Design Thinking in Schools: I need your problems

If you could solve one problem facing education what would it be?


Take whatever comes to mind first or take a moment to ponder, then subject your problem to “the 5 Whys”. Here is an example.

Problem: There is not enough time for teachers to do their job properly

  1. Why do teachers not get their job done in the time they have? Because doing everything required by the school takes longer than there are hours in the day
  2. Why does the school require teachers to do so much? Because they feel under pressure to increase exam results.
  3. Why do schools feel under pressure to focus on exam results? Because that is what they are measured and judged on.
  4. Why are schools measured on exam results? Because other measures are difficult to gauge and compare.
  5. Why are other measures not developed?

First problem: Teacher Time

Real problem: How schools are measured


This process is better when someone else asks the why questions, if you can take your initial problem to someone else and get them to quiz you, please do. You may need to back up a couple of times to get through 5 whys, once you have I would be delighted if you could add it here.

What now?

Solutions will be posted to you within 5 working days… If only! Education tends to tweak what it already has and look for marginal gains, not least after the British Cycling team inspired the use of that phrase in 2012. In the spirit of moonshot thinking, what if we stopped looking for 10% (I know, you wish! But stay with me, think outside of exam results) improvements and looked for 10x improvements in education? Time to throw aside the status quo and start from the beginning.

This can only work if you start from a really huge worthwhile problem, hence I am farming them from you. Finding the real problem is not easy or something that everyone does naturally. We take immediate problems we encounter at face value, this is both genetic and in our nature. Why stick around to find out why someone is angrily charging at you? Some schools are moving past the superficial problems and taking root problems. Schools with a laser focus on curriculum design, designed for learners not inspectors, design by teachers, not civil servants would be one example that comes to mind first. I see a place for inspectors and civil servants in the education space too.

How might government and regulatory authorities incentivise long-term planning and innovation in schools?

I want to gather together education problems, real problems, because understanding these makes ideas much easier to develop. I want to gather together these problems to feed into sessions we run with schools on the use of educational technology. I want these problems so I can reflect on who is best places to solve them.

I also wouldn’t mind writing them up into a follow up to this post too.

Please post your problems, real problems! to this link

Thanks for reading/sharing


School 2.0

The internet looks nothing like it did when it started, but schools have taken a slower approach to change!

No one involved in the early construction of a network of networks saw what we have now coming. Therefore how can we know what comes next, but indulge me in an attempt at envisaging the potential impact of modern internet capabilities on the institutions of learning? Might the ever evolving internet have the potential to finally nudge education to innovate and evolve?

“From the moment you wake up, the web is trying to anticipate your intentions. Since your routines are noted, the web is attempting to get ahead of your actions, to deliver an answer almost before you ask a question.”

Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly

The extract from my most recent Kindle acquisition prompted me to apply this idea to my passion, education. Machine learning uses data to predict what you will want to eat, consume, purchase and more. So what will this look like for learning? Google Drive already makes a stab at which documents you want to access when you open it. Google Sheets are starting to predict the formula you want to use, and it will only get better at it. Get your hands on the new Jamboard app which turns your sketch of common items into a neat icon. How? Using all the drawings people have added to quickdraw. If the data is there, a machine can learn from it. Learning is a very complex system but our use of data to measure learning is extremely simplistic.

Learning machines

If you live in Scotland as a 14 year old, this information alone gives a reasonable indication of what you are studying. Furthermore, your documents and data will too. Is it not inevitable that you will receive study materials, curriculum updates, pop quizzes and feedback based on this basic information? Having studied Pythagoras three weeks previous you can be provided with review materials, your notes and suitable problems to solve at the optimal time to review it and ensure it begins to embed in your long-term memory. This is available information ‘the internet’ can use to support your studies with timely content. This is not Sci-Fi, this is functionality many of us experience through our devices because we have traded access to our data for the tools to make our lives a bit easier or more productive. If this kind of automation and feedback were available to students, the kind of efficiency I certainly didn’t achieve (ask my students!), why would they need their teachers? A question you only ask if you are not able to change your view of what a teacher is or could be.

News corporations could not envisage the internet delivering news because their schema did not allow it. They were not able to foresee or imagine all their passive readers and viewers becoming the creators of content, whether that be videos, blogs, social media posts or reviews on Amazon. They assumed the content on the internet would have to be created by them, but that would not be economically viable. Remember, we are abysmal at predicting the future, yet here I am trying!?

What is school?

If a student is receiving feedback on their work quickly and efficiently without having to enter school building then what is the school for? A social place to share your learning, remain mentally sound by providing interaction with other children and experts? Will your schedule be dynamic and each day adjust to your needs? Let’s not forget we like structure… Could a machine learn the structures we work best in?

As a teacher would I have your essay appear in the morning and a meeting scheduled for the afternoon. The marking of your essay against a rubric will already be done the moment you ‘submit’ and I see it too. The thousands of teacher marked essays and millions more marked by machines means the assessment is now better conducted by machine than by a human. Our scheduled meeting is to review and discuss the next steps. Other students may join our tutorial by video link, they are visiting an educational site elsewhere but would benefit from the tutorial so they are added to the meeting if convenient, another institution may have a more convenient essay review of course.

All the while their online professional portfolio is being created and made available to employers and recruiters who might benefit from their skills. Employer data on the attributes of their most productive teams use this to match a students potential profile. This is similar to current sporting recruitment where young athletes with a lung capacity above the mean average might be pushed towards rowing or cycling. As long as every student can participate and have their information accessible in this way social mobility can be accelerated as the screening of portfolios is automated, bypassing our bias for names and backgrounds that we know or are similar to our own.

Don’t be put off by student data being accessed. This can easily sit within data protection laws if the service we want is for students to get prompt and useful feedback, then the data processor is within their rights to use the data they need to provide the service. The data controller, would that be the institution… Or could it be the student’s family? Whether you have “Alexa”, “Siri”, “Cortana” or just “Hey Google..” ringing around your house, you will be familiar with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. My phone gives me driving times to different destinations on different days, based on my previous journeys. So let’s take this scenario to learning. Based on your habits and working patterns might we have these types of prompts from our devices?

“It looks like you are studying, how long would you like notifications turned off”

“This is usually your most productive study time, shall I open your current assignments?”

“Looks like you have finished your essay, would you like to get feedback on it now, if so a lecturer is available in two hours to review the feedback, shall I schedule a tutorial? 7 other students on your course will be present.”

“You are not studying effectively, take a break I will check if your friends are free”

“Ready for a pop quiz on the civil war?”

These interactions could be the way we manage our studies, automated and based on our data. Machines using our responses to improve predictions and support.

Learning Institutions

Where might learning happen and what of the experts, coaches or teachers supporting that process? It would appear unlikely we would do away with physical space dedicated to learning. Our access to online learning is now vast, with reputable institutions offering courses online. However, the completion rates are very poor and these Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may not be the future of learning.

The screen in the Principal’s office provides an interactive infographic of feedback metrics on student participation and progress in courses, student ratings for tutorials and dynamic course numbers. Permanent staff include trained councillors, learning facilitators but the teaching staff are fluid depending on need from week to week. Through their profile, many join via video link to support a burst of course interest or required expertise. Others are longer term on site having had superb feedback and progress metrics. They have built strong relationships and reputations for your institution and also contribute content to the courses. Their involvement with other institutions benefits the cross-pollination of innovations in learning. Why not have Elon Musk as your visiting transportation lecturer?

What are your qualifications?

There are signals of the waning value of traditional academic achievements. Will the transition between learning and work blur? How restricted are we in our exam systems? I am going to go and read more on assessment, the skills needed in a changing world and train some teachers on using G Suite for learning.

Writing this post is foolish as I am planting an artefact online that will surely be embarrassingly inaccurate. However, I will continue to consider what learning may look like as the world changes. I am confident change will come, but in education, I cannot predict whether it will be a systematic evolution or a learner revolution.

Thanks for reading.

What’s in your Classroom? Marking… for how long?

Marking, how I dearly miss it. As my son would say “You are being sarcasm” and he would be correct. I don’t miss sitting marking book after book each evening but for how much longer will this be something teachers need to endure? There is a simple problem. Machines are getting better at it than you are. This happened to farmers and factory workers, weavers and car makers in previous centuries so why shouldn’t onerous tasks be removed from teachers? The only reason it is taking so long is that it doesn’t make anyone more money.

Did you ever get tired and rush the last few books? Ever get ten books in and realise that you need to go back and adjust the first few as you were being too harsh or generous? That process takes you longer and is open to many biases and errors. A machine can manage this process and you are welcome to check it.

So teachers… How long until you no longer need to mark?