Improving Improvement in Education

Lately, I have been thinking about the dynamics of a truly smart education system in the age of cognitive systems and social networks, trying to formulate what a “Moore’s Law For Education” might be like.

So I was delighted when I received an email from my colleague Bill Daul, about a keynote speech by Prof. Louis Gomez (UCLA) and Howard Rheingold (author and educator) entitled “Improving Improvement in Education.”

Here is a short extract, but I urge you to read the whole piece and follow all the links to video etc.

Howard Rheingold wrote:

When I spoke to Gomez for the video that accompanies this post, we talked about the way networked improvement communities are rooted in Engelbart’s thinking from decades ago. An improvement community, in Engelbart’s framework, is not just one that seeks to improve its performance, but one that also seeks to learn how to improve improvement methods. Engelbart made an important distinction between the day-to-day work of an organization, the effort to improve the organization’s performance, and the ongoing conversation about improving improvement:

A Activity: the organization’s day-to-day core business activity, such as product development, customer support, R&D, manufacturing, marketing, sales, accounting, legal, etc. Examples: Aerospace — producing planes; Congress — passing legislation; Medicine — researching a cure for disease; Education — teaching and mentoring students; Associations — advancing a field or discipline.

B Activity: Improving how A work is done, such as improving product cycle time and quality. Examples: improving how A Activities foster customer relations or team building, deliver quality products and services, deliver corporate IT services, manage their people and budgets. Could be an individual learning about new techniques (reading, conferences, networking), or an initiative, innovation team or improvement community engaging with A Activity and other key stakeholders to implement new/improved capability within one or more A activities.

C Activity: Improving how B work is done, such as improving improvement cycle time and quality. Examples: improving effectiveness of B Activity teams in how they foster relations with their A Activity customers, collaborate to identify needs and opportunities, research, innovate, and implement available solutions, incorporate input, feedback, and lessons learned, run pilot projects, etc. Could be a B Activity individual learning about new techniques for innovation teams (reading, conferences, networking), or an initiative, innovation team or improvement community engaging with B Activity and other key stakeholders to implement new/improved capability for one or more B activities.

These activities are ongoing in any healthy organization. However, the current means of improving how we work are not adequate for the scale and rate of change we face today. Most organizations need to acquire much more effective ways of identifying and assimilating dramatic improvements on a continuing basis. … This is all C activity work.

Systematically improving the way we think about improving education is a splendid idea, many will agree. But what, exactly, might it mean in practice? Gomez made a start at addressing this question in “Schooling as a Knowledge Profession,” an Education Week article co-authored with Jal D. Mehta and Anthony S. Bryk.

You can read the rest of what Howard Rheingold wrote here.

Improving improvement is the key to making smart service systems across all sectors a key grand challenge for the future.

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