Education Management: Paradigm Shift Through Broad-mindedness and Design Thinking

A viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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Traditional Classroom

Change is everywhere and whether it’s our hometown or in our daily activities, adjustment and fine tuning is inevitable. The challenge to traditional education should be no exception and applies to all levels – whether it’s the elementary school, the vocational center or the college. Cookie cutter thinking ought to be replaced with personalization, customization, as well as design thinking.

Evolution in technological advancements, increased stress levels and different attitudes and values from students, as compared to their parents, have all influenced and changed how education is achieved today. Instead, students continue to be told what to learn, how to behave, how and when to learn it, and then are evaluated in ways that may not reflect the diverse intelligences that exist in every student population.

From Standardized Schools to Personalized Learning

Most will agree that education should be perpetual. Since we ought to continuously hone our academic skills along with applied skills, learning at all academic institutions, including workshops and seminars, should cause students to enjoy rather than endure the sessions.

The profile of our learners has changed over time. Today, they are digitally wired including Web 2.0+, video games, and carrying their tablets and/or smart-phones everywhere they go. While many educators today bemoan that these learners are difficult to engage, game designers on the other hand are successful at attracting a plethora of loyalists. It’s a dilemma for educators who still grapple with getting students to master something that is time consuming and challenging, as well as derive pleasure from it.

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, an outspoken critic of the existing educational model, challenges the way we’re educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He strongly encourages moving away from the industrial method by reforming it and personalizing it to the people we’re teaching. In the follow-up to his fabled 2006 TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning – creating conditions where students’ natural talents can flourish.

John Rassias, the William R. Kenan Professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, U.S.A., and developer of the innovative and highly effective approach to teaching languages, known as the Rassias Method® or the Dartmouth Intensive Language Model, claims that unlike the conventional way, his technique is widely successful because it aims to:

“…make the participant feel comfortable and natural with the language in a short period of time” involving “teaching procedures and dramatic techniques which seek to eliminate inhibitions and create an atmosphere of free expression from the very first day of class.”

Prof. Rassias has written several books and is the subject of more than 400 articles in regional, national and the international press. At his talks he preaches the importance of teaching heart-to-heart. Since his approach has been utilized by all language departments at Dartmouth College (including Chinese, French, German, Modern Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish), the number of foreign language majors has steadily increased. This statistic stands out as a startling reversal of the national trend in recent years of declining enrollments in foreign language courses. Teachers in other colleges introducing the Rassias Method report similar renewals of interest.

Design Thinking – the Next Competitive Advantage

Classrooms and schools across the world are facing design challenges every single day, from teacher feedback systems to daily schedules. The challenges educators are confronted with are real, complex, and varied. As such, they require new perspectives, new tools, and new approaches. Design Thinking from Ideo, the company that conceived the idea, is one such method. Ideo is an international design firm and innovation consultancy founded in Palo Alto, California.

The following graphic was developed by Design Thinking for Educators to explain the process of design thinking:

What are some ways we are seeing the application of design thinking within education? According to Ideo’s CEO & President, Tim Brown:

“We’re seeing people use design thinking to create change at multiple levels—from national education reform to individual classroom needs. Teachers find it to be an engaging pedagogical approach, because in order to create new solutions, you cannot help but learn about people and their interests, about business or math or science or engineering. Plus, while students are learning the specific knowledge set required to develop a relevant and buildable solution, they’re also developing highly valuable skills such as empathy, the ability to collaborate, to deal with ambiguity, and of course, to create.”

He further elaborates:

We’re also seeing teachers use design thinking to redesign the curriculum around experiences that engage students, and shift their physical classrooms based on feedback from students. We’re seeing school leaders engage faculty to develop a shared philosophy on teaching and learning; district administration using design to re-imagine tools they create to help teachers be successful. We’re even seeing community volunteer groups engage in a process to help redesign schools that are less successful within their state system. Each of these stories alone is not the answer to whole-scale education reform—but if you multiply these activities by three million teachers across this country, and magnify that by the organizations that are creating new, human-centered tools and services to support our students—it can add up to a big impact on the system.”

A working design thinking example of the above is Michael Schurr, a 2nd grade teacher in New York. He realized that he never asked his students what would make them comfortable in the classroom. He decided to talk directly with his students to figure out the best design for their environment.

Based on his students’ input, he was able to redesign his classroom to better address the needs and desires of his students. He lowered the bulletin boards so that his students could actually see the content he’d spent hours assembling, and created a more comfortable semi-private space for the students to study by rethinking the student cubbyhole space. His students are more engaged, and move more fluidly in the classroom space. Now Michael consistently engages his students in helping him more effectively shape their learning experience. Essentially, Michael is using design to re-imagine his classroom through the lens of his students’ needs.

The Unconventional MBA Program: Where Art, Science and Craft Meet

Unlike the traditional case-study approach, one truly global MBA program has been redefined and totally revamped. Class sessions involve everyone, with a 50-50 rule that gives participating managers half of all class time to spend in conversation with colleagues, learning from one another’s insights and suggestions. This breaks away from traditional lecture formats where only the professor is considered the expert in the room. The unique 50-50 rule ensures that the focus remains on experience, nurturing discussions that often become much more intensive and educational than an average case study, simply because participants have an interest in helping their colleagues resolve their business issue at hand. Welcome to The International Masters in Practicing Management (IMPM) – a real alternative to the mainstream of MBAs.

It is designed for highly experienced managers and entrepreneurs, enabling them to refine their leadership skills and make a lasting impact on their organization. Its design and processes were inspired by the lifelong study of managerial practice by Professor Henry Mintzberg, the Canadian management authority, who has taught on the IMPM since its foundation.

The program focuses on five modules designed around managerial mind sets rather than functional silos. Each module lasts approximately ten days and is delivered in a different country such as the U.K., Canada, India, China and Brazil.

Participants move between concept based training and their real life experiences, and also benefit from peer to peer learning, with observation, visits, and feedback.

Over 50 leading companies and organizations from around the world have sent staff to participate.

Disruptive Innovation in the Higher Education Industry – Free University Online Courses

In the last few years, we have begun to witness the accessibility for all with free online courses/modules with the platform known as massive open online course or “MOOC”. Udacity, Coursera, EdX and Academic Earth are the most popular well funded providers that connect students to the world’s top universities and scholars.  Their aim is to provide everyone with the opportunity to earn a world-class education whether looking to advance a career or take courses of interest.

According to Wikipedia, a massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and teacher assistants.

Salman Khan, a 36-year-old former hedge fund analyst, founded what’s considered the classroom revolution. It is revered by many including Bill Gates who called Khan “The world’s favorite teacher.”  Today, the Khan Academy, which Khan himself established as a result of tutoring his niece and nephew, now has 3,400 short video tutorials, most of which Khan made himself along with 10 million students.

Team Dynamics – Workshop Approach to Learning

For many, lectures, workshops or seminars can be weary – certainly not an enjoyable experience to endure.  Even if you’re not the funniest or most entertaining speaker/presenter around, you can prepare your content so that it resonates with your audience. To be in that position requires speakers and facilitators to design their talks, seminars or workshops geared for even those with brief attention spans.

When it comes to bringing engaging and provocative business workshops, Team Business is a good case in point. The programs were developed in South Africa in the mid nineties. Over the years, the educational organization has expanded overseas and teaches senior high school students, college/university students, as well as company management level staff about entrepreneurship and team dynamics via hands on, interactive entertaining simulations (unlike computer-based) in 3–6 hour sessions. The program learning outcomes include business and financial literacy, team dynamics lessons and the importance of face-to-face communication.

Workshops have been conducted at mid-size to large corporations, as well as at Ivy League schools such as Wharton, Tuck and Georgetown. Team Business also works with International Business Schools in Europe. In all our business simulation workshops, teams run their own companies in competition with other teams. Competition breeds creativity and their level of success is based on the business decisions they make and on how well team members lead and interact with each other. Time pressures and a dynamic environment bring hidden individual traits to the surface where behavioral models can be examined in a safe and constructive way.

When conducting workshops and seminars the following ought to be considered.

–       The average attention span is between 45 minutes to an hour;

–       Use storytelling without exaggerating. Most enjoy listening to other people’s experiences;

–       Utilize stimulating multimedia presentations such as engaging slides (mainly with images like a storyboard), videos, demonstrations, several examples of practical concept implementation, and more.

–       Rather than creating standard slides with the default MS Power Point Presentation software, get bold using cloud based alternatives such as Prezi; Do away with excess bullet points, dreary graphs, cheesy colors, and other overwhelming visual distractions. Apply the KISS method when creating slides;

–       Presentations should be personalized by making them specifically relevant to the audience being addressed;

–       To further engage with the audience, handouts and/or worksheets should be given which also prevent attendees from having to take notes when, instead, should be paying their undivided attention to the presenter and his/her visual material;

–       Consider group discussions which will give the audience a chance to better understand the workshop and delve into areas the presentation may not have covered.

–       The speaker should be animated with his/her voice and enthusiasm resonating across the audience.

Coaching Ourselves – a Unique Take on Ongoing Corporate Training

Coaching Ourselves is an organization which was born out of its founder’s frustration searching for a way to help his management team work through the difficult challenges resulting from the dot com crash at the time. It brings management development directly into the workplace where groups of managers get together for 90 minute meetings, with or without a facilitator, to talk about work, guided by one of over 70 Coaching Ourselves management topics.  The chosen topics stimulate and guide discussion. This enables reflection, collaborative learning, team bonding, and management development.

Coaching Ourselves works with over 40 world renowned management and business thinkers to develop the topics including David Ulrich, Michael Beer, Marshall Goldsmith and Henry Mintzberg covering a wide range of managerial concepts and competencies and available in six languages. They are licensed to organizations for use in programs and initiatives aimed at all levels of management. Its mission is to help as many managers as possible to improve their practice of management.

The Abstract – Looking Beyond the Ineffective Status Quo

Like most events in our life, there is continuous progress whether evolutionary or revolutionary. Moreover, there are practical changes which improve the way we go about doing things and designing objects to enhance our lives – think technology. The education system should not be immune to progress. Complacency breeds mediocrity.

To move forward with vital changes/improvements begins with a positive attitude, an open mindset, fortitude and empowering those that look to us for nurturing and leadership. Education ministries and school administrators ought to cut down on their bloated and stifling bureaucracy  by permitting forward thinkers to tinker with and reform the antiquated public school/educational model. There must be no mixing of politics and education. Instead, teachers should be accountable for improving the system as it’s their call and area of professional expertise ‒ along with continuous honing of their knowledge/skills.

Schools which are highly regarded by students and peers are those that have strong leadership/headmasters with a vision which creates a vibrant culture. This includes teachers who constantly update their professional skills, plan effective lessons, are enthusiastic and creative. Moreover, well-functioning and forward thinking schools deliver a broad and flexible curriculum. Extra subjects, such as foreign languages and/or vocational courses are taught alongside the usual subjects. No cookie cutter approach or subject matter.  Successful schools also consider the needs of each individual student.

Finland’s educational system is renowned as consistently at the very top of global educational rankings because it takes an unconventional, yet practical approach along with a first rate structure of the system. In addition, its teachers are highly trained and well compensated, their students are not tested until they reach their teens, there isn’t much homework – and surprisingly, there are no private schools in that country.

Purging of and replacing the status quo requires forward and design thinking, as well as actual implementation in the classroom of the following:

–       Re-designing the classroom setting/ambiance;

–       Encouraging creativity with students through empowerment – it’s not the same as giving away control of the classroom but rather helping students take control of their own education;

–       Making learning/subject matter stimulating, empathetic, and engaging.

There’s an old Chinese proverb: “If you are planning for one year plant grain, for ten years plant trees, but for 100 years educate the people.” Let’s not get left behind! Time to think about the future, as well as time to teach children to think and not just remember. Since we can’t change government behavior overnight, the least we can do is make a difference by focusing on the variables that we can control to the best of our ability along with resources readily available.

Finally, we have to eliminate the corporate mentality from education, where students are seen as a ‘product’ and parents as ‘customers’. There is no reason why public schools can’t be at the same caliber as private schools. Are inept or discouraged administrators to blame – or perhaps a failed existing structure which is out of touch? As demonstrated by MOOC, education doesn’t need to be a privilege but rather a right with equal access anywhere for all who possess the appetite to learn. Isn’t that what true democratization of education is about?

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