What We’ve Got Here is Failure of Imagination

What We’ve Got Here is Failure of Imagination

Let’s face it, there is a lot of buzz about blended learning. Some is deserved, and some may be overhyped. But many of the best educators I know in the country are excited about the potential to make learning much more personalized through new school models. It is exciting to think about students learning exactly what they need, exactly when they need it. It is also exciting to think about teachers gaining back the capacity to lead small group instruction and one-on-one learning.

I am a BIG fan of the “early adopting” blended learning schools. But I think we can admit that most of the existing models tweak the current system rather than re-imagine what is possible. State and federal accountability systems can be blamed, in part, because innovative schools must still take the same state tests and are subject to the same oversight rules. But some of lack of creativity simply comes down to not thinking big enough. As The Captain from Cool Hand Luke would say, “What we’ve got here is failure”…of imagination.

With total respect for the early adopting organizations, and knowing how hard it is to innovate new solutions, I hope we can push the next wave of blended learning schools even further outside the box.

Educators, of which I am one, sometimes act as if the six-period day and fixed student-teacher ratios were decreed to Moses on a tablet in the Sinai. Where are the outside-the-system thinkers who will lead schools out of the industrialized factory model into modern times?

In this spirit, I am excited about the Maker Faire exhibition this weekend: “DIY Learning: the New School,” May 19-20 in San Mateo. Entrepreneurial spirit promises to be on display as organizations like SMASH, Leadership Public Schools, Summit Public Schools and others create hands-on experiences around the future of schooling for the tens of thousands of visitors to Maker Faire. These will be rough prototypes, far from ready for the big leagues. But rapid-prototyping and big thinking should be in abundance. More importantly, it is great that these innovative groups are building exhibits focused on end-user feedback so that their next proto-type will be even more personalized. This focus on what the Stanford d.school would call “Design Thinking” is exactly what we need a lot more of in education. We tried to take a very similar approach in my former role with Envision Schools when we piloted Khan Academy in a “randomized control” approach. The result and commitment to sharing our learning was the genesis of this BlendMyLearning.com site.

At the Silicon Schools Fund, we are actively seeking innovative new schools in the Bay Area that push the boundaries of personalized learning. The schools we fund will be figuring out how to transfer more of the ownership and responsibility for learning to students – identifying which structures are most needed so that other structures can be removed. I’ve often said that if you show me your bell schedule, teacher assignments, plan for grouping students, and curriculum guides – I can tell you how innovative your school can be.

I’m excited by the entrepreneurial spirit of the folks involved in the Maker Faire and all the other tinkering and planning that is underway in the blended learning movement across the country. Who will follow the lead of Joel Rose (New Classrooms), John Danner (Rocketship), or Rick Ogsten (Carpe Diem) and be even more creative in personalizing learning for each student?

Written by Brian Greenberg

Brian Greenberg

Chief Executive Officer for the Silicon Schools Fund

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