Category Archives: Ideas

Design-thinking & Future-thinking with Kids

A group of NYC cultural institutions tapped me for a fun design project, work with students to design education in 2050.   Given 2050 is rather abstract, our mission ratcheted down to redesigning current products for “the future.” Aside from soaking in the imagination boost that 5th graders radiate, I was surprised by some of the thoughts that surfaced.

When you ask adults to imagine the future of education, they often gravitate to algorithmically individualized learning and interactions with objects.   Yet in nearly every storyboard scenario created and every conversation on how they would use products to learn, the students gravitated to highly valuing social and face-to-face interactions.  When asked how they would use the “virtual helmet” they designed, the high schoolers replied,”[to connect] at home.” One of many take-aways is that we must design for both personalized learning and social learning.

Each imagining session was rapid (1/2 day long) , but importantly, we started by posing the question of how you learned something (understand the problem you are designing a solution for).   The fifth graders produced some colorful storyboards (with common themes arising of learning from hands-on, context-rich, out of the classroom experiences).


We asked the fifth graders to examine (purpose/problems/strengths of) the desk, the whiteboard, and the notebook and to then redesign them.   One product that emerged was inter-connected big/mini boards that filled the needs of ESL students through auto-translation and verbal command features.   Similarly we asked high school students to map out how they learn and challenged them to define the purpose of the lecture, the homework, and the test and then to create new products for improving those learning processes.  The students presented their product designs last week at MobilityShifts and impressed at least one reporter as young designers of learning futures.



YouPD and Peer-led Professional Development

a quest for what works

What are ways adults can (and already do) learn from each other?  How can we think differently about how teachers can develop their craft and be recognized for their expertise? Especially in the profession of teaching, what of value goes unacknowledged that can instead be visualized, celebrated, and professionalized? After very rapid design/development this past spring and a limited introduction this summer, (beta) has been a useful exploration of these questions through real world application of some hypotheses. is a peer-driven professional development community, questing together for what works.   Noticing the numbers of teachers seeking out other teachers and resources online,  as well as the large gaps in understanding how to effectively engage in virtual and blended learning, we wondered how a platform could better support that need and community.   The site mimics a lot of the ways  learning and professional development occurs in the coding and tech communities —  often self-directed, open-sourced, and peer-supported.   It also tries to integrate some of the positive dynamics of social networks and social incentives.   Part crowd-sourcing and part crowd-supporting, YouPD’s iterative development is attempting to figure out a few ideas:  1)  how to bubble-up teachers’ unique and valuable bottom-up knowledge in way that goes beyond just trading lesson plans,  2) how to motivate through social recognition both individual and community professional growth, 3) how to design meaningful challenges to facilitate teachers in pushing themselves and each other further, 4) if facilitating blended learning for students requires teachers to first experience blended learning themselves,  5) how to enable an authentic, peer-led community.

On you can do three main things:  1) Post or watch hacks — in this context a short 3-5 minute video or screencast explaining how you creatively solved a problem that you think others might benefit from trying as well,  2) Take badge-earning challenges that facilitate steps to developing a skill and outcome goal,  3) Participate in the peer community — giving feedback on others’ hacks, recommending a hack, tagging content, visiting other teachers who inspire you, going to a Blender/physical meetup,  etc.

Micro-actions on the site add to an individual’s “Cred Quotient” and earn points as Learners, Sharers, Influencers, and Collaborators.  The “Cred Quotient” is visible on individuals’ profile pages.  In addition to the community spaces, the individual profile acts as both an organizing tool (e.g. to find saved “playlists” of hacks, contributions, challenge badges) and potentially, in the future, a professionally valued portfolio of sorts.

As opposed to top-down, district-defined PD needs, YouPD is experimenting with ways for teachers to define their own learning needs, help solve each other’s learning needs, and be recognized for that personal growth and professional community.   From a research perspective, as participation grows,  it’s also a data-driven way to begin to see and understand aggregate patterns in what teachers are interested in learning (hacks they are clicking on and/or creating), which can potentially inform where and how to invest more resources.

Many questions and challenges remain as this site is further introduced, but some promising anecdotes are emerging of peer connections being forged.   See a snapshot of features not covered in this post through this short prezi, or visit the site.

Flipping The Classroom

Salman Khan of Khan Academy concisely articulates the potential for online learning to flip the classroom.  The goal is to use technology to humanize education.   Rather than focusing on student to teacher ratios, the key metric is the ratio of student to valuable human time.  Rather than lecturing and grading, teachers (or peers) can sit with the learner and facilitate what is normally assigned for homework, flipping the classroom.   Meanwhile, Video pause, rewind, and replay enables self-pacing.  So far data at Khan Academy seems to suggest that labels of gifted vs. challenged may often be due to a coincidence of time.  And that true, full mastery should be a goal for all.

For me, the interplay with Los Altos School District is also an interesting example of closer connections between emerging solution development and end users — a gap I’ve been thinking much about while working towards creating EDesign, a more user-centered and interdisciplinary collaborative to problem-solve for education innovation.

Animating Where Ideas Come From

The continuous drawings that Cognitive Media creates for RSA Animate and others convey information and simultaneously highlight the power of reading and writing beyond text.  From my personal perspective, both animations below, Steven Johnson on “Where Good Ideas Come From” and Sir Ken Robinson on “Changing Education Paradigms”, are engaging.  A useful thought exercise is considering how the visualizations and media format change the users’ experience and understanding of their ideas/knowledge compared to reading their words or watching them talk.  Layered on top is what if any difference channel creates, e.g. watching on a semi-social public platform like YouTube vs streaming from this post vs watching on one’s iphone vs watching in-person with other audience members.

Preconceptions and Interfaces

Many educators I talk with imagine the future of education with analogies to books.  What if instead the analogy is to cell phones, post it notes, kinect, and smart cards?  Different possibilities emerge with new types of interfaces.  Some thoughts to seed fresh starting points for brainstorming:

Pictures that emerged from a survey that asked children under 12 to draw , “What would be really interesting or fun to do on your computer or the Internet that your computer canʼt do right now?”

Microsoft Future Vision

Reimagining Virtual School

Last winter, I lead a small team in analyzing the landscape of virtual learning environments and engaging in an ideation process to reimagine what virtual learning (in public school) could look like.  The goal was to deliberately spend time examining user experience.  An important question and design principle was thinking about learning as life-long and everyone as a potential learner or expert.   If a teacher is a potential student and a student is a potential teacher, what could be ways of organizing experiences for meaningful discovery and collaborative creation?  A second important question was thinking about how to filter, mashup, and matchup the growing universe of content for learning in a way that could provide relevant opportunities for interaction and demonstration of mastery.

This is a rough interactive prototype we developed to articulate a few ideas that emerged (sketch of functions and flow in two scenarios, not the ideal visual user interface)

Click to view Wireframe Video Demo or written PDF narrative summary

This landscape is quickly changing with new entrants, however a preliminary scan revealed that a majority of existing educational platforms still mimic textbooks and classrooms, print to pixels.   The scan purposely included coverage of emerging platforms outside of education to spark conversations about what elements could be borrowed from YouTube, Wikipedia, Blogspot, XBOX Live, Meetup, and various open source initiatives.   Click to view summary of landscape research pdf

Rethinking Assessment

How does the ability to track stock points affect the incentives and behaviors of companies?   The common phenomenon of focus on short term profits suggests in a narrow and significant way.

Services like SchoolMAX and Edulink allow students and parents to follow the ups and downs of grades like stock tickers.  On the one hand, these portals create improved connections to review grades, download homework assignments, and text chat with teachers.  On the other hand, they motivate the question about whether we are tracking and focusing on the right things (or perpetuating outdated indicators of achievement).

In the adult world, we aren’t graded on each email we write.  What matters is did we (usually as part of a team) accomplish/solve the end goal — did we sell the product, heal the patient, win the case, build the application, complete the compelling creative.  The changing nature of work and required skills has caused the need to rethink traditional assessment – what aside from attendence, the completion of assignments, and exam performance can be captured and tracked to motivate and improve learning in progress?

There is energy around the idea that games do not seperate learning and assessment – the potential to get “just in time”, constant feedback on one’s learning curve.  Professor James Gee has a knack for explaining in layman’s terms the potential for games as part of the solution to understanding “knowledge not just as facts, but knowledge as something you produce” and for transforming assessment from a stick to a carrot (watch a video interview here).

A more academic summary of “what we know about assessment in games” via UCLA CRESST here (with a helpful list of research papers in its end References section).  Baker and Delacruz advocate that games must be integrated into curriculum/training at the outset of design rather than as an add-on, so that the assessment is embedded in the transaction of the game and underlying game engine.  Current typical approaches to game-based assessment such as scoring mechanisms (e.g. number of obstacles conquered against time) and wrap around assessments (added tasks or questions) are compared to embedded assessments that could use process data to help explain learning outcomes (e.g. student online clickstream behavior to support inferences about student understanding).  The difference between motivation measures versus measurement of cognitive or procedural skills is also emphasized.

Finally, the development of Teachable Agents (tools for learning by teaching) will be interesting to watch over the next few years.  Some research papers available at The Teachable Agents Group.

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