Disrupting Class

Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson have written Disrupting Class ISBN:0071592067 about applying Disruptive Innovation to Educating Kids.

They have founded the Innosight Institute to promote their ideas.

Victor Lombardi reviews it.

Jonathan Martin reviews it.

  • Oct'2010 update: he covers a separate white-paper about student motivation: what are they hiring us for? Actually, is the meta-issue that the students aren't hiring the school at all, since they are required to be there? And that this distorts any sort of motivation/desire they might have?

My take

This is a very pragmatic book, predicting how computers will be Crossing The Chasm as Educational Technology. That's useful for people who have an interest in riding that trend, wanting to create/support the Disruptive Innovation.

On the downside, it's not a very attractive picture. He doesn't challenge any of the real content or structure of the system, just the fact that it's not spun in multiple ways to support different Learning Styles. (And I think his framing of that model as the key future is somewhat magical.) I think there are much bigger problems to worry about.

Aside from the educational focus, this is a good book for showing an application of Christensen's Disruptive Innovation thinking.

Key notes

Can't push education into kids, they have to want it. They need motivation, and that motivation needs to be Intrinsic.

  • support: once Japan improved its Prosperity, fewer students entered college science/engineering programs

Students have different ways of learning (Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences models). Teachers and schools will have inherent bias on which they cater to. This kills motivation for lots of students. (Hmm, is this the biggest motivation-killer?) (See those linked pages for challenges to those models.)

Using computers as Educational Technology is a good way to provide student-centered education.

It's difficult for Disruptive Innovation to get adopted in Education, because (a) Public Schools have near-MonoPoly, and (b) there's much less Non Consumption available to serve with a Disruptive Innovation.

Public School-s have actually done well at changing. Society keeps moving the target (GoalOfEducating Kids).

  1. Prepare people as citizens (1776): universal Elementary School and Middle School

  2. Prepare everyone for a vocation (1900): universal High School added, explosion in course offerings (both for vocation breadth, and Whole Person offerings for the Middle Class (responding to Prosperity). Goal/metric: increase number of students; increase breadth of offerings.

  3. Keep America competitive (1970). Move toward universal College Education. Goal: improve average test scores

  4. Eliminate Poverty (2000): No Child Left Behind. Goal: improve % of students "passing" tests.

As expected, schools have been applying computers as Sustaining Innovation-s instead of as Disruptive Innovation. Every dominant institution tries to do this. (See standard Innovators Dilemma argument. And Enterprise software!)

  • Putting more money into this approach will not improve results.

There are areas of Non Consumption to target disruption to

Expect 2 phases of market penetration

Predicting rate of penetration

  • S-Curve model: plot log of ratio of Market Share new-divided-by-old.

    • (I'm hugely skeptical of how early you can make useful predictions with this approach, esp given rather noisy data.)

    • He uses this to predict that 50% of High School courses will be delivered online by 2019.

The future of testing

  • Testing is supposed to do 2 jobs

    • Identify when a student has master material, and is ready to move forward. Current testing stinks at this. But it doesn't even matter, as long as Factory Schooling process "wants" to keep pushing students forward.

      • New software will incorporate evaluation into the teaching process, so rapid FeedBack.
    • To compare students. Standardized Test-s. (Why? To pick winners of next-level scarce slots; to evaluate schools)

      • New software will allow comparisons along many dimensions.

Change in how Educational Technology is produced to get to 2nd phase

Pre-School: do we want it universal?

  • he says it's a waste

  • huge predictor of IQ is parents talking to children

    • esp when child is under 12mo old!

    • "extra talk", not just "business talk" (Pre-School-s involve lots of "business talk" (just because they're groups?).)

  • he says best approach is to have High School classes for future parents preparing them to do lots of "extra talk".

Progress requires we allow for tailoring of education processes to students. Then we can research/test effectiveness of combinations of student-type vs process-type.

Tools of Co Operation to use in different environments (he's talking about Co Operation in changing schools)

  • Success of a tool will depend on 2 dimensions of agreement among the Stakeholder-s in an environment: what they want (Goal); cause-and-effect

  • Two ways of increasing agreement: success (reinforces development of a local Culture); Shared Language for Framing discussions.

  • Mapping tools to agreement position

    • Both-low: use Power tools (Coercion, threats, role definition, fiat, control systems)

    • Low-Goal, High-Cause-and-Effect: Management tools (measurement systems, stanadrd procedures, training)

    • High-Goal, Low-Cause-and-Effect: Leadership tools (charisma, vision, role modelling)

    • High-both: Culture tools (Rituals, ApprenticeShip, tradition, folk-lore, Religion, democracy) (These groups can have a hard time changing.)

    • Meta-tool: separation - let factions go their own way (Secession)

  • In Public School environment, only tools with any hope are: Shared Language, Power, and Separation/Secession.

Different Organization Models are appropriate depending on the scope of challenges associated with implementing an Innovation

  • component-level improvements can be handled in a Functional Structure

  • predictable interface changes can be coordinated with a Lightweight team

  • architecture changes (resulting in unpredictable interface changes) need a Heavyweight team

  • Disruptive Innovation, striking at the whole Business Model, require an Autonomous team.

  • Heavyweight/Autonomous teams are tools of Separation (Secession).

  • lighter-weight teams can take over more once disruptions have settled down

  • Public School-s are structured around functional/lightweight teams.

  • even when new school types that seem replicable are created, they are often squashed by society. See Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform ISBN:0674892836

    • reviewed by Seymour Papert. In fact, I could learn from it - the shift from a stance of reform to a stance of evolution does not exclude active intervention, but the role of the change agent becomes less like the architect or builder and more like the plant- or animal breeder whose interventions take the form of influencing processes that have their own dynamic. Hmm, Papert seems to be disagreeing with Christensen, thinking that significant change can come incrementally.

    • will KIPP be at risk?


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