If there is one thing we can learn from the pandemic it is that Everything Is Broken.. Public health, health care, education, supply chains, work, justice, democracy, economic inequality...our electric grid. Pandemic didn’t cause these but the crisis exposed problems in systems that have been fermenting for years. Now we have the opportunity to fix them.

As a Design Thinker, I get excited about wicked problems. They are called ‘wicked problems’ not because they are unsolvable, but because they don’t have an easy answer. Often there is a huge body of research, reform attempts, multiple perspectives, winners and losers. Invariably there is an established status quo and resistance to change.

Having a little experience as Research Manager for Texas Instruments, I got to live in the ed reform/research world briefly. Calculators are either an educational tool or a crutch, depending on your side of the argument. Interestingly, or probably not given today’s climate, education has political sides too. Direct Instruction (lecture and drill) is more or less conservative, where Constructivism, (students construct their own knowledge) has been progressive. Like all wicked problems, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

Even Clayton Christensen applied his innovators dilemma to education–essentially teachers should become computer-based tutor administrators. My response as I read it was he was solving for the wrong problem–training an employable workforce, not educating students for the future. There is a big difference between the two–training is focused on specific tasks, where education is learning to learn. A trained worker can operate an assembly line; an educated worker can identify process improvements and business cases to improve profits and improve the lives of fellow workers.

What Christensen got right is there are technology solutions like adaptive tutors (which we were researching at Brooks AFB 25 years ago) can help students build the scaffolding of prior knowledge that they can use to construct their knowledge in a project-based applied situation. The direct instruction is supplied by the technology, and application is supported by the teacher. Another problem I had with Christensen or the DI approach is that the modern workforce (and our society) needs team-based soft skills; not individuals learning in isolation.

What happened a year ago in my school district was crisis mode–just do the same thing we did, but on Zoom — Zoom and Google Classroom. There was a lot of leniency as many students didn’t do the work, and ended up being pass/fail with a big curve. Then we had a summer to think about it and plan. Much stress about opening schools and teachers risking their health. You know the noise with the politics and the pseudo research etc. End result was same thing as before. Zoom and Google Classroom. And voluntary in person. No Learning Management Systems, Intelligent Adaptive Tutors; no face masks, PPE, sanitizer (bring yer own). First week of school shut down because of performance load issues on the network (web content-filtering vendor didn’t load test…).

As knowledge workers start thinking about the new work from home possibilities, we can reimagine schools as well. There have been stacks of studies, books, conference proceedings etc that advocate for changing the school day and break schedules (a naive pundit might say the school year is based on farmers, but good luck getting Schlitterbahn and Disneyland to give up the summer vacation economy of cheap labor and visitors). The societal benefit of giving parents daycare can’t be denied as well, seeing many women leave work during the pandemic to essentially become unpaid individual teacher’s assistants.

Maybe we can get Mr Kahn to fix it.

Wicked Problems – Pandemic Edition: Education

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.