A SYSTEMS FRAMEWORK FOR GUIDING INNOVATIVE SCHOOL REFORM
It has long been understood that education is central to the development of individuals and to creating socioeconomic opportunities in communities around the world. Yet many nations find that their current educational systems are not engaging students or preparing them for the future.
Sparking the natural curiosity of young people and enabling them to be successful in the workplace often involves changing an entire education system, rather than just tinkering with its parts. Systems, whether biological, political or organizational, are comprised of interconnected sets of sub-systems. Changing just one or two parts of a system may be helpful, or it might be harmful or have no discernable effects, depending on how the change interacts with other aspects of the system.
Similarly, transforming education is traditionally challenging, and there is often a discrepancy between policy-making and true change in the student learning experience. We live in a time of constant technological change and innovation, which affects nearly every aspect of our lives — from the way we communicate to how we do our jobs and spend our leisure time. Yet in the world of education, comparatively little has changed. Classrooms across the world look much as they always have, with a single teacher in front of a blackboard imparting lessons to students seated at rows of desks. The school day is divided into periods that correspond to specific subjects in a fixed curriculum. Within this traditional model, some schools might add in a bit of technology as a way to increase efficiency or access to information.
Compare this to the lives that young people lead outside of school. In increasing numbers all over the world, they browse the web, download music, visit chat sites, upload homemade videos, communicate with friends using instant messaging, watch multi-channel digital TV, blog about their experiences and read books, magazines and articles online. Much of this activity happens simultaneously and on portable devices. In this increasingly interconnected world, young people have an expectation that experiences, services and products can be configured to their individual needs and preferences.
The challenge for education in the 21st Century is to create an approach that is agile, adaptable and in tune with young people’s lives outside of the classroom and their future employability. The answer lies in innovation, but the question is what kind of innovation, and how should it be implemented?
The solution is complicated, and using technology as the only solution will not solve these challenges. Even when introduced in schools with the necessary physical infrastructure, simply giving each child a computer will typically not produce superior learning without additional changes in the nature of the school’s teaching, learning and assessment practices (Dynarski et al., 2007)1. In this example, effective change would require a more holistic approach to completely transform the learning experience of the learners.
Below the surface of successful schools is a system of connections and interrelationships that enable transformation in a focused and coordinated way. A helpful framework for thinking about systems innovation is adapted from the work of Knapp, Copland and Talbert (2003)2. The goal of the framework is to help coordinate changes so that they complement rather than compete with one another. The framework highlights four top dimensions in successful transformation. These dimensions are critical success factors individually but more effective when connected with each other.
- Teaching, Learning & Assessment
- Building Capacity
- Leadership & Culture of Innovation
- Learning Environment
For example, many innovative attempts to introduce student-centered, problem-based learning and technology-rich learning environments have not succeeded because they collided with existing — and sometimes outdated-assessment practices, or because professional development for teachers and leaders was underemphasized (e.g., Roschelle, Singleton, Sabelli, Pea & Bransford, 2008)3 . Using the Framework helps innovators think through each of the pieces of reform and how they interrelate.