Is your school innovative? If so, how is your school innovative? Is innovation only from pockets of lone wolves interspersed across the school or is it school wide? What is the process used? How does a school scale innovative practice?
When it comes to the topic of innovation, I could keep going on and on with questions. The question that sings out to me amongst all of the above is the question of process. Innovation means different things to different people. To me the definition “significant positive growth” talks to me. It specifies growth from a determined and valuable metric. Innovation isn’t a kodak moment plucked from thin air but a structured process that is as David Culberhouse (@dclulberhouse) states “often better served and engaged when approached from constrictions and constraints, than when not.” It is innovation for value. Significant positive growth in value.
Pilot vs Prototype
What process can you follow for innovation? Traditionally at schools, the pilot or trial is the go to method to validate the effectiveness of a particular tool, approach or change in practice and I have been a part of many trials and pilots in my career. Some successful, some total failures. My issue with the pilot as a methodology is that we determine the course but often we don’t tend to stray from that original determined path. In the book “Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems Around the Globe” by the Global Education Education Leader’s Program (GELP), the use of the pilot method is questioned.
Whereas pilots are generally seen as test-runs of
and involve a limited number of people and locations, prototypes are intentionally unfinished designs that embrace a wide range of potential adopters and users in refining and enriching the development and testing out it’s applicability in a variety of settings. The earlier in the innovation process potential adopters and users actively engage with the prototype, the more likely diffusion will accelerate.
Now prototypes seem more synonymous with entrepreneurship and start ups than schools so what exactly does a prototype look like in schools? What process should be followed? How can this lead to improved innovation? To explain this, we need to step back a little.
Problems and the Scientific method
Like Culberhouse stated earlier, innovation tends to thrive in response to the parameters of a problem. There is a void, a need, a gap and we develop an idea or hypothesis to try to fill that. The likely next steps are that you design to test that idea, define whether or not it worked and then make adjustments of either minute or significant stature. This is the scientific method.
The above graphic loosely outlines the steps required to complete a scientific experiment and is a process familiar to many. This method is also at the heart of the Lean StartUp method. The key difference is the lean component.
Lean StartUp Methodology
The Lean StartUp method was developed by Eric Ries (@ericries) as a way to reduce the product development cycle and to receive important feedback quickly. Feedback is key in any process and Eric believes that the sooner we know whether or not our idea or hypothesis will work, the better. Now it is not simply rushing to the end as quickly as possible, it is much more measured than that.
We have a problem and we develop a hypothesis to fix/cover/remove that problem. From here we follow what Eric calls the Build Measure Learn process, which in essence is the scientific method.
The build component is our experiment, our prototype. In the Lean StartUp process, a prototype is called a Minimal Viable Product, defined by Eric Ries as “the fastest way to get through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, with the minimum amount of effort.” The prototype is not simply a half baked product or process. For example, an MVP for a school working on redesigning learning spaces could simply be the reshuffling of furniture in an existing classroom to test floor formations. The time and cost invested to set it up are minimal and so we get through the feedback loop quickly and learn fast. The Build is easy and quick. Our Measure for success might be simply sighting and documenting which spaces students gravitate towards or measuring on task time of certain students in certain locations. A post focussing on metrics (actionable vs vanity) will come shortly. We might Learn that students work most independently in the United Nations style formation. To truly validate that learning, we would need to complete A/B testing. According to Wikipedia, A/B testing “is a way to compare two versions of a single variable typically by testing a subject’s response to variable A against variable B, and determining which of the two variables is more effective“. For our experiment above, it might simply by testing one class with the new formation and one class without. It might be testing two different furniture formations against each other. Either way, it helps to validate our learning. If our idea works, it should consistently work and add value. After we validate or invalidate our learning with our evidence, we then make changes, slight adjustments or complete pivots away from the idea. The power of this approach for all who follow it is the contextual evidence it provides. It empowers teachers because of the value it places on their professional judgement. It organises that judgement and collectively gives voice to the people who are best placed to ‘innovate’ or develop ‘significant positive growth’. A great article about running schools like startups can be found here.
Lean methodology is also a part of the Inquiry Oriented Innovation Process, developed by Richard Olsen (@richardolsen). I have spoken in previous posts about Learner development and developing pedagogical intelligence through the Modern Learning Canvas and the lean process is the action research element of this. It is the step that tests assumptions and collects evidence (quickly). Below is an image from my Year 7 Multimedia redevelopment that has been captured by Richard’s Modern Learning Canvas software.
Feedback is the lifeblood of a great education. Schools know that. For example, many schools have moved to continuous reporting so that they can get feedback in the hands of parents and students quicker. The lean process can assist in any area of education to reduce the feedback cycle and to gather more. The more useful feedback collected, the more informed you are. I’ll finish with another quote from the great David Culberhouse.
We find that we hide in our successes and insulate ourselves from change for so long that when the real need for change comes along, we are unable to adjust in agile and adaptive ways. We find that we’ve lost the ability to shift or change, often leading to this ‘drift’ into irrelevance.
Don’t lose your ability to shift or change. Be agile.
For those who are interested, I will be running a workshop on lean methodology at the upcoming TeachTechPlay conference being held at Ivanhoe Grammar on April 7 & 8.