Feb 5, 2012

Many Eyes Make Education Bugs Shallow

If you search the Internet, it seems everything in education is broke. I am not one of those who think everything is broke.  I see great things happening in schools everyday by teachers.  I do see problems with education, but it is usually not "fat cat" administrators or teachers who do not care.  There are myriad interplaying causes that play into such a complex system.  Because the issues are so complex and diverse, we need many perspectives at the local, state, and national levels to innovate in schools. "Many eyes makes bugs shallow".

Schools tackle their issues behind their own walls.  Educators try to solve their own problems.  Principals, teachers, and administrators gather.  Board members, parents, and students get involved.  This is the root of the issue. Not many fresh ideas come from one group of like minded people. It is too susceptible to group-think and viewing the problem from very limited perspectives.  Some ideas are creative, but usually, they are slightly outside of a very narrow box.  The gravity of the culture and the "way we do things" are sure to keep many creative ideas from launching.  

In addition, the specialities and expertise are education specific in a school or district.  Yet, we need interdisciplinary approaches and expertise.  Schools need experts in marketing, engineering, business, sales, technology, arts, and pretty much everything else.  There is no way a school district has all of these expertise at highly competent levels, nor, can it afford to hire a set of diverse consultants on call to collaborate with.

We need a continuous circulation of ideas and a diverse set of perspectives in an environment that allows for wild collaboration to happen.  Schools, Districts, and their Departments need a safe place to discuss and collaborate with a diverse and passionate crowd who care about their community and education.  They need a place to interact, discuss, brainstorm, laugh, and learn with many others outside of their walls.  

That is why I am very excited that Gangplank is opening up in Avondale, Arizona, a few miles away from my office.
"Gangplank is a group of connected individuals and small businesses creating an economy of innovation and creativity in the Valley. We envision a new economic engine comprised of collaboration and community, where industries come together to transform our culture." - www.gangplankhq.com
What if we add to this,  "a new education and economic engine comprised of collaboration and community, where industries come together to transform our culture and schools".  Imagine a place where experts and innovators are gathered just to talk and collaborate about opportunities and challenges for schools with District leaders and teachers.  To help shape policies and programs.  To get creative ideas to save money. To find unexpected support and opportunities for students and learning. That circulation of fresh ideas outside of the constraints of District walls, could bring fresh innovation, insights and energy into these walls.  Our biggest opportunities in education lie in the cross-pollination of ideas from other industries and areas. There are benefits of copying and pasting solutions from other Districts, but real innovation happens when exploring and exploiting insights and ideas from outside of your own industry.

Of course, it needs to be a safe environment, not one where reporters and mad bloggers are trying to get a story to rub the school's or District's nose in.  It must be able to be open and have vulnerable-based trust in the collaborators.  Perhaps nondisclosure agreements or some other measure of protection. The quickest way for Districts to retreat and fortify behind their walls is bad press.

Gangplank Chandler - Collaborative Space
I have visited and spoke with Gangplank in Chandler many times.  It is an experience which is hard to describe.  People gathered in small groups, sometimes moving between different groups, working on podcasts, playing guitars, designing a new product, or launching a business. A self-organizing primordial ooze of creativity, passions, and ideas.

In fact, I cross-pollinated many of the ideas I saw there into the Technology Department I lead.  I took their collaborative space concept, based on a Cave and Commons approach, and organized our department space in a similar fashion.  When Heatsync Labs, a hackerspace, was setup at Gangplank, is when I first saw kids talking about geometry, without a teacher around or homework assignment due, as they were using a 3D printer and Arduino broads to create real things.  I quickly saw how powerful that could be in the classroom. Today, students are creating and making real things at one of our middle schools with 3D printing. My department was already heading down the road to use Scrum, but, Derek and Jade, who have used Scrum for many years, let my team come to see how they did Scrum at a master level.   Gangplank also triggered my idea of Student Innovation Centers. I thought, "Why can't every school have an open, interdisciplinary, and  collaborative space like this at their school?". If Gangplank was not an opensource environment, I never would have had these insights.  We would be the "same old" department you can see in any District, not a hub of collaboration and innovation. Schools and Districts do not need more of the "same old".

I plan on bringing my team to Gangplank frequently and often, discovering new and diverse ideas, and attracting other creatives at Gangplank to brainstorm how to innovate learning through technology.  I hope other schools and Districts do the same, not just at the Tech Department level, but principals, teachers, administrators, students, and parents.  Let's make educations bugs shallow by stepping outside of District walls and allowing innovations and solutions emerge in a collaborative and immensely diverse community space, one that encourages wild ideas, like the one Gangplank offers.

John Miller
The Agile School Blog

Obvious Disclaimer: These opinions are my own, not that of my employer, wife, daughter, state, country, political party, the barista that gives me my coffee, hair stylist, gardener, etc...

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