Category Archives: BookReviews

The Evolution of Innovation (10 of 10)

book coverVideo Post

Intro

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

In the Conclusion: The Fourth Quadrant of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, the author creates a quadrant to show the conditions best suited for innovation: Market/Individual, Market/Networked, Non-Market/Individual, and Non-Market/Networked. A fascinating trend emerged, showing that throughout history, different environments were most conducive to innovations that had a profound impact on civilization. Not surprisingly, from 1800 to the present day, non-market/networked environments contained the most innovations: Graphic Interface, GPS, Braille, Radar…just to name a few.
In other words, when individuals are part of a networked society and have intellectual freedom to explore, learn, and “dabble,” they tend to be the most innovative.
What I really like about this chapter is that it coincides perfectly with some conversations we are having at my workplace for creating such opportunities for employees when a budding idea emerges. As a life-long learner, this is most exciting.
I can highly recommend Where Good Ideas Come From to anyone currently thinking about education, social anthropology, and how humans will solve tomorrow’s problems.
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Creating a Cooperative Advantage (9 of 10)

book coverVideo Post

Intro

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7: Platforms of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From covered such a broad range of topics – almost too many – that exemplify how inventions and ideas get their start through networks, open-sourcing, and tapping into knowledge bases outside of any one particular profession. (The stories of how GPS was invented, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album, and Twitter were fascinating.)

One quote really stood out to me:

“Call it cooperative advantage. The burden of coming up with good ideas for the product is no longer shouldered exclusively by the company itself. On an open platform, good ideas can come from anywhere.” (Location 2224)

For educators, the first thing I think of is how to harness and disseminate the great ideas created on a daily basis by teachers in their individual classrooms. In classrooms around the world, teachers are creating new ways to reach struggling students, new tools to teach difficult concepts, and new methods of assessing on the fly to better target their instruction. Those who are able Tweet or blog have an additional advantage of being a contributor and learner of a larger network.

I think of the success stories of teachers such as Bergmann & Sams’ Flipped Classroom or Lindsay and Davis’ Flat Classroom Project or Karl Fisch’s Shift Happens presentation. In all of these cases, without the broadcasting power of social networks and education publications, it is likely that these projects would have lived a shorter life within a very small circle of people. Yet because these educators in particular knew how to use modern tools to create a “cooperative advantage,” their ideas were shared, built upon, and helped thousands of other educators rethink how they were teaching.

Questions for reflection:

  1. How are teachers at your school or in your district currently sharing good ideas with others?
  2. How much are educators in your organization a part of a broader network of learning? If your answer is “limited,” what are the barriers? How can you convince educators, IT, board members, etc. the power of sharing knowledge outside of the organization?

I will post one last thought on this book after reading the Conclusion. It has been an eye-opening read!


The importance of hobbies (8 of 10)

book coverVideo Post

Intro

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter Six: Exaptation of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From looks at how, both biologically and in human invention, new ideas are often modified, tinkered old ideas. In evolutionary terms, birds’ feathers are an exaptation of what initially served to keep the animal warm. In human invention terms, many new ideas are modified from a previous and well-known invention (e.g. Guttenberg’s printing press from a wine press, Babbage’s computer punch cards from Jacquard’s weaving punch cards).

Many of the inventors in Johnson’s examples had the commonality of  areas of interest outside of their chosen profession that complemented and expanded their thinking. I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt at having interests outside of education, with my inner voice sometimes chiding, “if you were really serious about education, you wouldn’t spend so much time decorating, learning new cooking techniques, collecting American silver, golfing….”

I dismissed that voice by justifying that people need “off” time for good mental health, but I had not considered the perspective of needing these hobbies to inform my chosen profession. I’m still struggling with this idea.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Can you think of a time when one of your interests outside of education informed or inspired your work in education?
  2. In the workplace, how can we make each other aware of these outside interests to encourage creative discussions and collaboration?

Fail faster (7 of 10)

book coverVideo Post

Intro

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5: Error of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From told story after story of how some of our greatest inventions and discoveries were a direct result of a mistake (e.g. vulcanized rubber, penicillin). While I understand that we, especially in the field of education, are trying our hardest to STOP making and repeating mistakes that negatively impact learning, I also think it’s a mistake to put teachers into such a sterile, lock-step environment that there is no room for innovation. Two quotes from this chapter get at the heart, I think, of the message:

“Innovative environments thrive on useful mistakes, and suffer when the demands of quality control overwhelm them.” (Location 1689)

“Big organizations like to follow perfectionist regimes like Six Sigma and Total Quality Management, entire systems devoted to eliminating error from the conference room or the assembly line, but it’s no accident that one of the mantras of the Web startup world is fail faster.” (Location 1690) (Italics and bold are my own.)

My questions for reflection:

  1. How do we incorporate unprecedented access to data, research, and information to improve education while still allowing dedicated, connected, passionate teachers the flexibility to discover what works for their students?
  2. How do we allow educational leaders the freedom to “fail faster” in safe, but informative and reflective environments so that they can eventually arrive at the right solutions?

Cultivating the “ah-ha” moments (6 of 10)

book cover

Video Post

Intro

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter Four: Serendipity of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From really got into how organizations can create environments that maximize the potential for “ah-ha” moments. This chapter gave me several ideas that I would love to explore at a future gathering with colleagues. While the author described several ways of encouraging serendipity, my biggest take-aways were:

  1. Take a walk. Sitting at a desk isn’t always the most inspiring setting. When looking for solutions or new ideas, take a walk, breathe fresh air, relax your brain…this is often when inspiration can hit.
  2. Create a system for cultivating articles, quotes, etc. that you find interesting. Learn to tag them for ease in aggregating them later. I use Google Reader, Diigo, and Pinterest for these purposes. Many people I know use Evernote.
  3. Create opportunities for serendipitous learning: read things outside your profession. Find ways that force you to stumble upon stories or information that you might not have otherwise. I love this one simple quote around this idea: “Filters reduce serendipity.” (Location1352) In other words, if I only read ed tech blogs, follow ed tech Tweeters, and read ed tech books, my vision is going to be very limited. I need to find ways out of the echo chamber.
  4. Create a “hunch database” where employees can peruse ideas of co-workers and add their own. I find this idea most intriguing, yet most challenging for implementing. We have a paper-based model of this in our break room, but that isn’t visited as often as we would hope. What would be an effective, efficient hunch-database for our employees?

Perhaps I need to take a walk…


The Learning Edge by Bain & Weston (Summary 8 of 8)

I am currently reading The Learning Edge: What Technology Can Do to Educate All Children by Alan Bain & Mark E. Weston as part of my personal growth plan. Click below for summaries of previous chapters

Chapter 1: Education & Technology

Chapter 2: The Classroom

Chapter 3: Schools

Chapter 4: Transforming Districts

Chapter 5: Associations and Edge Technology

Chapter 6: Policy Shifts

Chapter 7: The Role of Industry

Chapter 8: Stakeholders Connected

The book closed with a look at how changes in how educators think (a paradigm shift) could lead us to creating what the authors refer to as a Type-B model of education. One quote in particular stood out for me:

“In a self-organizing system, change emerges bottom-up and control is dispersed, and leaders – with their helicopter perspective – prompt change.” (page 189)

What this reminded me of was the fourth scenario in The Future of Schooling: Educating America in 2020. In this scenario, change came about almost organically as communities, parents, museums, and a variety of other interested stakeholders began using the plethora of online resources available to create their own “unschool.” While only a few students were engaged in this sort of learning experience by 2020, indications were that this was where education was headed. (For a synopsis of each of McREL’s four scenarios, you can listen to “What Does the Future Hold for Education?” a brief podcast located here.)

I want to thank the authors for allowing me to read and reflect publicly on my blog. The Learning Edge has interesting perspectives on how to change education. Definitely check it out!


The Learning Edge by Bain & Weston (Summary 7 of 8)

I am currently reading The Learning Edge: What Technology Can Do to Educate All Children by Alan Bain & Mark E. Weston as part of my personal growth plan. Click below for summaries of previous chapters

Chapter 1: Education & Technology

Chapter 2: The Classroom

Chapter 3: Schools

Chapter 4: Transforming Districts

Chapter 5: Associations and Edge Technology

Chapter 6: Policy Shifts

Chapter 7: The Role of Industry

I admit…I had to take a step back from reading after this chapter. Perhaps because I AM in “the industry,” I was more critical of this chapter than in previous ones. Some of the issues in education that the authors say the industry dismisses happen to be the very topics that my organization discusses every day.

Two points that most captured my attention were:

1. When talking about education’s resistance to innovation (which I concur is a problem), the authors quote, “This fact is apparent in the field’s general ambivalence (Fullan, 2007) about so many students dropping out of school, scoring poorly on tests, and being unprepared for the world of work.” (page 160)

2. On the same page, the authors offer that the field (of education) is “uninformed by research.”

While I think we have many issues that educators are trying to solve with varying degrees of success, I must disagree that educators – be they teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, or consultants – are ambivalent about dropout rates, test scores, or preparing students for their future. (Indeed, I more often see evidence that we are hyper-focused on test scores.)

I also disagree that education is uninformed by research. The very reason my organization is often sought by clients is because of our research base. I agree that there is conflicting and, in some cases, a lack of research, but I wouldn’t go so far to call it uninformed.

Interestingly, the Summary at the end of the chapter worded the problem of “research” in a way that I find more agreeable:

“The field of education’s lack of consensus about research-informed practice makes it difficult for the ICT industry to build responsive and scalable business models to benefit education.” (page 184)