Uber, Dyson and a new front door.

What do these three things have in common? They are solutions to “wicked problems”*, and the more straightforward the solution, the better.

In the last post I highlighted the need to do your research – theoretical, document, artefact and field research. From these enquiries, the big questions and the big problems that require your attention should emerge.

The mythology that surrounds the origin of Uber is well documented but suffice to say, Uber solves the problem most of us have experienced with a solution that utilises a free resource in plentiful supply – other peoples’ cars. The story goes that a group of tech-entrepreneurs were tossing around start-up ideas and among the many schemes was the notion for an on-demand car-service app. Except for one person, the idea did not particularly stand out. That one person did pursue the idea and eventually Uber was born.

Dyson is famous for rethinking the familiar – be it the wheel barrow, the vacuum cleaner, the personal fan or more recently, the hand-held hairdryer. Dyson starts with the original purpose of these common household items and seems to pretend the item has never been invented or its look never designed – in James Dyson’s words, “Our motto remains fairly simple, we constantly question the things that exist and we think about how we could improve them…. We are only seeking to improve the common objects that surround us …” (2014 – http://www.plastics-themag.com). The new Supersonic Hairdryer is amazing, both in terms of what it promises to deliver but also in its daring to rethink what we presume the solution should look like. The brief was to produce a hand-held dryer that was more compact, more powerful, more efficient than any other on the market. Dyson spent four years in a special lab producing 600 prototypes of an object that we though had been designed as much as it could have been. No longer is the dryer shaped like an oversized pistol but instead it looks more like a bubble-blowing machine.

Now, to the door. The problem I was trying to solve was how to create a more positive and welcoming experience for our students and parents and visitors. The office was small, cramped and with only one entrance. The solution was simple. We created a community reception area that was more effective and a better experience for users. This was achieved with the installation of an additional entrance door, the removal of a wall and the sacrifice of one private office. Within a few days we had created two reception areas, one for staff and one for our community. Most schools and organisations with more contemporary facilities have these double receptions but for those without, I would encourage you to think about creating these two distinct zones. It demonstrates thoughtful respect for the needs of two different groups of people and allows the opportunity for you to create two different approaches to the services that support them.

Finally, selling the solution is key. Not only do you need to present the advantages of the new idea but you also need to be mindful that your solution may be addressing a problem that others have not yet articulated. If you feel you have solved a problem, then present your solution as a positive and timely innovation that will build on the benefits enjoyed by the previous situation. For those who shared your concerns, they will be relieved to see the “wicked” problem solved.

*A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of the term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil.

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Time wasters and workspaces – things that drive teachers crazy.

Where do the teachers carry their most common work activities?

The survey indicated the most common places for carrying out the top three work activities were the classroom, home and private office, if the teacher had access to an office (but this was rare for the classroom teacher). Discipline and welfare was dealt with in either the classroom or in more public areas outside, if an office was not available to the teacher. The most common places to think creatively were: personal classroom (when empty after hours), home or private office (usually after hours). There were differences between the places named by teachers and executives (with no or small teaching loads). Overwhelmingly, teachers named the classroom as the location for carrying out the most common tasks. Executives named an office or a staffroom.

What emerged was a preference for working alone and away from distractions or interruptions. This is challenging for designing workspaces given the emphasis placed upon collaboration and team meetings in many pedagogies. The survey also highlighted the difficulty a classroom teacher faces when trying to locate a suitable location to conduct a confidential or disciplinary conversation.

Sharing spaces can be challenging and the same things seem to drive people crazy in most workplaces.

Sharing spaces can be challenging and the same things seem to drive people crazy in most workplaces.

What are the time-wasting factors in a teacher’s workday?

Most adult workplace surveys ask about factors that reduce productivity. Less than 10% of the teachers said they experienced any downtime. After talking with some of the respondents after they had completed the survey, I wish I could have measured the intensity of the key strikes when teachers were ticking off the time wasting factors during their workday!

In my survey, respondents were asked to tick up to five factors that they considered are the most likely to waste their time in any given week. The top time wasting factors were:

timewasters

The link between reliable information technology and productivity should come as no surprise but it is important to note two of the top time wasting factors did specifically relate to technology. It is also of note that loss of work time was linked to the actions of repeating, correcting and enduring delays – this is not dissimilar to findings in other workplaces. After the top four factors shown above, the next most common factors linked to downtime were walking to get information or a resource and searching for paperwork.

A Mind the Gap reflection on my results  –IMG_0451  Until we have an understanding of what constitutes a teacher’s workload, designing the ideal workplace may fall short of what is required. I believe future designs for work places and loads will need to place a high value on providing access to both people and locations, as well as a focus on human-scale solutions that promote an inclusive and democratic approach to the dispersal of resources. If we consider the issues raised by these teachers in the light of the looming deadline for universal registration of teachers in Australia and the introduction of the professional development framework, we have less time than we think to tackle the question of workloads and the type of workplace each school can offer its teachers.

Do your workplaces allow staff to flourish or to falter?

After many years researching the role physical learning environments play in the creation of learning environments in schools, I have been turning my attention to schools as teachers’ workplaces. My goal is to develop a current and deep knowledge of contemporary workplace trends for adults, especially those who work in innovative, creative and collaborative work environments. As education moves away from the factory/industrial model that dominated 20th Century schools in the West, teachers need to be viewed as innovators, knowledge creators, designers and curators of learning environments. They are also working in a world saturated with technology and myriad ways of connecting with learners and colleagues. Surely, this calls for an evaluation of the places where teachers work?

I have also been considering how we could increase teacher effectiveness by using what we know about teacher motivation, their current workloads and workplaces. During the past year, I have looked at the design of adult workspaces (other than in schools since there was very little happening there in terms of new adult work environments). At the same time, I have hunted down current research on teacher motivation, satisfaction and workloads. I have been asking the questions: What exactly do teachers do and why do they do it?. There is a reasonable amount on teachers during their first five years in the profession but much less on the mid to late career teachers, who have stayed working in schools.

 Wilderness School staffroom

There is little on what actually constitutes a teacher’s workload – we have some idea on the tasks teachers complete. In Australia, the new national Professional Standards go some way to defining and simplifying the identity of the teacher as a professional, regardless of the sector and school context. These standards for teachers comprise seven standards that outline what teachers should know and be able to do. On thing that clearly emerges, is the complexity and diversity of this work and the expectation that it develops over many years and through many experiences. It is also important to consider the differences between K-6, K-12 and 7-12 work environments since each reflect different needs, different physical environments, different mandatory requirements and different traditions for providing staff spaces. It would be difficult to imagine one workplace design or one professional description would fit all teachers across the K-12 spectrum.

staffroom doorIn order to understand how teachers view their workloads and workspaces, I recently conducted a survey of teachers that captured what a sample of Australian teachers were saying about their current workloads and work environments. The survey covered two aspects of the contemporary teacher experience: the nature of the teacher’s workload in a school and how this work was carried out. The majority of the respondents are from non-government K-12 schools in New South Wales, but the sample also included a wider group of teaching professionals. Nearly all of the respondents were teachers, who spent most or all of their time in the classroom (a total of 84% of the sample). Two-thirds of the respondents worked in schools that had been established prior to 2000. More than half of the sample worked in schools that had more than 400 students. The sample is described in the following table.

 In my next post, I will share some of the key results of this survey.

Profile of sample n = 199 %
Teaching 15 years or less 53 26.7
Teaching duties only 112 57.1
Teaching plus teaching with some executive duties 165 83.9
Executive with some or no teaching 32 16.2
Working in a K-12 school 172 87.3
Working in a school with more than 400 students 116 58.9
Working in a school established prior to 2000 133 67.5

Table: Profile of sample

Filling in a gap – factors that have an impact on young people’s aspirations

IMG_0451  On March 30th I posted a “mind the gap” item reflecting on the assumption that students connect with the school to university to career pathway. I came across a recent report from  LSAY (Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth) that examined factors that influence young people’s plans and ambitions for the first twelve years after completing school in Year 12. The results filled in a little of gap between the assumption that being at school will lead you through to tertiary education and then onto a career path and the patterns I had observed.

In the survey, predicted youth transition factors appeared in the initial analysis, such as socio-economic status, gender and peer influences. However, in terms of importance, the survey found academic achievement in Stage 5 of school (15 years of age) was the most important predictor of Year 12 (Stage 6) completion. This factor was followed by parental influence. The most important influencers on students’ decision to go on to university were parents and peers. The most important factors influencing the achievement of expected work goals (occupational status) by age 30 are the influence of parents and academic achievement at age 15.

The take-away point is, as the survey phrases it, “just how critical parental influences are in driving young people’s educational and occupational aspirations”. I would also add, how critical the middle years of secondary schooling are for setting students up for achievement and for launching their life after school. Sadly, these are the very school years when many students are less focused, drift or disengage and are, therefore, less driven to achieve. School is often perceived as dull, pointless, less urgent and the end still seems a long way off – plenty of time to start working when we hit senior school. This survey suggests the impact of a negative performance at 15 years of age can have long-term impact, especially if this attitude to the importance of school performance is not challenged by parents at this point.

Ref: Gemici, Bednarz, Karmel, Lim. 4/2014. “The factors affecting the educational and occupational aspirations of young Australians”, LSAY, Research Report no.66.

Designing Spaces for Flipped Learning

Flipped learning is more than swapping around the work that is traditionally allocated for inside and outside of the classroom. Flipped learning goes beyond setting homework such as reading texts, watching an instructional video clip and completing background research in preparation for a lesson. It is not a way of delivering “catch up” or revision lessons, even though many of the strategies for delivering lesson material, such as curating and creating relevant or differentiated content, will enhance a standard programme. Flipped learning is not a work-around for limited access to technology or unreliable internet access.

Flipped learning will not thrive in the traditional classroom setting.

Flipped learning will not thrive in the traditional classroom setting.

According to the Flipped Learning Network, flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning spaces to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where students apply concepts and engage creatively with the subject matter (www.flippedlearning.org/definition – FLN, 2014).

If you adopt a flipped learning approach, the physical learning environment at school will

Surfaces for display.

Surfaces for display.

need to change. Swapping when and where group instruction occurs does not mean a classroom can remain in conventional rows of desks. There is no avoiding the need for spaces and time frames that support both group and independent work activities. Students will need access to a range of physical resources – technology, flexible furniture, sufficient space within the classroom to create spaces for team activities, places for independent tasks and surfaces on which to display or plan.

Flexible furniture and configuration of space will support Flipped Learning.

Flexible furniture and configuration of space will support Flipped Learning.

Basically, Flipped Learning demands the same redesign of the physical classroom as any other collaborative, learning community or challenge-based approach requires.

Space and choice.

Space and choice.

The Social Progress Index – how do we measure the quality of life and design better solutions to social issues?

A global think-tank has released its latest measure of social progress. The index ranks nations’ development according to their economic prosperity and social progress by using a range of social, economic and environmental measures. The index compromised three components: ability to provide basic human needs; provision of foundations of well-being and opportunity. Currently, the top three countries are New Zealand, Switzerland and Iceland. Australia is in the top ten nations along with the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Canada. Therefore, according to this index Australia has significant capacity to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

But what is the purpose of the index? One aim is to measure a nation’s capacity to meet the needs of its citizens but another significant aim is to indicate the nation’s capacity for social enterprise, philanthropy and development programmes. If a nation is providing effectively for its own citizens, then people will look for business models that are more environmentally and socially responsible. Prospering nations will be more capable of starting enterprises that are focused on projects that have larger positive impact upon society than just financial gain.

A few weeks ago I attended a HotHouse event at the Powerhouse in Sydney. The evening focused on the question of space – can we develop more sustainable and globally responsible solutions to creating spaces where we work and live. Australia’s position on the Social Progress Index suggests we are well positioned to pursue this goal of seeking better solutions for ourselves and others.

This week in The Conversation (www.theconversation.com), an article raised the topic of the end of the Digital Education Revolution programme in Australian schools. The roll-out of laptops for secondary students has ended and we are now asking the obvious question – where to from here? The dilemma is two-fold: What do we do with ageing hardware sitting in schools or students’ homes without IT support to upgrade or repair it? How do we continue to provide equitable access to students? The problem involves issues of sustainability, environmental responsibility and equity. Now we are the end of the DER programme, the nation needs to approach this type of problem with creativity and the confidence that as a nation we really do have the resources to design solutions for problems such as these but perhaps by considering different values and tactics.

Ed Gardiner, of the Design Council in the UK, regularly writes about using behavioural design to bridge a gap between research and practice to “revolutionise how we tackle social issues” (14/4/14 designcouncil.org.uk). If we combine an understanding of human behaviour and sound design, we can innovate. Being mindful of human tendencies to make decisions intuitively and with little conscious awareness, steers us away from default solutions that “focus on information, skills or incentives”. Basically, behavioural design is aimed at helping people make better decisions. The Design Council’s approach is divided into four stages: discover the problem; define the cause; develop ideas and deliver what works. Last year, I had the opportunity of meeting Ed to discuss this behaviour design approach. Throughout our conversation, Ed emphasised the importance of asking the right questions when trying to understand issue. If the problem that is preventing the achievement of this goal is not identified, you cannot design a solution to achieve a certain goal. Even when the goal is clear, “the problem is often ill-defined and uncertain”, so “embrace this uncertainty by focusing on the people involved” (14/4/14, designcouncil.org.uk) and by defining the “what”, the “why” can be then understood.

Is the end of the Digital Education Revolution in Australian schools a social issue? Yes, it is. The DER funding went towards proliferating hardware and devices in secondary schools and provided unprecedented access to digital communication tools and information in the classroom. Pedagogy was reshaped around this new flow of digital information and availability of technology and continues to develop today. However, the DER programme was shaped around a 1:1 ratio, an unsustainable and possibly an undesirable or unnecessary model. With the government funding coming to an end, the debate surrounding access to technology, its role as a pedagogical tool and the link between students using the latest technology at school and preparation for the jobs of the future (the original aim of the Digital Education Revolution) will intensify as school and their families will need to budget for the technology. This is where it becomes a social issue. Before moving forward with ideas of simply sourcing replacement funds to continue the DER programme, we have the opportunity of designing a new solution for achieving the same goal or setting a new goal for technology in our schools.

A checklist for choosing a child’s school – why educators should pay attention.

David Gillespie’s new book, Free schools – How to get a great education for your kids without spending a fortune, is a valuable perspective on contemporary education from the parent’s point-of-view. Although Gillespie spent a great deal of time researching the current educational landscape, which the average parent might not necessarily do themselves, he maintains his parental perspective by focusing on what matters to a parent looking for the best schooling option for his children. SchoolIMG_0195 leaders are well advised to consider the book because Gillespie offers a systematic way for parents to evaluate and select a school for their child. It is supercharged advice from one parent to thousands of other parents and educators should take the opportunity of listening in on this conversation.

In Part 2 of his book, Gillespie articulates what matters and what does not matter when it comes to finding the right school for your child. The items that do not matter as much as parents might think are: gender-based schools; high fees; small classes and multi-age classes. While small classes obviously provide more opportunity for one-on-one time for each child, it does come at a financial cost. Single gender IMG_3245schools do not cause any significant academic advantages unless coupled with selective enrollments that target the most capable students and stream according to ability. The value added items a significant income can buy within a school (such as individual technology and impressive facilities) are recognised as making the task of learning and teaching more comfortable, varied and easier, but Gillespie says the research still points to the fact these items will not have the same impact on student achievement as effective teachers and principals will have.

IMG_0271

The book concludes the quality of teaching in the classroom and the leadership offered by the principal matter a great deal more than any other factors. However, there are eleven other things that matter, once you have established the school provides effective leadership and teaching (Gillespie, 2014, pages 165-6).

  1. Learning to learn is important;
  2. Extracurricular activities (especially music) should be on offer;
  3. Languages other than English should be part of the curriculum (especially for primary schools);
  4. Effective use of technology will make a difference;
  5. Effective behaviour management is important;
  6. Homework policy does not make a lot of difference;
  7. Effective communication with parents (about educational matters) matters a great deal;
  8. Avoid primary schools that do not use phonics to teach reading;
  9. Avoid schools that stream according to academic ability;
  10. Look for schools that accelerate gifted students (if your child is a genius);
  11. If your child has special needs, know exactly what resources are available.

Running through the list of eleven things that matter, in addition to the two non-negotiables of teacher effectiveness and principal leadership, you have a reasonable summary of what happens in schools. By the time I had finished reading the book, I was already running through the responses I would give parents who happened to use this list to test the quality and appropriateness of my school for their children. It would be a good exercise to consider the criteria Gillespie shares and test out what your school prioritises. If your list is different to this one, then you may still need to be ready to argue your case against this very persuasive book and parents who arrive at their interviews armed with this checklist.

Reference: David Gillespie: Free schools – How to get a great education for your kids without spending a fortune, MacMillan, 2014.