Listened Innovation in Learning Design from Happy Steve

I recently had the pleasure of being invited onto the Atomi Brainwaves podcast on the topic of Innovation in Learning Design.

The timing is excellent because after 4 years of working with commercial organisations, I’m delighted to be bringing some of my focus back to schools and learning. The episode was recorded about 6 days into the COVID lockdown.

Steve Collis spoke on the Atomi Brainwaves podcast about her journey in regards to learning and innovation. Reflecting on his experiences, Collis talks about the importance of creating the culture of change at the top. For him, this came through messages, such as ‘do then think’ and ‘ready fire aim’. This was about doing small changes which could then be incorporated into the daily practice along the way. This is in contrast to spending months preparing change for the following year. (An example of such learning experiences was the decision one year to have the first two days to be without teachers.)

For Collis, the big challenge he faced was reimagining the human journey. A key to this was breaking the traditional approaches to education and differentiation – what John Goh calls our ‘default’ – where each lesson involves three different groups/levels that often succeed as teachers work so hard to make it work. The problem with this is that it treats learning as a linear process that runs to strict time and place.

To help make better sense of this change, Collis spoke about the Touchline Model to capture the current state of play and how we might change it. This involves unpacking three structures: physical structure, information structure and our shared social structure. Here is a summary from the Amicus website:

When working with Amicus’s People and Culture consultants the first thing that is achieved is a direction-setting module which covers our report and design-briefing document, we take into consideration all three touchlines in an integrated fashion. This means in practice that we unpack your aspirations for the move into practical implications for not just the physical space, but also the information space (e.g. your technology toolkit) and organisation space (e.g. routines, meetings, spatial protocols). The goal for any new workspace should be a capitalisation on what you can truly achieve. The office lease or motivation to move only rolls around every 5 years or so, so ensure your organisation makes the most of it.

He also talks about the model in his presentation at DEX 2019 conference.

Another important ingredient to change is the design for emergence. This is where teachers design deliberate constaints. Often the argument is made against ‘direct instruction’ and specific information, however the issue is not the instruction, but the fact that such instruction is not at the point of need. Collis spoke about the use of flipped instruction and providing students more choice and autonomy as to when they accessed this information. Therefore, such shared learning narratives often involved a number of choices or spaces. This often included a help desk which was run by both teachers and peers. Where such spaces differ to the open planned movements of the past is the place of technology to make such learning more doable. This includes both Google Docs and writable surfaces. With all of this, the question is always about finding the right balance. He discusses this further in his TED Talk.

Associated with leadership, Collis touched on the fact that it is easier to drive change when there is nothing to lose. For example, this is at the heart of Templestowe College’s success. It is also interesting to think about this in regards to Simon Breakspeare’s work with Agile Schools. However, Collis also touched on the risk of trauma about changing too much too fast. For me, the danger of coming up too fast is that we risk getting the bends. In this respect I guess leadership is also knowing when to pull the break. See for example Richard Wells decision to press pause on the move to reimagine learning in the school he is in.