Iterative Design and ICT in Public Schools

This post explores the intersection between ‘Ed and Tech’ and the conjunction of good pedagogy and ICT best practices in our classrooms.


I took a trip out to San Francisco this past summer to try to get a feel for how the tech sector is influencing education globally and in Ontario where I live.  As a grade 8 teacher in a tough school in the east end of Toronto, I feel I need to have a vision of the future, or at least the next five years, for my students and for the community that I serve – a vision that might articulate a path to a future where my students can thrive in our global economy.

In a full week I visited Google and Stanford, had ribs and a Big Daddy IPA at a grassroots community meeting at Bayview’s historic Sam Jordan’s Bar, visited the Golden Gate Bridge, spent an afternoon at City Lights Bookstore (a bastion of American social justice and labor movement literature), and rode the T Third Street metro line, ending a week-long trip in the truly inspirational city that is San Francisco.  

Silicon Valley and City Lights Bookstore, private enterprise and public spirit – how could it be that these two worlds co-exist in such close proximity?  As an educator facing imminent disruptions to my industry, I’m thus grateful and hopeful that because of my trip, I think I do see a conjunction of the two worlds, and thus have begun to think harder about my future profession by fully embracing all that tech has to offer – including AI, AR, VR, gamification, simulation, deep learning, machine learning, and adaptive learning.

So what does it mean to fully embrace tech as a public school teacher, and what do I bring to the table?  I’m convinced that more teachers need to become sophisticated PMs, and many good teachers already are. Public schools need to become innovation hubs by accessing and leveraging increasingly cheaper cloud-based computing and mobile technology.

Have we really begun to consider the role of public schools and school boards as potential student project incubators and accelerators?

Facilitated by iterative design thinking fueling on/offline, micro/macro learning communities, the classroom as ‘incubator’ begins with teachers teaching kids about growth mindset and commitment – especially about commitment.  School boards can then be encouraged to act as ‘accelerators’ to sustain socially innovative student projects over longer periods of time and with the aid of cloud based computing.

Iterative design in classrooms involves a structured approach married with longer design cycles, say 3-5 months in the case of middle school students, and shorter, more frequent iterative cycles for older students, sustained using cloud computing and mobile devices – this is where pedagogy and ICT merge to offer true potential disruption.

Iterative design holds the dichotomous nature of being on one hand beautifully simple, and on the other deeply complex, depending on the level of commitment of the participants. It is inclusive, and it coaches, and it serves as a reference point when projects get confusing and teams get frustrated  – the cycle guides and once completed, students can commit together to another cycle, or respectfully move on to other projects with reputations enhanced.

On my trip I remember asking my mentor at Google if he or any of his colleagues had predicted the ‘Pokemon Go’ phenomenon of this past July  – and he said that they hadn’t. This inspires me to believe that no matter how much we think we have everything under control, there is still such a level of unpredictability in our explorations that it opens up spaces for individuals and communities to participate on many levels. This actually brings hope to young people who are often overwhelmed by the amount and sophistication of today’s technology.

In other words, the more my students use technology in a purposeful way, the more spaces open up for unpredictable uses of technology by them.  This is good news both for the technology sector and for public education, and for me it resolves a perceived dichotomy between both.

Kids are not loyal to brands of tech, and thus given the freedom to innovate using a structured approach, will jump from tech tool to tech tool depending on need and want. This opens up the unpredictability of tech usage in the classroom that at once might put tech companies on edge, because kids just aren’t that loyal to tech brands, but it also opens up all kinds of possibilities for both sectors because we just can’t anticipate how kids will use technology (the way my students use social media to organize study groups is a perfect example of this).

The more we encourage our students in public schools to use technology in the service of their communities via iterative design thinking and project based service learning, the more opportunities open up for both sectors, thereby bridging the two worlds that appear to be at odds, but in fact might well have more in common than we suspect. So, the more students use tech, the more possibilities open up for both sectors. Win-win.

To achieve this resolution of ‘Ed and Tech’, public school teachers need to bring their project management skills to their communities and leverage tech as much as possible to advance socially innovative student projects and thus add value to their community’s resources in terms of real and social capital gained.  The tech sector needs to continue to push advances in AI, VR, AR, simulation, adaptive and machine learning in education – and together we can inspire our students to participate in our increasingly collaborative global sharing economy by opening more and more possibilities, thereby empowering our students to be real agents of positive change.

After all, it’s not the tech sector’s job to bring in issues of social justice to public education, they are private enterprise with their own proper goals. It is up to teachers to present their case and step up by facilitating tech’s use in classroom. To this very end, iterative design thinking, manifested as The Bootstrapping Checklist for example (the program I created and run with my grade 8s), properly blends pedagogy and ICT and for now, resolves this EdTech dichotomy in my small classroom to very satisfying results.

The power of iterative design thinking such as The Bootstrapping Checklist is its rich and deep simplicity – on the surface, it is a distillation in the form of an infographic that serves as a reference point for discussion around the implementation of complex student projects – but the beauty lies in its structure, and the structure allows for the group to foray into unknown territory with security, exploring complex problems and living through ambiguity with the safety and comfort that the design cycle provides.  

This is excellent training for youngsters who will need these skills as they enter the global marketplace – but these skills also serve them now, as they learn to construct and to connect with each other in a very impassioned and respectful way, fully anticipating the problems that lie ahead, and yet with an attitude toward committing to the process for the benefit of themselves, their families, and their communities.

This is what iterative design thinking teaches us, and because it is so powerful and yet so simple, it is incumbent on our teachers and administrators to facilitate iterative design thinking in our classrooms right now.

The Bootstrapping Checklist has been accepted into the 2016 Reimagine Education Awards competition in the Teaching Delivery category – shortlisted projects will be announced October 28, 2016.


#Reimaginers #ReimagineEdu #Education #EdChat #EdTechChat #Innovation #Entrepreneur #ProjectManagement #theBootstrappingChecklist #Opensource #CloudComputing #Design #Prototyping

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