we deconstruct, we must join others in reconstructing something that is true, good, and beautiful.
Education is often about teaching people to critique, but that must be accompanied with nurturing the capacity to create, to discover and embrace the purpose and meaning in the world around us…and beyond.
The Digital Divide
Among all these other big ideas, does the digital divide really have a place in it? I think so. We live in an increasingly connected and digital world. Lacking access, confidence or the capacity to leverage the digital or connected world puts people as a massive disadvantage. Our connections with people, content, and communities that were once central to most people’s lives have becoming increasingly digitized. It is hard to even be an informed citizen in an upcoming election today without being connected. The same is true for trying to find a job and then get that job, or learning about resources for yourself or your family. As such, this remains a major issue in education.
This is about more than not having hardware or an Internet connection. It is also about having the character, competencies, confidence and convictions to take advantage of the connection.
I spent almost six years traveling the country speaking about this one, exploring the challenges and opportunities of life in a digital world, so that is why this one will get a few more words than some of the others.
In 1993, Neil Postman published one of the most personally influential books in my adult life, Technopoly. In this book he opened my eyes to the reality that every technology (even those things that are so familiar that we don’t think of them as technologies) has affordances and limitations. There are things gained and lost, winners and losers. The same is true with educational technology, and we are now in an era where educational technology is front and center in education.
As George Siemens wrote about in his September 2015 post, there is a danger of educational technology shaping us more than us shaping the technology. This is a persistent caution in the media ecology movement and from many scholars. It is partly why I devoted several years studying and learning from Luddite and low-tech movements (like the Amish) in contemporary society. They provide an important balance and perspective in this technological age. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” And as Sherry Turkle lamented (and cautioned) in Alone Together,
“We know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we really didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep us busy. It is as though we have become their killer app. As a friend of mine put it in a moment of pique, ‘We don’t do our e-mail; our e-mail does us.’ We talk about ‘spending’ hours on e-mail, but we, too, are being spent. Niels Bohr suggests that the opposite of a ‘deep truth’ is a truth no less profound. As we contemplate online life, it helps to keep this in mind.” – p.279
We live in a technological age and there is no going back from this. Yet, more than ever, it is imperative that we shed light on the affordances and limitations of the age, nurturing a critical and creative eye to such a world, and finding ways to elevate and amplify what it means to be human instead of simply letting the technology redefine humanity for us.
Vocation & and Good Work
This is not a claim that schools should be entirely focused on job preparation, but work is an important part of life; and education (not just schooling) is an essential part of preparing people to get and do work with excellence and character. Work can be rewarding, fulfilling, honorable, and impactful. It is not just what we do but how we do it, as so wonderfully explained in Gardner and Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Good Work.
As James H. Douglas, Jr. is quoted as saying, “A good job is more than just a paycheck. A good job fosters independence and discipline, and contributes to the health of the community. A good job is a means to provide for the health and welfare of your family, to own a home, and save for retirement.”
I can think of no better way to highlight the role of education as a path to good work than to come back to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Among its many roles, formal and informal education serves to help people experience and embrace such truths about work.
Truth, Beauty and Goodness
I am not a classicist when it comes to education, although I have learned much and am greatly influenced by classical perspectives on education, even as many would likely label me as some blend of educational existentialist, constructivist, connectivist, and progressivist. However, because of what I have already written about meaning and purpose, I am persistently drawn back to three classical foundations for education, namely the pursuit and study of truth, beauty and goodness. When we lose sight of this in education, our learning organizations lose much of what makes them distinctive and enriching in some of the deepest and most substantive ways. As I follow educational trends in K-12, higher education, within the United States, and around the world; I see the greatest hope where these three classical elements are alive and well, helping to shape the vision of the school, and occupying the thoughts of teacher and learner alike. For a contemporary perspective on their role, consider Howard Gardner’s excellent book on the subject. Or, you might want to go back to Plato.
There are certainly more than just these ten issues, but these represent what I consider to be some of the most critical and pressing issues. They represent ideas that can lead to good and important reform, and promising work in educational innovation. Personally, they also represent ideas that I consider worthy my life’s work.
What causes people to pursue radical innovations in education? In this episode, Bernard Bull draws from his observations and research to share six of the most common reasons that compel people to take the leap into a more radical innovation in education.
What compels people to pursue more radical innovations in education? It has now been almost two decades since I started to more seriously and systematically study innovations in education and innovative learning organizations. Many of the musings about that show up in the chapters of my book on Missional Moonshots (not to mention the many articles on this blog), but since my exploration started, I can’t think of a single day that has passed without some thought experiment or reflection about educational innovation. In that sense, it has become a consuming passion for me because I see educational innovation as an important social good, and I have immense respect for those who tap into the courage, creativity and hard work necessary to pursue revolutionary or radical innovations in education.
As such, I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about what compels people to pursue such innovations. What is it that happens inside or outside of people that draws, drives or inspires them to get off the paved roads of legacy education models and frameworks and do the hard work of helping to create completely new roadways? Under what conditions is this more likely to happen for a person? While some of this has to do with how people are wired (both genetically wired and wired through a longstanding set of life experiences), there are other aspects at work as well. That is what leads me to start to put into words some of what I’ve seen. Amid many observations, conversations, formal and informal interviews, and my study of educational innovators and entrepreneurs, the following six consistently show up as conditions that often catapult people into trying something more radical in the education space.
When there is nothing to lose or you have little stake or loyalty to the established system.
This doesn’t need to be an objective statement. You might, from many perspectives, have a great deal to lose. What matters, however, is that you believe that you have little to lose, or perhaps that you do not have a strong sense of loyalty to the existing system. You might (or might not) be extremely loyal to the broader mission or goals, but not necessarily the system or current methods. Perhaps the system failed you. Perhaps it was never that important to you. Perhaps you are coming from outside of the system and looking at it with fresh eyes. Regardless, this is a significant entry point for some who pursue what others might consider more radical or revolutionary innovations.
While some critique educational innovators who don’t have longstanding experience in the classroom, it is sometimes this outsider-ness that allows them to think and act in what others might consider more radical ways. In fact, some don’t even see or think that their innovation is all that radical. Feeling like an outsider might be unpleasant for some of us or a source of pride for others. Either way, it can drive us to look at the context from a unique (or at least less common) perspective. We are willing and able to consider possibilities censored or disregarded by insiders. We are open to possibilities that others reject because they would have too much to lose by such possibilities.
When there is no other option but the mission is still important to you.
“Necessity is the mother of invention”, right? Or, as John Kotter points out in much of his work, a “sense of urgency” can be a powerful lever for change and innovation. If there is no other option and you lack a compelling mission, innovation is less likely. Or, if you have mistakenly glued the mission and your current practices together, no longer able to see that they are indeed separate elements, you may rather shut down, learn to live in persistent failure, or use denial to avoid the intense pain of current failure instead of looking for alternatives and innovations. Yet, when one sees that the mission is compelling and separate from what is currently being done, and the option of staying the course is no longer an option, this is enough to move some people to lead or embrace revolutionary innovations in education.
When you experience a compelling alternative.
Sometimes people are stuck in educational ruts simply because they are not aware of the alternatives. Yet, when they see them, when they experience them firsthand and work through some of their doubts and questions, this is enough for some to venture into more radical changes. It is why I advocate so strongly that people at least take the time to get informed about the possibilities, even if they don’t choose to embrace any of them.
When your passion for the goal and/or mission far exceeds your fear of loss, discomfort or failure.
There are plenty of us who have many radical or more revolutionary ideas. It is just that our fear keeps us in check, we are not willing to take the associated risks, or the pain and discomfort associated with the change is not tolerable to us at the time. Yet, for many who do embrace a more radical educational pathway, it happens when their passion for the goal or mission grows to such a level that it overshadows these others. Or, we find ourselves in a life circumstance where we’ve been able to minimize some of these risks enough that we are then willing to venture out into the less knoswn or unknown.
When you are deeply connected to or convinced of the minority opinion, situation or a specific need.
There are winners and losers in the dominant education system. When you are connected to those in the system who are on the losing end and you care deeply about those people, this can be enough to move to you to bold and new actions. It is not a coincidence that many parents are active innovators in the charter school system throughout the United States. Interview founders of innovative charters and independent schools and you will find compelling stories, often about their own children. Love and concern for another person (family member or not) is a fuel for more radical innovations in education.
When the vision or dream is too strong to deny or delay.
I’ve heard from this from many educational innovators. They sometimes thought, planned and dreamed for years or decades. Finally, at some point, the conditions were right but they also got to a point where they just could not wait. They had invested so much of themselves into the idea that they just had to do something about it. So they acted. Sometimes they have a vision for the impending doom if we continue down the standard path and they’ve reached a point where it is so urgent (internally), that they just need to do something. In other cases, it is just that they want it to happen so much and all the years of thought and emotion create a tipping point toward action.
Interview innovators in education, and you are likely to find one or more of these six answers at work. There are many others as well, but these six are among the more common and transparent. These are the kind of things that compel people to what the rest might consider more radical innovations in education.