Future Education

There is no doubt that Education is critical to the future of the United States economy. Thomas Friedman talks about it extensively in his very popular book, The World is Flat. Therefore, the concepts in this post on Future Education are not only directly applicable to business, but our success in Future Education will have a direct impact on our abilities in Future Business.

I spent 90 minutes last night on the phone with an excellent visionary from the NYC Dept of Education.  Arthur VanderVeen is focused on how best to achieve knowledge sharing for NYC educators.

We talked about the difficulty of turning tacit knowledge into explicit and we talked about the challenges of fostering active communities of interest/practice.

Two of the main tenets of our discussion were

  1. Give them what they want: the sharing needs to have value to the way they work today or want to work today. There are some technologies (eg. Computer, cell phone) that completely change the way we work, but most enhance the way we already work in a more evolutionary fashion rather than revolutionary
  2. Work bottom-up rather than top-down. Try various programs in schools and see what works. Where there is success, invest more to work out if it can be scaled up.

One thing that has come to mind since our discussion is the 100-10-1 rule of community involvement. In the case of education it is probably 1000-100-10-1 due to the challenge of getting already overworked educators to even view information.

  • For every 1000 educators
  • 100 will actively or passively browse the knowledge-base
  • 10 will comment on or use existing content
  • and 1 will contribute something new

That means that for 80,000 teachers you may only have 80 contributors. This is likely not sufficient volume to create a critical mass of content that keeps the 100 coming back and gets more of the 1000 to view. The larger districts may decide to invest in “librarians” who seek out good content and take the time to get it into the knowledge-base, but this is not the most efficient model and is probably not tenable for the smaller districts.

Most web2.0 applications have been able to improve on these numbers by making the sharing ego-centric. Examples are MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn. The contribution ratios are far improved because personal ego is tied up in it: my page, my profile, my network. That may be one way that education KMers can improve upon the activity levels.

Due to the fact that education is more similar district to district than business is company to company, there are tremendous opportunities for best practice and knowledge sharing. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, but I believe we are on the cusp of a major shift (middle school and above) from requiring a teacher to know/do everything to having a teacher become more of a facilitator, a connector, and a tutor rather than a lecturer.


4 responses to “Future Education

  1. That is a great thought about what is different between the contribution rates at FB, Plaxo and MySpace and sites like what NYC are doing.

    – Some “contributions” on Facebook et al are very simple. You enter a URL and you make a comment. Or do a simple upload.
    – You also control who sees your stuff
    – Like you said, it also creates online “ego” that describes you.

    In a school system, there is a need for some of the more complex contributions, but there should be a way for an educator to contribute in simpler ways.

    One idea that a coworker and I thought of was to allow educators to store their work products in one online space where they could manage who saw this work. As you might guess, most educators don’t have dedicated laptops. Getting work from home to school can be tough.

    This online store would start the seeds of contribution, even if the educator keeps much of it to themselves. Searches for experts could pull from that uploaded work to start to create that virtual profile of an educator.

    I see this working in large businesses and even in smaller companies as well, especially if they were linked together via industry organizational affiliations or by a common vendor. We see Walmart force its vendors to use RFID or a common supply chain management system, imagine the innovation that could be accomplished by a common collaboration system such as this.

  2. @Joel, thx so much for your comments.

    Your idea is a great one about how to increase sharing of more complex explicit information. Anything that helps with intermediate steps between this is mine that I work on independently and this is available for the world to share will help to increase contribution.

    Once the item is stored on a server, how about a peer review? Teachers could ask for their friends to take a look before they release the doc more broadly.

    One of the biggest challenge is going to be classifying contributions. It takes time and is therefore a barrier that may slow or close to halt contributions. There have to be ways in which the meta-data can grow over time rather than forcing it all up-front.

  3. I definitely think your librarians concept would help here. Still allowing freedom to contribute without following a rigid form, but still allow others to help place this in context.

    Following the X~N.g (thanks brahmax) specifically web2.0, allowing any other person to tag a piece of content that they use. They could tag/metadata it in the context how they use it.

    I like how Plaxo has a little status bar on the completeness of your profile. Similar constructs could be used for educator profiles and the portfolio concept I mentioned previously. Such in indicator could help search engines know how fuzzy the data is during searches.

  4. @Joel thx for your follow-up comments. This is a very interesting discussion.

    I agree with you that allowing people to tag in the context that they use is very important. This will allow any explicit content to be useful in a variety of ways rather than just one that a centralized content manager envisioned. However, in order to encourage the tagging you need to provide an incentive. eg. I tag Del.icio.us for two reasons. 1) because I want to do social good helping others find interesting links, but 2) because I want to have a way to retrieve the items that I found interesting at a later point. This #2 is essential to keep in mind.

    On your second point about completeness, I also agree with you that laying out all the things which can be done to improve something and letting any user accomplish just one portion of that whole, is likely to help get things done. But, again I think you need to create more incentive. For Plaxo and Linkedin the incentive is that your online “ego” is becoming more complete. If one attaches the improved content to a person’s online profile clearly stating that they have improved it, it can also be an ego enhancer.

    Great comments. Thx for helping out Future Education.

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