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Creating Innovations in Education

My objective for the workshop was to test the Killer Questions before handing them off to the Department of Education. Remember, the focus for the attendees of the workshop was how to create innovations in education to better prepare our students for the competitive workforce. I gave them the modifi

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
Innovations in Education

My objective for the workshop was to test the Killer Questions before handing them off to the Department of Education. Remember, the focus for the attendees of the workshop was how to create innovations in education to better prepare our students for the competitive workforce.

I gave them the modified set of Killer Questions I’d written specifically for the project.

In order to make sure that all the questions were covered, I assigned the even-numbered questions to people with an even birth date (say, June 12). If their birth date was odd (say, August 25), they were assigned the odd-numbered questions.

I asked the participants to come up with at least fifteen observations for every question assigned. In the pre-workshop e-mail briefing, I reminded them that it is not about “solutions” (fixing the problem) at this stage. We would discuss possible solutions during the workshop. What I wanted them to do was to go out and challenge themselves and to go beyond the obvious. I told them the best thing to do was to get out and observe people as they experienced the education system. Sit down with their friends, their kids’ friends, or teachers from their local schools. If they felt shy or awkward about this, I encouraged them to remember that most people love being asked for their opinion. Ask a few broad questions, and see where the conversation goes. Try not to steer the flow of your discussion, and let the participants cover the subjects that occur to them naturally. Once your interviewee feels comfortable, you can ask them the more challenging questions that they might have balked at out of the gate.

After a brief meet-and-greet we sat down and started talking through the questions I’d assigned. The discussion quickly got very emotional and passionate as the attendees shared their observations.

I advised the group to use the same tips about generating ideas (break large ideas into smaller ones, try mixing and matching two ideas to make a third) that I discussed in chapter 9. Each person was invited to share their observations based on the questions they were assigned. Each item was written on Post-it note and placed on a flip chart. When we were all done, there was a consensus emerging around the areas of biggest concern and their possible effects. Next, each person was tasked to come up with ideas, based on the questions, to address the focus of the workshop (creating innovations in education to better prepare our students for the competitive workforce). They were tasked to come up with twenty ideas in thirty minutes.

At the end of the half hour we had literally hundreds of ideas, written out on color-coded Post-its for each individual. Some of the participants had used the strategies I discussed in the workshop chapter to turn one idea into two. For instance, one person came up with a first idea:

“Let’s develop a curriculum that acknowledges the way students depend on their phones, and allows them to use them for voting or test-taking in the classroom.”

Then he looked at the opposite of that first idea to make a second:

“Suppose we removed all technology from the schools and go 100 percent tech-free.”

Either of these ideas has the potential to change the learning process in two radically different ways.

Once the ideas were introduced, they were then grouped to create themes of ideas.

The major groupings that emerged were:

  • Teacher retirement based on percent of student income.
  • Reemphasize 4H, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts in the schools
  • Think global versus national or local about education.
  • Stop focusing on best practices (copying what others do). It’s about “next practice.”
  • Be willing to test alternative approaches to education.
  • Make technology part of the education process.
  • Teachers and students design curriculum.
  • Corporate support for education.
  • Rethink preparing students for post–high school when not going to college.
  • Students teaching students.
  • Work study/mentoring/apprenticeship to augment the classroom.
  • Fix the “test-focused” approach to education.
  • Look at the design of the classroom environment (lighting, work surfaces, etc.).
  • Teach critical and creative-thinking skills across all subjects.
  • Expand the use of specialty schools (magnet, science/technology, art, etc.).
  • Bring back art, music, and foreign language.
  • Re-create the teacher evaluation and pay system.
  • Redesign the structure of the school day/year.
  • Fix the funding model (e.g., change Prop 13 in California).
  • Go digital—an education version of the electronic medical record (e.g., full transparency for parents).
  • Change the homework (e.g., too much busywork rather than teaching).
  • Dropout prevention.
  • Administrator and teacher mentoring each other and doing a job rotation to avoid the us-versus-them mentality.
  • Match teaching and learning styles (e.g., verbal, visual, tactile).

As with the Killer Questions, the ranking questions from the FIRE method were also rewritten to be appropriate to the education theme. As you should recall from chapter 9, the ranking questions are:

  1. Does this idea change the customer experience or expectation?
  2. Does this idea change your competitive positioning in the industry?
  3. Does this idea change the economics of the industry?
  4. Do you have a contribution to make?
  5. Will this idea generate sufficient margin?

Remember: the first three questions focus on ranking the overall quality of the idea. The last two questions look at the ability to execute the idea given the constraints and interests of the organization.

In this case, the objective was to look for create killer innovations for education to better prepare students for the highly competitive job market. Accordingly, the ranking questions I created were:

  1. Will this idea change the student’s learning experience/expectations?
  2. Will this idea change the competitiveness of the student?
  3. Will this idea improve the structure of the education industry?
  4. Do we have commitment to make this change?

So, how would you rank the ideas listed above using the new ranking questions? If you want to see how the workshop ranked them, then visit my blog. Also, I hope that you consider this discussion about innovations in education an active exercise. If you’d like to participate, I’d love to hear your suggestions via my webpage or Twitter (or whatever tomorrow’s version of Twitter turns out to be).

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Phil McKinney Twitter

Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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