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Courtney O'Connell

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Ending Education Reform to Reimagine What's Possible

Posted: 11/25/2013 5:31 pm

According to a recent PEW Research Study, 66 percent of Americans say either that the education system in this country needs to be completely rebuilt or that it requires major changes. I couldn't agree more. In this post, I am infusing innovation research into the education reform debate. We need to ditch the agenda to reform, and shift our focus on to creating anew. In my TEDx talk, "Go All In on Education," I took the audience through a visualization exercise using the four images below.


These first two images serve as a visual representation of society and it's progress over the past 83 years.

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These next two images serve as a visual representation of education and it's progress over the last 83 years.

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These images are powerful, and provide us with a visualization of the problem we are facing in education as it relates to progress and change. Most critics make the mistake of assuming that innovation does not exist in education. I can assure you that innovation exists; the problem has a lot to do with the environment and the ability for disruptive ideas to thrive. Below is an outline of two critical issues we face as it relates to the environment in education.


Issue #1: Innovating Education Is Different Than Innovating the Telephone

Innovation, in just about every industry, has a similar trajectory or cycle. First, a revolutionary idea is born and goes to market. Next, the industry reacts to that idea and replicates it. For instance, when Apple introduced the first iPhone we saw the entire mobile phone industry react by quickly creating their own version of a smart phone. This cycle of innovation is why phones don't look like they did 83 years ago. However, education faces a unique challenge. A new revolutionary idea introduced in a school, no matter how great the idea, does not necessarily work in another school across the country. Ask any teacher, education administrator or student, and they will tell you this. When you try to replicate an idea from one school to another, you often will get something that feels like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Product ideas can be replicated much easier than approaches to education.


Issue #2: We're Trying to Fix A System That is Severely Outdated

Much of the modern education system -- the design, structure and delivery -- was originally designed in the industrial age. Society has progressed significantly, and yet our educational experience for students has not changed fundamentally. There have been advances in technology, and the education system has found ways to adapt and infuse technology into the educational experience. However, the structure, design and delivery of education still remains closely the same as it did over 80 years ago. This is depicted by the images of the classrooms above. Any great innovator will tell you that in order to be revolutionary, one must create with a blank canvas. The education reform agenda is constricting our educators to think of new and big ideas for our students within the constraints of a completely outdated education system. For instance, you can come up with a big idea for teaching students math and science, but it has to fall within the traditional school day, classroom, curriculum, etc. This is a problem.

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The important point is that the whole notion of reforming education has created an environment where creativity is unable to thrive and multiply. Are you an educator or a student? If so, imagine you had free reign to design an educational experience from scratch. What would it look like? How about employers of college and high school graduates? How would you design the education system? It might be hard to think outside the constraints that are engrained in our mind of what education is 'supposed to' look like, but imagine if we started with a blank canvas. What would you create? I have some ideas that I plan to share over time in a series of posts, but I would love to hear from educators, students and employers. It'd be fantastic to feature your ideas in follow up posts. Let's begin the conversation and create an educational experience where all can thrive.

 

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