Tag Archives: networks

Preparing For the Future Together

One week last May, more than 30,000 people gathered throughout Pittsburgh to celebrate learning. Participants in the first annual Remake Learning Days could choose from hundreds of events hosted by our diverse Network members—who also marked the occasion by committing more than $25 million to learning innovation.

Apparently word got out.

Remake Learning Days got a shout-out in January in a World Economic Forum white paper on the future of education and work. The paper highlights the event as a model of an educational system that loops in families and other community members.

“An effective multistakeholder approach to education ecosystem governance should look beyond government, education providers and businesses, to include teachers, parents and students,” the paper says.

That “all aboard” approach to learning is the only way to develop an education system that allows all kids to meet their own potential and the demands of a changing workforce, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). Networks like Remake Learning can overcome obstacles like parental skepticism or misalignment between the school system and the workforce by bringing everyone into the conversation and fostering unlikely partnerships.

“What are the key features of a future-ready education ecosystem?”

This “multistakeholder consultation and leadership” is just one of the items on the agenda laid out by WEF in the white paper, “Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Twice a year, WEF convenes members of the business, public, and academic sectors to develop a global agenda for the future of education, gender, and work. In fall 2016, the group focused in part on answering the question, “What are the key features of a future-ready education ecosystem?”

Around the world, education systems and educator training models have “remained largely static and under-invested in for decades,” says the paper. The same is not true for the economic landscape. Most kids starting school today are likely to end up with jobs that don’t even exist yet, and might not get adequate preparation even for those that do, notes WEF.

Despite the tremendous diversity that exists among education systems, the forum aims to establish a general shared agenda for curricula, programming, and pedagogy. All curricula should focus on linguistic, mathematical, and technological literacy, WEF says, to better prepare students for the workforce. So too should educators promote interdisciplinary learning, “global citizenship” values like empathy, and the kind of noncognitive skills like collaboration and project management that will help students in future employment.

Many kids starting school today will end up with jobs that don’t yet exist.

The most effective pedagogies are those that do not focus heavily on content, but also teach students “how to learn,” the paper notes. Hands-on lessons with reflection exercises built in allow students to engage in self-directed learning through adulthood, and to better weather whatever changes and obstacles they encounter.

WEF also encourages more access to—and less stigma around—technical vocational training, which can prepare those who are not necessarily college-bound for success in growing fields. All students’ experiences with education should include direct exposure to the workplace, whether through technical training, internships, or site visits, says the paper.

The next time WEF members gather, they could have an even clearer sense of the kinds of employment training students might benefit from. Those in education and business will continue to keep tabs on exactly which fields are growing and what technology is expanding. In 10 years, the activities at Remake Learning Days could look a lot different from this year’s, which include documenting biodiversity using a smartphone app and coding a robot with LEGO software.

“Skills such as coding may themselves soon become redundant due to advances in machine learning,” says the WEF paper.

But that’s precisely why networks and other education ecosystems are so critical to preparing children for the future. Networks like Remake’s help build the important foundations and skills that can survive economic and technological change by keeping everyone in the conversation and continually adapting.

For Good Measure

A network can be a great example of when more really is more.

A practice becomes more powerful when it is implemented in multiple settings. An individual has a greater impact when she can share advice and resources with others.

So in the education world, networks—cross-sector groups of educators, schools, community programs, and businesses working in tandem toward a shared goal—are catching on, and it’s no surprise.

Networks “allow ideas that are isolated, either in a classroom or community space, to scale, through sharing, collaboration, communication, and iteration,” said Anne Sekula, the director of the Remake Learning Council. The council represents the Remake Learning Network, a group of formal and informal education organizations working to increase opportunities for all young people in the greater Pittsburgh region.

Yet while members of networks sing their praises, the benefits of a network are hard to systematically track. Take “sharing” in all its manifestations—how do you count that, and how can you tell that it improves learning outcomes? As education networks proliferate, many are wrestling with the question of how, exactly, to measure networks’ unique impact. What data should be collected, and through what methods? And perhaps most important, why measure in the first place?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Sekula said.

In its 10 years of existence, Remake Learning has focused on providing information and resources that are more immediately practical, she said. That could be money for community programs, research on the use of classroom tools, or conferences. The network has not yet invested heavily in measurement, a deeply complex and expensive task.

“It’s a tremendous set of resources that we don’t want to lightly direct away from educators and impact on programs,” Sekula said.

But at 250 members and growing, the network is now considering the benefits of self-assessment.

“We at Remake Learning have said, ‘We know we have something that’s strong, but we also want to continually improve and expand that work,’” Sekula said. To do so, the network must take a close look at its strengths and shortfalls.

What would that entail? There are a couple of different, yet interconnected, approaches to measuring what a network is and does.

Photo/Ben Filio

Remake Learning Network members gather annually. Photo/Ben Filio

Networks need to look in the mirror

“If you’re interested in networks,” said Jennifer Russell, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, “you want to have ways of tracking the health of the network itself.”

This type of “process measure” assesses the strength of a network—how connected its members are—rather than measuring the outcomes of its work.

Social network analysis comes in handy here. The process involves mapping a network—determining who is connected to whom, and how. Social network analysis is used in many fields, whether researchers are tracking the spread of a disease, mapping an online social media network, or studying the structure of an education network.

What data should be collected, and through what methods? And perhaps most important, why measure in the first place?

Evaluating the health of an education network is necessary, said Julie Stolzer, director of marketing and consulting at the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM. Mapping a learning network can reveal whether everyone working in the field knows one another and whether available resources are being used to their utmost. Stolzer has seen firsthand how that often isn’t the case until an intentional network is established and assessed.

Stolzer is one of the facilitators of the STEM Ecosystems Initiative, a program developing regional STEM learning networks in over 30 communities. Part of her job is to survey each community to get a sense of existing and potential relationships—as well as where relationships may not yet have been formed. In every single case, she said, at least one educator has insisted that everyone working in STEM education locally already knows one another. And in every single case, there is a different educator who insists there is no local STEM program.

“That was a big ‘aha’ moment,” Stolzer said. Qualitative self-assessment can help identify gaps, forge new partnerships, and include those previously left out of the loop.

Photo/Ben Filio

Photo/Ben Filio

In Pittsburgh, an evaluation of the local maker education movement also demonstrated the importance of mapping the ties in a network. The analysis revealed the critical links—those people and programs that serve as “connective tissue” between others, Sekula said.

“You find these nodes of connectivity you can really mine,” she said. “You might be surprised to find one small organization that’s highly networked and an important player, but maybe they don’t get the resources they need to do that.”

Surveying members or mapping the connections in an existing network can help those critical actors expand their reaches.

“We’re trying really hard not to reinvent the wheel, but to figure out the gems that already exist,” Stolzer said of her work on the STEM Ecosystems Initiative.

But it is one thing to take the temperature of a network. It is a more difficult task to determine whether all its connection and collaborations are helping the students it serves.

Photo/Ben Filio

Photo/Ben Filio

New kinds of measurement for new kinds of learning

“Student-level impacts are a hard thing to get your hands around,” Sekula said.

First of all, most programs in the Remake Learning Network intend to boost student engagement, equity, and innovation—and other outcomes that may be immeasurable through traditional methods like standardized tests or AP enrollment.

“You find these nodes of connectivity you can really mine.”

In Russell’s experience, one of the hardest and most critical steps in measuring student impact—of a network or otherwise—is coming up with a highly specific problem of practice. A project she worked on, for example, explored why many students were not progressing from a community college onto university or a career. But it was impossible to measure something so broad as “success after community college.” The researchers eventually figured out that many students were getting held up by a mandatory developmental math course. The lack of success in that math class became the problem of practice. The task then, said Russell, was to drill down to measurable indicators—ones that tracked long-term goals (passing the class) as well as short-term (attendance or participation in class).

“That’s a process itself—identifying those achievement outcomes that a specific network or community values,” she said.

Measurement may be the key to the sustainability of a network.

Often, the different sectors represented in a network initially have different goals and ideas about how to track them. Stolzer observed that dynamic in one of the new regional STEM networks. At an early meeting, a teacher said she thought test scores were the only way to measure student achievement. One of the business partners countered that a measure of career readiness would most accurately capture achievement. The STEM Ecosystems Initiative eventually developed a set of success indicators for all of the regional networks to use. The metrics—ranging from measures of parent engagement to indicators of professional development opportunities—are designed to apply to multiple groups’ visions of success.

Even with the right metrics, tracing those outcomes back to the network adds another layer of complexity.

The collaboration intrinsic to networks turns out to also be a barrier to measurement. Perhaps students at one of the maker afterschool programs in the Remake Learning Network become demonstrably more engaged in their creative work. Or say attendance at a career training program skyrockets. Can those outcomes be attributed to the network, versus to the autonomous programs?

Take a recent pilot study of Remake Learning summer program providers. The researchers tracked participation by demographics, interest level, and other student outcomes. But “this study wouldn’t reveal network impacts other than anecdotally,” said Carnegie Mellon University’s Marti Louw, the lead researcher. “Those kinds of studies require a much larger investment in research and evaluation.”

At the end of day, measuring networks is a challenge, but one that most involved are increasingly finding necessary—whether for the sake of self-improvement or to communicate successes to funders. Measurement, then, may be the key to the sustainability of a network and its capacity to make a difference where it matters most: for learners.

Bridging the Digital ‘Gulch’ in Kansas City

Thanks in part to a recent influx of technology, there is an active network of social entrepreneurs in Kansas City, Missouri. Together with municipal and corporate leaders, they tackle critical issues like education. At the center of the activity is the KC Social Innovation Center, which, like the Remake Learning Network in Pittsburgh, brings together partners and programs working toward inclusion and growth in the city. Remake Learning sat down with KCSIC’s executive director, Kari Keefe, to get to know, and learn from, another group participating in a network approach to community change.

How did Kansas City become home to a network of innovators and entrepreneurs?

Kansas City is an old town. We’ve got these great historical moments of early settlement and development here along the Missouri River. We were a jazz city, then we became an industrial hub because of our central location. We’re a transportation center. It’s interesting to see the evolution. Today, we’re still a hub of sorts. That is circumstantial to a point, because of unique infrastructure upgrades. We were the first Google Fiber city. That launched a catalytic movement of new technology and developers. We also have incredible city leadership, and large companies have taken a stake in our technology platform.

Kansas City youth develop apps at a camp hosted by Google Fiber. Photo/UMKC

Kansas City youth develop apps at a camp hosted by Google Fiber. Photo/UMKC

Where does learning fit in?

We’ve had a lot of upgrades to our technology and city systems. But we didn’t have the same pipeline of sophisticated infrastructure when it comes to education. Education is an economic development driver. If you don’t have good schools or a good workforce, you can’t achieve those innovative goals that cities strive for. The underpinning of education was the new imperative.

We have a ripening ecosystem of partners, similar to Pittsburgh’s. But you really need those seminal leaders committed to breaking out of systemic constraints. We have 14 separate urban school districts, which has been incredibly challenging but has recently presented opportunities for innovation. Because we have so many districts, we are a heavily populated charter school community. So there’s a natural network of schools willing to explore how innovation can change the way learning takes place. We are also a new LRNG city. Through the platform, young people can find online and community programs where they can explore their interests, earning digital badges as they gain skills. It’s one way to connect the dots between the abundance of learning that’s taking place all across the city.

What kind of innovative work has come out of those initiatives and schools?

KCSIC launched a pilot in the fall of 2015 with Lee’s Summit School District. Two hundred high school and middle school students participated in an innovation challenge, creating prototype projects using data sensors and connected devices in order to solve a problem they saw. Oh my gosh, these kids were so clever. The winning middle school team created an allergy-sensing device for air ducts. It would sense moisture to detect mold and would determine when they needed to be cleaned. There was one device that would trigger your coffee maker as soon as you put on your slippers in the morning. Some solved big social problems; others were just inspiring devices that would make life more enjoyable.

Kansas City Middle school students in built an allergy-sensing device, winning an innovation challenge. Photo/thinkBIG

Kansas City Middle school students in built an allergy-sensing device, winning an innovation challenge. Photo/thinkBIG

What is challenging about this kind of work?

We’re a city of dueling realities. We have tremendous infrastructure prompting a surge in tech creation and development. The flipside to that is one of stark poverty and lack of access, and segregation in a very definitive line that runs along our city. With Goggle Fiber we’ve created what we refer to as a gigabit gulch. It privileges people who already own devices and use the internet regularly, so it made the digital divide grow exponentially. We’re very mindful of those divisions and where they’ll grow without interventions and a community that is resolute in making a difference. With programs like LRNG, we can very methodically make education more accessible.

“If you don’t have good schools or a good workforce, you can’t achieve those innovative goals that cities strive for.”

But how do you convene all these players and interventions into a cohesive project?

Therein lies the challenge. It typically falls to the same organizations to make things fluid and sustain this work. We tend to be a convener. Often our task is to make sure that multiple groups that are trying to do the same thing collaborate and collide more often. That takes money and is often a rather ambiguous level of work, so it’s hard to find the right sources of funding for those initiatives.

We have found particular resonance with coworking spaces, which bring in an energetic community atmosphere. You have civic folks intermingling with academics, students, nonprofits, technologists, and corporate teams. You get cross-sector collaboration. We have also leaned on entrepreneurs in Kansas City, in part because the Kauffman Foundation is in our backyard and they are a huge funding and research entity in the education and entrepreneurship sectors. The Kansas City Public Library is also a huge proponent of cross-sector development. There are corporations that are deeply embedded in these initiatives. Then we’ve got more nascent players like Sporting KC, our professional soccer team. They are incredibly innovative with providing opportunities for young people to interact and engage.

Kansas City is clearly a leader in this realm, but where do you look for inspiration?

Places like Austin and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is definitely the exemplar in prioritizing education, at the municipal level all the way down to the tactical level. That takes extreme discipline from civic leaders and a community of stakeholders and funders.

Aw, thanks.