Teaching is a Creative Profession. Interview w @JelmerEvers

I interviewed Jelmer Evers, to find out more of his ideas on education reform in the Netherlands and wider. This is part of my THNK Challenge on the Future of Education.
Jelmer is an avid blogger, tweeter, teacher and education reformer. He teaches at UniC in Utrecht, NL and has, together with his students experiemented with a number of new forms of teaching such as flipping the classroom. He says ‘ Students must become the owner of their own learning process’

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Skype interview. January 8th 2013.

Let’s kick off with the role of the teacher in the class, how do you see it?

Jelmer: That depends a bit, on the level of the students, mainly I believe it’s about helping the students to find their own voice. It’s been a big introspection on my own learning experiences and this has shaped the way I teach. Sometimes you deviate from your plans, and sometimes students prefer more formal methods, it’s good to note that children between 12 and 18 also need structure. Too much structure doesn’t work and too much freedom doesn’t either. What I can say is that across the board, all students like practical assignments. Theoretically minded and practically minded students alike they like working on real assignments.

Let’s talk about the role of the teacher in the designing of curricula

Jelmer: Ownership of your topic and autonomy in how you teach it, is essential to good teaching, you should really enjoy teaching your subject, you have to own it and shape it. In my vision, a teacher should help students to become makers, so you need that quality of making and designing yourself in order to pass it on. If you want good teacher’s they should also be instructional designers too. Instructional design was only a small part of the teacher training in the Netherlands, that should have been more. Teaching is a really creative profession.

And how does Holland compare to Finland, the walhalla of Education

In Finland they teach maybe 500 hours or less to a class, while Holland has one of the highest rates with nearly 700 hours of teaching. Check out the OECD comparison here. This difference is key, those are the hours that teachers can spend on lesson development and building their own capacities, keeping up with new developments. People designing education don’t seem to have a clue what it really takes time wise to teach. You have to allow people time to be the best teachers, it’s a key component in the mix.

In UniC, where Jelmer teaches, they work as a team, in developing a path through the curriculum, curating the contents from available sources. He is just about to spend three days with his co-teachers of  History, Geography, social sciences and economics to make a shared curriculum. If you design your own path through the curriculum, it can also save you time down the road, as you own the process.

Jelmer on education Reform in Holland.

The system really needs to change, many of the things we do in schools now are a complete waste of time for students. The system needs to change both from the top down and from bottom up. That’s where Jelmer and his ilk come in. There is a history in Holland of top down change which hasn’t worked. What’s needed for bottom up change is to allow teachers to innovate and to keep the innovative teachers in the profession. The Ministry of Education can benefit by having more people working there who are active teachers, as opposed to only listening to educators or policy makers. It’s just too easy to underestimate the tenacity of the system.
Teacher’s are needed to co-create education reform.

And which education visionaries inspire Jelmer?

Here are some of his favorites:

Andy Hargreaves, The Fourth Way.

Will Richardson, blogger and former teacher.

Pasi Salberg, Finnish researcher.

And the classics such as John Dewi, Maria Montessori and JeanPiaget combined with technical disruption.

Steven Downes, who invented Moocs, toegther with George Siemens.
He preaches a new version of social constructivism, called connectivism.

Steve Wheeler, with a focus on new technologies.

Dylan William, professional education.

Daniel Wilingham, educational pyschologist, gives teaching and learning. Gives teaching more fundaments. and combines teacher practice and research.

Aside: Are there no ladies in this field?

And finally, too many people leave teaching, Jelmer is trying to combine, his passion for teaching with his other passions such as teacher trainer and blogger. He really enjoys teaching. Let’s hope he stays, students need great teachers like him.

Steve Howard, CSO, IKEA, Forum session @THNK

Today, January 14th, at THNK Forum session, we get to meet Steve Howard. Steve is the Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA since January 2011. He believes that Sustainability will be one of the mega trends that will shape society and  the business landscape in the next 10 years. He has worked broadly with ngo’s and businesses for climate change in the past such as World Wildlife Fund and UK Forest Stewardship.

We kick off with Karim interviewing Steve on his early career and how he got into working for the environment in the first place.

Steve founded The Climate Group in 2004 starting out as a two person start up in a small room, their Theory of Change was to reach 7 billion people through reaching the top world leaders. He tells that sometimes it took three years of networking to finally get a meeting. A lot of relentless work involved! Steve feels that the Climate Group managed to get the conversation about the climate between business and governments to become mainstream. Quite an achievement. Although of course the mission against climate change has not been achieved yet.

About his current position at IKEA, Steve says: ‘The purpose of leadership is to remind people of purpose’ and Steve is quite obsessive he says himself about getting the maximum potential of sustainable actions within the company.

steve-insta

THNK’rs question round kicks off:

Sofana asks, what do you see as the role of young people and children, in the fight against climate change?

Steve: To remind us of our responsibility!

Rachel asks about organisations and people in for example the UN she has worked with who have sometimes dissappointed her in their lack of action orientation. Rachel wants to know how Steve remains positive in the face of that.

Steve: My motto is Mission first, Organisations second, People third! When people fall into the gap of allowing either an organisation’s or a person’s needs to take priority the mission suffers. Usually you can recognise through a persons approach where their priorities lie.

Ellen J. wants to know do you stay so optimistic in the face of such huge challenges?

Steve Perhaps I am a Possibilist more than a optimist. At least that is what my son told me. Steve also hires people around him that are solution based. He feels really encouraged by the huge leaps humanity has made in bringing huge numbers of people out of dire poverty and truely believes that if we pull together, collective action, we can do this, we can establish lifestyles that are sustainable on the planet and imporving quality of life.

Jezus wants to know about the lifecycle of products, is IKEA designing furniture that will last?

Steve: Yes and no. Some products should be cheaper for the first time buyer. They don’t want them to last forever. We do want the products to be recyclable at the end of use. Other products should last very long, such as mattresses, or more heirloom potential objects.

Sharon tells that in her experience from discussions between business and social innovation, she sees 3 layers of conversation, one happening at the R&D level, one happening at the marketing level and one happening at the CSR level, she suspects that until directors give the intention to the product designers to design for sustainability. She would like to know Steve’s thoughts on this and how that works at IKEA, what is the balance of power there.

Steve has a question for us: How can IKEA effectively engage people through open-innovation, being such a big operation?

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Karim is going to collect our ideas on this and collate them for Steve.

Jason: If you were to design a school around sustainability, what are the 5 things you would include in the curriculum?

Steve: Thanks for the easy last question 😉 Thinking intuitively, I’d include something about leadership, we need leaders, I’d include something in about history and cycles of change, how have things changed in the past. I’d include contents about how the world and nature works, so that you understand it better. Then perhaps, some more specialised modules on ngo leadership and innovation.

Co-Creation Workshop

On December 12th, 2012, 12 bright minds and 3 equally bright facilitators gathered to co-create on my start up concept, which has working title ‘Creative Mobs’
Where Design Thinking meets Flash Mobs

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The Concept

Imagine. You’re a large non-profit working on sanitation issues in urban Kenya or you’re a new phone brand wanting to move into the Bangladeshi market. You want to get a new perspective or perhaps you need the local inside story. Then you can Call the Creative Mob, there’s sure to be one in your city.  What’s Creative Mob you ask, well it’s where Design thinking meets a Flash Mob. It’s groups of local young people who have been trained in design research, creative methods and prototyping.

A Creative Mob

A creative mob is made up of young people who were previously unemployed yet motivated and living in an urban environment. Through the Creative Mob Learning Circles App, the help of local facilitators and online mentors they have developed their skills and portfolios as design thinkers, gaining badges for, for example, design research. They work both live, doing local design research and online via the Creative Mob crowd platforms creating ideas and prototypes for whatever question your organization may have.

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 6.59.27 PM
The Open Creative Mob System has three main tiers:

1. Learning, How to be a design thinker for Creative Mob, Resources, Mentors,
2. Mob Jobs. Linking Mobs and assignments. And to inspiration from the crowd.
3. While some local Creative Mobs are also able to develop full-scale apps or campaigns, many are not (yet). Social Design questions can be uploaded to the platform, for people and companies who want to deliver the full solution.

The overall aim of The Creative Mob: to Create Work and Value, Creatively, for the users, the design thinkers, and the clients, globally.

The Co-Creation Workshop

The aim of the workshop was to, get a feel for the potential of the concept and to gain insights into its methods. The workshop program was 5 hours long, moving from Ice breakers with found objects, then me presenting what I knew, such as my Manifesto, the basic concept so far, and my vision on creative thinking. Then we got to Envisaging the Potential in Combinations, to Drawing the Clients and Mobbers Journeys, all followed by a group think and interspersed with food breaks. Here are the Persona’s we worked with to envisage scenarios. Here is a flickr set of photos.

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So what came out?

First off, very encouragingly the feedback on the concept was very positive, ok these folks are people in my network, some of them good friends, so they would say that, yes, yet this positive feedback transpired more in the number of and variations in scenarios they came up with on how a Creative Mob could add value, to communities, non-profits, companies and in schools. For example:
‘One group came up with several possibilities where clients could use the help of creative mobs,
including market research, helping scale up small companies, marketing of new product and facilitate or host new creative spaces. Problems such as waste management or traffic could use a new creative approach, like the use of collaborative space or creating new products out of waste. Also important to note is that they imagined creative mobsters as connecters, connecting local and global and making unexpected links between existing markets.’

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Second. In three groups, the co-creators worked on: the happy flow of a based on one of the characters in the education model; how to enroll participants in Dhaka; and the ecosystem of actors in a school system who could engage with creative thinking there.

Conclusion

A viable social concept and with some business potential, sounds like a good start to me!

What’s Next?

I have noticed that before you know it, it’s down to operations, work work work, making it happen. That was a warning sign to me, that I need to first concentrate on the essence of this concept. To explore and describe the space, the space where new ways of thinking come from, the unknown potential, the moment before you choose, when you look sideways and wonder.  This difficult to describe essence is the core of the concept. I am calling this essence: Unexpect.

To Unexpect: To actively create opportunity for the unexpected. 

Thanks so much to Mercedes, Bjorn, Valentina, Eveline, Klaas, Marieke, Marije, Merel, Gerd, Kim, Kevin, Robbert, Sara, Coen and Klaas. Excellent people. More about them Here

I’m Starting an uh . . a StartUp.

Since I transitioned from Butterfly Works last July, (now on the advisory board), I have been reflecting and exploring envisaged futures.

One might think that I have been doing what I love, already for years, which is sooo true, innovative education projects in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Kenya and Uganda  and yet there has been this niggling feeling. A feeling that, I want one big idea to unify, what I love, what I’m good at and what I find important into one program. A sort of personal ‘Theory of Everything‘.

In my search, I wrote my manifesto,  drew up my conditions, (a social enterprise, scalable, globally relevant) talked to lot of people, started the THNK program, did nothing (when the most reflection happens), hung out with my children (most inspiring) and came up with 5 promising concepts.
Still I kept flip flopping as to which of these concepts I REALLY wanted to do. Plus people were asking me, so what are you doing now? To which I could only answer ‘ I’m Starting an uh . . a StartUp’

Breakthrough

Back to the drawing board. While drinking coffee with Lino Hellings, she advised me: ‘Do what you love the most and even if no one else cares, you’ll still love it’
What I love the most is the creative thinking, design research and helping others to explore their creativity. As I wrote in my manifesto I see creativity as close to divinity.

Wow!  So simple.
For years, I had been choosing what to work on, as a social innovator, on the basis of: What does the world need? and what doesn’t exist already? I had been doing things that were 60 – 70% of what I love. not bad, but now I’m taking a different starting point. Creative Thinking is the leading ingredient, What I also love contributing to is, the resilience of young people in disadvantaged circumstances and I love the potential of amplifying it all via the internet. I drew the diagram above to investigate the intersection of these 3 main ingredients and plot my concepts. My start-up will at the middle point, where the star is.

The working titel is Creative Mobs, where design thinking meets flash mobs, and on December the 12th I’m holding a Co-Creation workshop at Thnk in Amsterdam to take this concept to the next level.

The potential of Mobile Open Education resources for students in developing economies.

A Mobile Leap?

Connecting teachers and students in developing economies to open education resources through their mobiles. A huge potential.

It’s now possible for people almost anywhere to connect to quality learning materials on almost any topic. If you want to know how to grow tomatoes or to study nuclear physics, you can watch a ‘how to’ youtube video or follow a free course online, from Coursera, sometimes gaining a certificate from a world-renowned university. That is, if you know that the resources exist and have sufficient online access. Two factors often not in place for schools in developing economies.

In an effort to bridge the access to OER gap, a wealth of organisations such as the Commonwealth for Learning and Connexions are collaborating to gather, translate and share available Open Education Resources (OER) for their partners and schools in low resource contexts.

At the same time, while many teachers in developing countries are unable to further their own education, or gain access to quality learning materials, they do regularly have access to a basic handset or a feature phone. A feature phone which can perhaps access the internet and can play videos from the SD card.

Three important departure points come to mind as to how we could harness the huge potential of OER:

1. How can we alert teacher’s to this trend and connect them to relevant online resources, either for their own professional development or for use in the classroom?
This, whilst taking into account obstacles such as low bandwidth, lack of time, cost and old handsets.

2. Can departments of education curate and select curriculum specific resources and share them to school using sd cards from phone to phone for example ?

3. What is the potential for students to follow extra courses, using their phones, considering the need for sustained motivation and the usual obstacles of cost and bandwidth. Is there perhaps need for an app to connect end users to the resources most suited to their context?

In the coming months I will explore these three questions, using ‘User Scenarios’ to explore how the growing trend of online and open educational resources can be appropriated to offer new opportunities via mobile for teachers, students and education systems in developing and post conflict economies.

I will be building on my work experiences of the last 10 years at Butterfly Works, working in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Afghanistan working with multi-discipline education teams to co-create curriculum compatible, open and interactive resources. And of course inspired by the UNESCO and EFA drive – amongst other international bodies – for quality teacher’s for developing economies and the challenge of how to motivate and train so many new teacher’s.

Further my explorations will be informed by the recent Mc Kinsey report ‘How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better’, the Uncollege Manifesto, the Maker Movement, the FrameWork for 21st Century Learning, the Flipped Classroom, the Mac Arthur DML Badges project, Simon Simek, Mozilla Labs, mLearn 2012, the broader Open Education movement and more.

I’ll be glad to hear from others who are exploring similar questions.