323 posts categorized "Creativity"

January 06, 2019

To look forward, don’t beat a retreat

Defining strategy is the most important work a leadership team can do. The last place they should go to do it is a retreat.

It’s January, and wherever I look online I see so many friends’ new year’s resolutions, strategies to make 2019 a little better than 2018, perhaps. And I see many wittily launch jibes about how they don’t make resolutions (“I never keep to them anyway, so why bother?”

They’ve got a point: we create resolutions at a time of forced relaxation when most of the world has shut down. The inbox is empty (or, at least, not filling up), our families surround us physically or digitally, our thoughts of work are kept at bay, still, through a fog of champagne bubbles and hangovers and bracing twilight walks. The time in which we come up with our resolutions barely resembles any other time of year. It’s no wonder that the daily cycle rides, walks or gym visits subside when the onslaught of reality begins on January 3rd.

In March a few years ago, I had been invited by a group of different schools’ Heads to a joint retreat. It was a retreat in name, at least. In reality, it was an overcharged three-day programme of administrative meetings, mutual therapy, forced fun, eating and drinking a bit too much. I was asked to walk them through an innovation process so that they could make Great Things Happen. I was given six hours during their three precious days. One of the widely-respected Heads proclaimed:

“I don’t know why we’re looking at innovation now, at this point in the year. It’s a terrible time to be thinking about doing anything in a school.”

March is indeed a hectic time in schools. Examinations for older students are looming, the last chance for some serious cramming on the horizon (by this point, many secondary schools admit that the learning is more or less suspended). Even little ones are finalising portfolios and presentations, exhibitions and performances.

But I was perturbed. As the CEOs of their organisations, strategy should be an everyday activity. Strategy is not something for which we can afford to cherrypick a slot in our calendars, something we choose to do at certain more relaxed times of the year. Strategy is definitely not something we can demote to six hours in a forced period of ‘retreat’.

Innovation is change. Change is what strategy both predicts and provokes. Strategy is where we plan.

The strategic plan itself is rendered useless fairly quickly. “Strategy’s great until you get punched in the mouth,” says Mike Tyson. “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” is how Dwight Eisenhower put it. Eisenhower was actually paraphrasing what a soldier had told him, and the soldier was much more precise in what kind of plans are worthless:

“Peace-time plans are of no particular value, but peace-time planning is indispensable.”

And there it is. Peaceful time plans — new year’s resolutions, strategic planning done in the quiet months of an organisation, holiday romances — are often worthless the moment the break or retreat is over. But the process of thinking things through — the planning — is vital. Why?

Peaceful time planning is vital because it lets us go through a process slowly. Think of it like training in a technique, a technique that we should be employing every day, at faster and faster speeds, so that when we’re in the thick of it in our busier ‘real’ lives we can cope with the punches coming our way.

After a deep immersive process throughout their organisation, a Design Team of students, teachers, staff and parents work through a mass of data, perceptions and stories to design simple strategy that anyone can use.

Over the past four years, my team has been involved in more strategy work with organisations than ever before. The word of mouth that drives some of the most successful organisations in the world to us for this help is invaluable, and reveals why people are seeking something different to their usual “strategic planning retreat”:

1. One, two or three days are not enough to come up with a strategic plan. Strategic planning is about the future, but to do this well you need to build on what happens today. People need some time to dive deeply into what makes their organisation tick today, and what people’s hopes and fears for the future might be. If you’re doing it properly, this deep dive immersive experience can take up to six weeks, and should involve everyone in your community contributing their perspectives. It’s a significant communications exercise to ensure everyone knows that they have the opportunity to present, share or post their perceptions of what works well, and less well, in the organisation today.

We use a strategic planning version of our NoTosh Design Thinking process to set up effective teams who can procure, encourage and manage this massive set of contributions, and then make sense of the trends that emerge from it. This kind of inclusive, immersive process is superb for providing that ‘peacetime planning’ moment for every member of the community. Even if it’s just for five minutes in the ‘war room’ or ‘project nest’, every teacher, student, parent, employee or visitor to the school can take the time to reflect, and get their memory muscle developed for planning every day. And the tools we use to synthesis all that data turn even the most ardent moan into a positive force to drive an organisation’s ambitious ideas.

2. The strategic plan itself is worthless within weeks or months. Organisations’ needs change quicker today than they did ten years ago. A five-year strategic plan might help a leadership team feel accountable, that they’ve done their job. But continuing with it headlong, without ever changing the expectations along the way, would be foolish. I don’t know any leadership team which has actually seen through every item in a five year plan, at the exclusion of all others. Most organisations with these kinds of long-term plans have massive fatigue in their teams: initiative after initiative gets introduced as sticky plaster planning for when the original plan isn’t quite working. But no-one ever dares to ditch significant projects in a five-year plan, even when, further down the road from the point of writing the plan, they’re clearly off-target.

Instead, we invest expertise in framing a leadership team’s vision as an exciting image of the future. Individually, a leader will struggle to express a vision that doesn’t make their ass clench with slight embarrassment from being a little too much or, more likely, a bit underwhelming. But with help, it’s possible to translate a team’s individual ideas for the future of their organisation into something that is compelling and which feels like a ‘goldilocks’ vision — not too hard, not too easy, just right.

3. Most strategic plans are actually just long-term plans. They’re not strategy. Strategy should look mercifully short when laid out on a postcard. Three, four or five ‘orders’ that tell the team how to play, but which don’t lay out each and every step you expect people to take. The ideas to realise the leadership’s expression of the vision need to come from and be delivered by the people who will feel the positive impact in the end.

That level of simplicity takes a lot of effort, expertise and time. We use some of the world’s best copywriters to knock strategy into shape so that the youngest member of a team or the person with English as their third or fourth language, can all understand how they’re meant to act.

4. Good strategy is only good when we know it works. So we don’t make anything final until the leadership team have tested the strategy out with their own current big projects. Ideally, there should be some that are clearly in their last breaths, ready to be ditched because they don’t help realise the vision, and they can’t be done in a way that works with the rest of the team’s strategy. Other projects will need changed to be successful — the strategy tells the leader how they need changed. And there will be some existing projects which will move front and centre — they may take on importance they didn’t have before.

Confident organisations test strategy further. In the American School of Warsaw, they’ve been testing for eight months, and are ready now to commit to most of what they set out, with some minor changes. Other organisations just know that they’ve nailed their direction, in days, often because there was little direction before, so any direction helps people have the focus they need here and now. These teams, far from being slapdash in their approach, understand deeply how strategy is something to be revisited daily.

5. Good strategy should be revisited every day. How do you know you’re doing a good job? How do you know that what you did yesterday worked, and what you’ll continue today will realise the vision you’ve got? Success metrics should not be reduced to annual or quarterly traffic lights, percentages and Board-speak management jargon. Success of projects can be measured in so many different ways, every day. Meeting about project success every week for 30 minutes allows the average organisation 48 points of change, instead of what might be achieved with eight Board meetings. For a leadership team to meet every day for 10 minutes to talk about success, accelerates the potential to tweak and amplify success to 240 points every year.

1000 points of change over five years, or a five year plan with one process at the start to get it right? Which do you prefer? That’s a lot more opportunity to plan together, to cope with the punches to your collective jaw, to kill off ideas that aren’t working (and assure yourselves that everyone knows why). You can only do this if you’re confident that your strategy is of the people in your organisation.

6. Strategy has to be true, not a trueism. Genchi Genbutsu is the Japanese term for the kind of active observation of the organisation that we undertake in that first deep dive. A leadership cannot take itself away to a five star hotel to presuppose what might be true, and develop a strategy from that point of view. A team can’t just talk about what it sees. It’s got to look. This is Genchi Genbutsu. It literally means: get out and see for yourself. Toyota are arguably the Japanese grandmasters of this technique, led by the founder of their world-famous manufacturing system, Taiichi Ohno, and it forms part of their formal five-part strategy for working:

The best practice is to go and see the location or process where the problem exists in order to solve that problem more quickly and efficiently. To grasp problems, confirm the facts and analyse root causes.
The Toyota Production System requires a high level of management presence on the factory floor, so that if a problem exists in this area it should be first of all correctly understood before being solved.

In Jeffrey Liker’s The Toyota Way we see the notion taken beyond the factory floor. Yuji Yokoya was the chief engineer for the 2004 Toyota Sienna redesign. Yokoya had never worked on a car made for the North American market, and he felt the need to practise some Genchi Genbutsu and get out to North America to gain some sense of empathy for a North American driver, and the potential purchaser of this new car. In the end, Yokoya drove a previous model Sienna throughout all 50 American states as well as all 13 provinces and territories of Canada. He got as far as the streets of Mexico.

Why was such a costly and timely roadtrip necessary? Was this the midlife crisis of a successful engineer, or a genius move to make major changes to an otherwise successful (in the Japanese market) car?

What he learned could not have been learned from any analytical data, survey or web search. Why? Because the things he observed needed observing by a Japanese Toyota engineer to make sense — they needed that empathetic, but foreign eye, to be seen afresh. For example, he discovered that roads in Canada are very different from those in the US — they have a very high central reservation designed to deal with the never-ending snowfall of winter. He learned that the winds in Mississippi are so strong at times that, if the family-sized Sienna were not designed with this in mind, it might have flipped over with the force. The most valuable lesson was perhaps to do with a tiny, non-engineering type problem: cup holders. In his native Japan people rarely eat or drink in their vehicles, while their North American counterparts were relatively settled in the habit of eating several of their daily meals within the car, on the move.

From the many design and engineering problems he spotted, Yokoya’s team developed a new Sienna for 2004, equipped with 14 cup holders and a flip tray specifically designed for your Big Mac and fries. It was their best-selling model yet.

The notion of ‘getting out there and seeing it’ might well seem like a drawback for leadership teams looking after large institutions, or entire districts, states or countries. They might feel that they can’t afford the equivalent of a 50-state road trip to get a firsthand insight. To undertake an extensive immersion, in person, ‘out there’, might not be possible for every individual leader. But it is possible when you harness your community, communicate well, form dedicated design teams to do the work with you. Toyota explain further with a reassurance for leaders:

The nature of the phrase is less about the physical act of visiting a site but more to do with a personal understanding of the full implications of any action within an environment as a whole.

The impact of changing one’s mindset, often by applying a strong sense of empathy to how others might view a situation, is powerful. Even in a workshop type situation, normally within the air-conditioned magnolia of a plush hotel or a school meeting room with no wifi (and no connection to the outside world), the mindset change put in place by considering every actor’s feelings and potential observations of the current situation is profound.

From one workshop in a business centre in Spain looking at problems in schools 500 miles away:

‘This workshop focused on people and used real examples; the process was involving.’

From a Headteacher in England:

‘The fact that everyone can take part and feels a necessity to join in means that all views, good and bad are taken into account.’

From a team in Australia looking at a perennial challenge they hadn’t (yet) overcome:

‘We loved having the time to explore ideas, good and bad, without negativity, to see things from so many perspectives.’

Just making an effort to connect with people from other perspectives transforms our thinking about what the underlying challenges we need to address might be.

This article has elements adapted from my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, available in paperback, Kindle and iBooks, and in Spanish.

 

June 02, 2016

MONO Decision-making: Minimum Oblique Non-Obvious

When you want someone to do something, you tell them so. In companies and schools alike, we've found a polite way to tell people what to do by writing visions, missions and all sorts of other PDFs that languish on the C-drive, bound polypocketed books that sit deep in the cupboard under your teacher desk.

Education is filled with jargon and we-speak that means nothing to the people who hear it every day. Teachers, students and parents are as much in the dark about the "transformational leverage" being "curated" within their "organization" (or, in other words: we really want you to change the way you do stuff).

I spend a fair amount of time working with copywriters, advertising and marketing geeks on language: how do we say what we mean, and mean what we say? Getting more direct and killing the jargon is a great start to changing the way you do stuff in the long term. It helps involve more people in the change, too, because they can actually grasp what they're meant to do to make that change happen.

But in this talk from the marvellous Rory Sutherland, there was that other mechanism to create change, and one of which we are might fond in NoTosh. In fact, the first book every new employee gets is Smile In The Mind, a tome full of visual puns that say so much without saying it. Sutherland calls is MONO decision-making: Minimum Oblique Non-Obvious decision-making:

It’s sometimes easier to do the wrong thing than the right thing.

Most people do the wrong thing because they’re not aware of a choice.

But give them a choice, no matter how rubbish it is, they then make a choice that they didn’t know they even had.

When London wanted to get people using a new train line, it doesn’t require a large investment (a new tram-  or trainline), or much tunnel-building, but rather a revealing of choice in the right place and time. The 'new' Crossrail is in fact a bunch of train lines that they've connected together on a map, more than connecting them together on the ground. That map - the Underground map - traditionally showed North London as being the most connected place, and thereby thrust up housing prices. It's not true - it's just that in South London you use a warren of train lines that cannot be seen on the underground. 

He expresses it in all its clarity, with other examples, at about 10"50 into this clip

March 25, 2016

Don't be scared. Ne sois pas effrayé

Ne sois pas effrayé
Twitter's biggest contribution to the world might be the art of synthesis. There's a lot of talk about how Twitter is on its last legs, how the bubble will burst. As a business (or lack of one) that might be true, but what the format has done is promote a new form of writing.
 
I've spent the last two weeks in Québec, learning alongside some amazing practitioners. In fact, my own teaching vision was largely moulded by an early experience in Francophone New Brunswick, and so it follows that I enjoy working alongside Francophone Canadian educators - there's a shared vision of what can be. One of my favourite chums there is Jean Yves Fréchette, a retired teacher (if you ever can be retired) who has pioneered educational technology since the 70s. If he lived in America and worked in English you'd all have heard of him and he'd be relaxing in his condo on the Florida coast. He's amazing. I'm going to share a few finds I discovered thanks to him over the weeks to come.
 
Much of his work has been in Twitter this past decade, heading up the #Twittérature movement in Québec and beyond, and carving out beautiful Twitter haikus.
 
Having seen some stunning photography - the photographer's daughters choosing their own settings, poses and camera angles, before he shot the images - he collaborated to produce 140 character poetry to go with it. The results are now in a book, a preview of which you can view online.
 
Stunning. Simple. Stunningly Simple.
 
Don't be scared. Ne sois pas effrayé.

November 24, 2015

It's high time for designers to get out of the way of design thinking

Design at IBM

A prospective client sent me a link to this in-depth article on IBM's design thinking revolution, where Phil Gilbert, IBM's General Manager of Design, has hired over 1000 designers into the firm, and pushed for over 8000 of its managers and staff to get 'trained' in design thinking. They have even created specific design centres across the firm, with design offices in most of its key locations, such as the one above. The goal is nothing short of beginning IBM's next phase of transformation, one of many in its 100+ year history.

However, all is not rosy. Despite achieving a monumental success relative to the status quo, 8000 'recognised' design thinkers in a corporation of over 370,000 souls is barely a dent in terms of changing practice. If NoTosh were to effect change in only 2% of the teachers with whom we work, we'd have packed up our bags long ago.

I'm not sure hiring 1000 designers in and of itself is the answer to any organisation trying to instil a different way of viewing the world. Here's why.

Since design thinking really began to be a thing, back in the early 60s, the designer him or herself has consistently been at the centre of the design process. Even though we talk of 'user-centred design', the actual ideation and production of a solution, and in many cases the synthesis and definition of the problem to be solve, too, are all tasks undertaken by skilled 'designers', rather than the people in the organisation who have the scope, brand, or 'permission' to play in that space. Once the designers leave the project, so does the design thinking. 

There is a reason d.school sees its executive courses filled with repeat customers and firms like IDEO continue to thrive - they are resolving challenges in specific examples of services or products, but not necessarily transforming the firms and organisations who had the budget and desire to solve a problem in that specific area. Solving a problem costs money. Solving a problem and teaching the client how to do it again and again costs more than just money. That might be the greatest challenge of all.

It's not just a gut feel or my word for it either. There is ample research showing this phenomenon of 'designer at centre' of the process, and the negative effects it has on finished products and services (Brown & Katz, 2011; Leifer, Plattner & Meinel, 2013).

Where the IBM story gets interesting is the number of times the word 'study' is used: four times. Those who want to think differently have to work hard at it, and look out of their existing ecosystem to see how. But the words 'teach' or 'show' or 'share'...? 0 appearances in this article, and many like it.

As long as organisations 'buy in' design expertise, it is in the designers' interest not to teach or to show. After all, where will the next gig come from? And are all designers clear on how they can work and teach their craft to the client? In our firm, we're not only well-practiced at thinking differently, both creatively and critically, but we're also beautifully amateur in so many of the industrial domains in which we choose to play. We are not experts in automotives, fashion, television or web startups. But we are expert teachers. And, with that, we are inherently sharers and showers.

It is that nuance that will help design move from the ranks of bearded, checked-shirt, boating shoe cool kids, and into any organisation that wants to effect perpetual and significant change in the way it views the world around it. If you want to outthink the limits of what's possible, the first step might be to put learning at the heart of everything you do

References:
Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2011). Change by design. Journal Of Product Innovation Management, 28(3), 381-383.
Leifer, L., Plattner, H., & Meinel, C. (2013). Design thinking research: Building innovation eco-systems.

 

July 19, 2015

The unknown unknowns - test out your ideas

Unknown Unknowns

Not knowing what you don't know is one of the most troublesome concepts of living in an information rich time poor world. And for educators, who have been used to knowing a lot about some stuff for the past century, it proves an elusive concept in my Masters programme and in workshops that I lead around the world.

I've just kicked off teaching my second year of Charles Sturt University's subject on Designing Spaces for Learning (you can follow the course hashtag to see what we're up to 16 weeks). Without any exceptions, this concept of unknown unknowns is one of the toughest for people to get, especially when they get their heads into the research behind it, such as C-K Theory

Designing the unknown | C-K Theory Presentation from CGS Mines ParisTech on Vimeo.

While it's vital that my Masters students read the research, to really "do their homework" I set the first week's assignment in the real world. Every student must make an actual change to their learning environment within 10 days of starting the subject, and note the impact that the change has had. Sometimes, folk lack some inspiration. Here are two great things any educator could try in their learning spaces when they get back to school, or to their office, or their library. From Inc. Magazine, these two ideas encapsulate what it means to get out those unknown unknowns:

Play Anthropologist

How do you choose the environment that's best for your team? Forget asking them and try watching them instead, suggests Kuske:

"The problem with asking is, if people don't know it's an option, they're not going to give it to you as an answer. But when you watch their behaviors, you see no one ever uses those four spots over there but the couches are always busy. Or hey, why do you leave every other day? That would give [a small business owner] a lot of clues to what's right for their particular company."

Forget One Person Equals One Desk

Think you need one desk per team member? Think again. Kuske says mobile technology has rendered this idea obsolete, which is good news for cash-strapped small-business owners--it frees up money for more creative space design.

"Part of the cost structure everyone has is they make this assumption of a desk per person, but with mobile work, when you walk into most places, how many of those desks are actually used at any given moment? Not many," he says.

In Turnstone's experience often up to 60% of desks can go.

July 07, 2015

"I like it" is not good enough

Creative conflict is the ability to agree to disagree, and use the disruption of a disagreement to make your work better. It relies on the partners in disagreement to both be on top of their game, both of them respectful of the other's views on how something might be made better.

Teachers seek this creative, quality feedback discourse every day in their students' work. But every month I bump into another educator who will not "believe" that the practice I'm sharing with them will make their students' outcomes better. The frustration of practice being negated by a simple "I don't believe this will work with my students / in math / in this school" is hard for me to mask - if you want to know one of my 'buttons', press this one.

The video clip I show in return, helps those who don't understand creative conflict get the point, without having to take it personally. It also shows the subtle difference between simply taking research "as is", and having a critical eye on the research.

Barenboim's masterclass pianist plays at a dynamic which is not written in the piece (like a teacher choosing to ignore what a piece of research says). When pushed on why he does it, he says: "because I like it". Barenboim has two options in his potential reply. One would be:

"But the manuscript says this, so play it like that".

This is the musical equivalent of what might be said by the emergent research-led cabal who wouldn't have a teacher teach a certain way unless it had been researched robustly that way first.

Instead, Barenboim asks him to reflect, to think about why he's taking the manuscript / the research and interpreting it differently, in his own style. It's an example of the fine line between virtuoso and just getting it wrong, in spite of what the manuscript suggests you might do for 'success'. And the clip makes the subtle, nuanced point in a way far more subtle and nuanced than most edu-speak can ever manage.

June 16, 2015

When a Snow Queen starts a school: the no-grades route to University

Drumduan

No grades (ever), no sitting down at desks, and harnessing student boredom as a motivator to create and explore might seem an odd recipe for academic success and entry to university, but that is exactly what one of Scotland's newest schools is attempting to do.

Drumdruan Upper School was created a few years ago by Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, star of many a Hollywood blockbuster and forever in my mind the terrifying Witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The school extends a Steiner education beyond the age of 14, and takes students through to their University years. The Observer has published a fascinating and detailed account of some of the recipe that makes this a special place and, above all, has bowled over the traditionally conservative schools inspectorate:

That is not what happened: the inspectors sat in the classes and watched the students. And if you watch the students at Drumduan, you soon notice they are confident, articulate, highly motivated and respectful. These are, in fact, the words used by the inspectors in their subsequent report. You might even believe the students at Drumduan wanted to be there. The inspectors clearly felt so, but it was when they had retired to an office to confer that Krzysztof, a master of the spontaneous gesture, delivered the coup de grace. He sang to them.

Music is something of a hallmark at Drumduan, where children participate in regular workshops – often on instruments like a wheelie bin – and start each day singing in four-part harmonies. “We were rehearsing in another room, and I said: ‘This song is terrific, we have to show these inspectors,’” Krzysztof recalls. “So we burst into their office – they were a bit alarmed – and I said: ‘I’m sorry, we’ve just got to sing this song to you.’” The song was “Media Vita”, a medieval score of haunting beauty that reduced the inspectors to tears, according to Krzysztof. Bowled over by their praise – he is a man whose emotions are close to the surface – Krzysztof asked if he could give them a hug, probably a first for all of them.

 ...

“There’s no grading, no testing at all,” Tilda had explained to me earlier. “My children are now 17, and they will go through this school without any tests at any time, so it’s incredibly art-based, practical learning. For example, they learn their science by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelising onions. And they’re all happy 17-year-olds. I can’t believe it – happy and inspired.”

May 31, 2015

Why education needs more fuzzy thinking

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It’s been a decade since I first heard the education conference cliché that we are preparing our kids for a future we don’t even understand. I argue that since then we've done little about it, in this week's Editorial in the Times Educational Supplement.

Ten years ago, that wasn’t really true. In fact, the immediate future was pretty predictable between 2005 and 2010: the internet remained slow and some kids didn’t have it at home, most didn’t use Facebook, smartphones were still far too expensive and the iPad wasn’t launched until January 2010. Even terrorism was mostly still “over there”, and wars likewise, rather than recruiting from comprehensives in the Home Counties.

Since then the world has learned what “exponential” really means. The normal trajectory post-school is no longer a linear certainty but a struggle with what a new breed of thinker and doer embraces as “fuzzy goals”. This emergent group of young people, activists and senior industry leaders spends most of its days grappling with unknown unknowns – technologies, jobs, ways of thinking and, yes, even terrorist groups that we didn’t even know we didn’t know about.

At the same time, our understanding of “what matters” in education hasn’t budged beyond a few pockets of relative daring. We still operate within our hierarchy of subjects, overcharged curricula and an expectation that teachers will stand and deliver it. There is little room for fuzziness here.

In this week's Times Educational Supplement, I expand on how fuzzy problem-finding and -solving are some of the core skills that we've been ignoring too long in the search for standaradisation and content-heavy cramming. What do you think?

Pic by HB2

May 18, 2015

Do we actually want to close the achievement gap?

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I end this small run of blog posts with the question posed by Professor Brian Boyd at the beginning of our evening:

Do we want to close the achievement gap?

We know we can close the gap. It’s been done or almost been done before in Scottish education, but the answers have been ignored as they pass us by. The simple clue is this: poverty is single biggest predictor of achievement, and according to research (Hammonds sic, reference required), aged 10, a child living in poverty is 60% less likely to get to university.

Boyd borrowed from his own mother’s report card to ask us what kind of education we desire. Is it the academic success at all costs route, or is there another option we need to value as much, if not more? His mother’s report card, one that prevented her from becoming a secondary school pupil in Glasgow, is filled with G and FG, until the last point: Character and conduct - excellent.

What kind of pupils do we want to develop in Scotland? What do we value in our assessment system? Opening up opportunity for all is a tough game to play when the examination system rewards only certain types of behaviour, few of them related to what the Curriculum for Excellence says we stand for. In his own small community in East Kilbride, three secondary schools enter a period of meltdown as the local rag sets about creating its own local league table of performance, with those three ‘teams’ in competition for the top spot (or at least not the bottom one). Therefore, we must stop basing “the gap” largely on attainment.

First of all, Boyd would like us to remove the traditional, and non-sensical academic/vocational divide. Is the law or medicine degree we value not vocational? (Are all General Practitioners not Plumbers, as Dr Murray on the panel suggests?)

Second, we must start from the ground up, in the early years. It is with parental expectations from this youngest age that we can help prevent the gap becoming quite so large in the first place.

Third, there is no research that supports setting. So why do we continue? Telling students they’re not ‘top’ will certainly reinforce their expectation and aspirations to be anything other than top.

Fourthly, pedagogy doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Teachers must have opportunities to talk about learning and teaching, to hone their craft and learn from each other.

Finally, cooperation instead of competition between departments, school types, ages, stages, and sectors is the only way we can begin to crack this question. Scottish schools have never been comprehensive, really. People have flocked to what is perceived to be ‘the good school’, making them better schools as a result. And the rest of them?

but, collaboration with business… a step too far?
Collaboration with business might be the hardest step for Scottish school to take, in a system recognisable today as the one set up by socialist forefathers in the name of equality. For some in the education sphere there are, without a doubt, perceptions that business is anything but equality in action, but instead a position of privilege at the expense of others. This surely has to change.

Maybe it is telling, in fact, that NoTosh, a company I founded five years ago, with the explicit aim to bring creative approaches from creative enterprises into the classroom, sees less than 0.5% of its turnover generated in Scotland, and none of that comes from schools. The picture above, in fact, is of one project where we brought entrepreneurship skills to the vocational education system in Finland. In non-business speak: Scottish schools aren't as interested as nations all over the world, when it comes to seeing how learning, process and leadership from outside education might help us inside formal education. 

One thing is sure: the narrowing and closing of the achievement gap in its widest sense is not something schools and the school system will manage to do on its own. It is, perhaps, long time that conversations between business, creative enterprise and the public service begin to happen much more often, with much more drive to deliver for our children. 

May 08, 2015

Making isn't as important as the design thinking dispositions that come with it

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In the Designing Spaces for Learning Masters subject I wrote and teach at Charles Sturt University, there is one week spent on Experimental Spaces. Part of that module is on making and maker culture. I purposefully didn't dote an entire one of my sixteen weeks on making, but write about it as a type of activity requiring a type of space that many treat as 'experimental':

...Making, and the attitudes outlined here, are nothing new. The oldest record of technology, engineering and craft being made a core area of learning goes back to 1868, and the first Chair of Engineering in any university was in 1959, at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Until the 1990s, it is fair to say that the emphasis was on building skills, not mindset, that would lend themselves to industry.

"In the 1990s, though, we see a change in Scotland towards state secondary and primary schools introducing craft, technology and design courses, with an emphasis on enquiry, problem-framing and making to learn. It might be argued that many of the criteria for a successful maker space and for the Maker Movement itself have been nurtured, developed and finely honed over at least 25 years in those countries like Scotland where, rather than pushing such subjects to the fringes of school life - or out of school life altogether - "maker" type school subjects have morphed with the times, to maintain their relevance (Dakers, 2005; Scottish Government, 2006).

This might explain the recent powerful growth of makerspaces in some environments (American and academics-focussed international schools) versus a lack of financing and marketing for such spaces in others (thanks to the long-standing provision of maker technologies in state schools in the United Kingdom, for example).

Some new research emerging from the Harvard Project Zero team is also pointing to the fact that making itself is nothing new, and nor is making itself anything particularly unique in what it offers students, either. However, the new interest in making is helping education institutions and systems remember something that they had forgotten, lost when they originally got rid of stalwart craft subjects in the interest of 'academic rigor':

Students learn a tremendous amount through maker-centered learning experiences, whether these experiences take place inside or outside of makerspaces and tinkering studios. There is no doubt that students learn new skills and technologies as they build, tinker, re/design, and hack, especially when they do these things together. However, the most important benefits of maker education are neither STEM skills nor technical preparation for the next industrial revolution. Though these benefits may accrue along the way, the most salient benefits of maker-centered learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their world. (Emphasis added)

That sense of self, community and self-efficacy - "I can change the world around me" - are the same results my NoTosh team have seen in learners who undertake more student-led, immersive, complex learning, where they find the problems they wish to solve. The same effect can be found in the nascent research on design thinking for learning coming from Swinburne University, Australia (Melles 2010; Melles, G., Howard, Z. & Thompson-Whiteside, S. 2012). The benefit is visible where  the problem itself is academic and not practical, even if the problem itself offers no opportunity for physical construction, even if the problem is not related to science, technology, engineering or maths. It appears to be the very process of working on something you have chosen to work on offers that very sense of 'real' and ownership that are so much at the core of sharing learning objectives, success criteria and being in a position to act meaningfully on feedback.

Picture from Russell Davies

References:

Dakers, J (2013) Technology Education in Scotland: an Investigation of the past twenty years. Conference proceedings from Pupils Attitudes Towards Technology (PATT 15). Retrieved from: http://www.iteaconnect.org/Conference/PATT/PATT15/Dakers.pdf

Melles, G. (2010). Curriculum design thinking: a new name for old ways of thinking and practice? Sydney: Proceedings of the DTRS8 Conference 299-308. http://www.academia.edu/392724/Curriculum_Design_Thinking_A_New_Name_for_Old_Ways_of_Thinking_and_Practice

Melles, G., Howard, Z. & Thompson-Whiteside, S. (2012). Teaching design thinking: Expanding horizons in design education. Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences 31 162 – 166

Scottish Government (2006), Experiences and outcomes: Technologies. Retrieved from: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningteachingandassessment/curriculumareas/technologies/index.asp

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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