(Editor’s Note: I’m currently working with the Office of Resource Development and Innovation at the Minneapolis Public Schools to deliver a four-part leadership development series on future technologies, the need for “unlearning” and the importance of change management. The office is currently seeking grants applications for innovative blended-learning school models and, in order to help prompt “outside the box thinking” in the grant application process, I’ve drafted eight questions designed to encourage such thinking. I also believe they are helpful for anyone interested in educational reform so I’ve decided to share them here. Please feel free to share the questions with other interested parties. –Jack Uldrich)
1. Watch these three future-focused videos produced by Samsung, Corning Glass and Microsoft. How does your proposal think about the future—and the emerging technologies—displayed in these scenarios? Cisco also recently reported that mobile web video conferencing is expected to grow 250-fold by 2015. Does your proposal harness mobile communication platforms to either deliver education in a new way or fundamentally change the student-teacher dynamic?
2. In the past few years society has witnessed a growing number of brick-and-mortar companies such as Blockbuster Movies and Borders go bankrupt. In many cases, these companies weren’t as nimble or adaptive as others (e.g. Netflix and Amazon) in employing new technologies such as DVD’s, the Internet, e-books, etc. to create more efficient delivery models and mechanisms. How does your proposal help traditional brick-and-mortar schools avoid a similar fate by challenging conventional wisdom on how education can be delivered?
3. Does your proposal really “think outside the box”? If so, how do you think about teaching and reaching students (and parents) outside the physical classroom? Could a student access your educational material 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year from anywhere in the world? If not, why not?
4. Watch this inspiring TED talk by Sugrata Mitra and observe how unschooled children in the slums of New Delhi, India are schooling themselves with no teachers or adult supervision—in some cases to educational standards comparable to those of children in the west. Now, revisit Question #3 and ask yourself whether your proposal is really thinking “outside the box” and challenging conventional wisdom?
5. Does your proposal/model scale? Is it feasible that millions of kids could access your material—as is done at Khan Academy—at no additional cost? (If you don’t know about Khan Academy watch this video of how Salman Khan is “flipping the classroom” and educating millions of kids every month at virtually no cost.)
6. IBM’s Watson Computer (the computer that beat the game show Jeopardy’s two all-time human champions in a contest) and Apple’s new voice-activated “personal assistant” Siri are examples of artificial or machine intelligence. It is widely expected that such systems will only grow exponentially more intelligent in the near future. Does your proposal/model consider how to use these tools as a “teacher’s aide” to improve the delivery of education? Alternatively, does it contemplate how certain educational topics and subjects might be rendered obsolete by machine intelligence? If so, how does your proposal think about the new skills today’s students will need to acquire in order to successfully navigate this future?
7. Amazon, Apple, Knewton and others are all creating interactive digital textbooks that can be used to deliver customized educational experiences. Others are using “augmented reality” and “gaming dynamics” to enhance the educational experience. How does your proposal utilize these tools or other emerging technologies in a new and innovative manner?
8. Lastly, does your proposal focus on providing students the tools to create their own future, or does it only seek to help students and communities prepare for the future. (Please note the difference between the terms “create” and “prepare.” The latter assumes we can know the future (which we can’t); while the former acts on the old adage: “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”)