Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

00705 From Reason to Uncertainty

October 8, 2010

Doesn’t it seem irrational that after all that, with the abounding knowledge that eLearning can make vast improvements in student learning, that almost nothing has happened. After running across a number of other similar instances over the past couple of weeks, maybe we need to move beyond rational. Stick with me for the next half dozen thoughts/ideas.

Easy multiplying and dividing: An Indian mathematician created the decimal system in 500 C.E. and it took a thousand years for European adoption.

Teacher quantification: A master kindergarten teacher’s one year effort is worth $300,000 a year in future earnings of her class.

Slim people: Corn subsidies support high fructose corn syrup in sodas.

Booming economy: Modest salaries rewards for educators and technical folks, sky rocketing bonuses for financial folks.

Innovation bonanza: We hold spelling bees for memorization instead of idea bees for fluency.

From Middle Age math charts and tables to sugar soft drinks to today’s memorization these protocols are all products of rational thought. It takes a long time for rational new ideas to take hold and a much longer time to replace them. What was OK in a pre-industrial world may not be serving us very well in the 21st century. In the 19th century the steam engine was invented and fossil fuel power multiplied animal power a thousand fold. In the 21st century we are transforming our human culture with the digital age of information and communication. First we leveraged our bodies with technological innovation, and now we are leveraging our minds with next generation technological innovations.

The age of reason was fine for the slow moving run-up to the industrial age. But for the digital age, invention driven innovation is so rapid, and systems are so complex that deterministic models are not working. Change is caused by rapid triggering of transformation. Outliers such as the Berlin Wall, the Internet, the PC and financial crisis came out of nowhere. Experts and econometric models that our incumbent culture uses to forecast the future are useless. More over, they are actually dangerous because they get in the way of intuition and innovation.

I say it’s time to refocus from reason to intuition. Change from facts we know to concentrating on what we don’t know. Learn to live in uncertainty with a loose set of empirical rules. Escape the structured world based on limited knowledge, embrace unknowns and seek out the unknown unknowns.

There are a number of professions that practice uncertainty: “piracy, commodity speculation, professional gambling, working in some branches of the Mafia, and serial entrepreneurship.*” Looks like I am in good company! I will be taking this refocus onto embracing uncertainty and intuition into future blogs.

*Nassin Taleb, “The Black Swan.” Random House, 2007

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00329 History of Education – 5 Act Play

April 1, 2010

Economic History => Future

A recent Op-Ed by David Brooks* NY Times lamented the lack of a comprehensive history of modern economics, based on the stunning consequences of the recent events. His framework for this history is in five Acts.

Act I. Economic man was a crude representation of individual human nature who was totally rational and only interested in maximizing his personal benefit. During my late 1970’s MBA I took several economic courses, ran econometric models, and was always one variable away from solutions that matched the data. We actually used humans with quantified util’s as part of the utility functions and had grand arguments.

Act II. During the past several decades, Herbert Simon addressed not-perfectly rational people, and Gary Becker saw behaviors that were not just self interest, like having children. Others saw that people have biases, and many make non-objective decisions.

Act III. Is a discontinuity with the economic crisis of 2008-2009. The incredibly sophisticated econometric/financial models built over the decades failed to predict the wiping out of $50 trillion in global wealth and the huge human suffering that followed.

Act IV. is starting with soul searching that is far from a consensus on why the economic intellectual agenda-setters failed to see the oncoming train wreck. In the physical sciences, real problems are solved and stay solved. In economics, thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. Economists are now talking about the individual, love, virtue, social relationships and imagination!

Act V. David Brooks predicts that the current field of rational economics will be blown-up. Human beings cannot be addressed with universal laws like physics. It will become a subsection of history and moral philosophy focusing on individuals within contexts. The lessons learned will be one by one, like art, not science.

Education History => Future

Any lesson’s to learn for educational transformation from the economics’ meltdown? Probably not since Brook’s history is over a few years, and education’s a few century. But let’s walk along the path of economics anyway and lay in education at their milestones.

Act I. Early 1700’s: Prussians founded the highly structured lecture, recitation, seat-work system for the select group of aristocratic youth.

Act II. Late 1800’s: This model one-size-fits-all factory like system was applied to all children through universal education.

Act III. Middle of the 2000th century the system expanded to meet expectations that women, minorities and special needs children should also graduate. There was a significant increase in funding for all education with the major gains in special education. The education crisis emerged over 2 decades not the 2 years for the economic crisis.  Academic performance gains stagnated in the mid 1970’s. In 1980’s the system was shocked to learn that the Iron Curtain countries were out-performing American schools by a significant margin. The final blow came from a Bolivian immigrant Jaime Escalante who transformed L.A.’s tough Garfield High School. He blew away the myth that inner-city kids can not perform at the highest levels (movie: Stand and Deliver). He graduated more advanced placement Calculus students than all but four other U.S. high schools.

Act IV. The initial reactions were reforms and restructuring that moved the deck chairs but did not focus on hard issues. Innovations such as charter schools, choice, career ladders, No Child Left Behind, etc. were tried by many states but success was fleeting. Summative testing to standards is becoming a piece of the solution. But as any industrial quality expert knows the only way to have quality products out the door is heavy investment in design, training and equipment investment for all aspects of the cycle. After three decades of action academic performance and graduation rates remain flat. Society’s demands for job and college ready students, 21st century critical thinking and a globally competitive economy have soared. Fortunately ideas with broad and significant success factors such as eLearning, individualized instruction, digital content, teacher-student centered focus, mastery not seat time funding, online learning, and personal learning plans have started to emerge.

Act V. The 21st century will not see a blow-up of K-12 education like David Brooks’ forecast for the economics field. I believe the coming transformation from the factory model of the Prussians to massively-individualized education is definitely in the cards. This transformation will be shaped by the decades-old Benjamin Bloom studies of the tutor-student relationship and the individualization methods for gifted and other special education students from the 1970’s. Serving moral, social and emotional yearnings and ambitions of individual students will be the driving factor bringing renewed growth of both academic achievement and graduation rates.

The most import lesson from the economic tragedy is that the focus of education must not be on the “school” but rather on the multifaceted context of the student. Of course, this is not news to any successful teacher. Like Jaime Escalante they know how to ward off the Prussian structure to serve the needs of their individual students.

*: David Brooks, Op-Ed  The Return of History New York Times, March 25, 2009

00315 Innovation: Fraught With Peril and Opportunity

March 15, 2010

Successful innovation has a sequence of phases:

1. Invention, early adoption, rapid acceptance by one market;

2. Expansion into multiple markets;

3. Legacy system transformation driven by outside disruptive innovations based on technology, societal and economic changes;

4. Dying or being absorbed into an emerging innovation.

Innovation is a highly unpredictable process. It is rife with unintended consequences and

1. Our system of education was invented by the Prussians in the early 1700’s to educate sons of the elite. It reached the U.S. market by the late 1880’s with the compulsory education movement.

2. The market served expanded from boys to boys and girls during the first half of the 1900’s and to minority populations and special education students in the last half of the 1900’s. The dominant mode of innovation has been market extensions through government mandates and significant increases in government funding. The result has been huge increases in student learning time, graduation rates and economic and societal benefits.

3. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s the legacy system invented by the Prussians had expanded to all available markets. But societal needs demanded a change to include quality with quantity. The emerging social need was for K-12 to educate college and career ready students for the 21st century. The demand curve had crossed over the supply curve and the scramble was on. Change was in the air.

Hope for rapid success has faded and we seem stuck in phase 3. Inside the system, grade inflation worked for awhile, but was then discredited. Outside advocacy communities came on strong with whole language, charter schools, school choice, essential skills, standards, school improvements, test score data to guide decision making and a host of others. Many are based on market-competitiveness models.

A recent book by an intellectual leader in this movement, Diane Ravitch is: “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” Dr. Ravitch wants to return to the traditional school structure. Why she is doing an about face on her 20 years of change efforts is explored in an Education Week  article, March 10, 2010 www.edweek.org .

Chester E. Finn Jr. of the Thomas Fordham Institute, a long time associate of Diane Ravitch, agrees with her depressing analysis of the data. But he espouses renewed efforts to destroy the old structure and replace it with the new.

With humility to their much greater depth of wisdom and knowledge, I believe both are wrong. Reverting to innovation Phase 2 or jumping over Phase 3 to Phase 4 makes little sense.

We have 20 years of data which show that a dozen piecemeal approaches do not work. Even added together, there has been scant increase in academic performance of K-12 education as a whole. There is a big difference between statistically significant improvement and significant improvement in effect factor.

We must reach the effect factor goal of at least one sigma (or letter grade) improvement across the board for all 60 million students for all courses and grade levels. We must increase the graduation rate to an effective 95% whether through formal or informal means of education. Graduating students must be prepared and eager to prosper in a world that requires life-span learning.

The 300 year old innovation of grouping teachers and students within the traditional organizational structure needs to make the transformation with a long strategic system design approach. Outside advocates have a huge role to play to support the transformative changes in school finance, human resources, technology based systems, curriculum, data and decision making. But the real innovation adopters within Phase 3 are our leaders and teachers currently within the education system. Together we can pull it off.