Over the past few months we have worked with Startup Mason in a peer to peer environment where our founder offer opinions on our shared learning materials, but also on each others projects.
What I am struggling more generally with, and I spoke at length with Zoltan Acs recently about this — customers creating content. How do we get students and other stakeholders to play a role in content creation. I argued that many other industries engage their customers on products (from software to consumer product firms) while in our tech driven age many firms now depend on their customers creating content in order to survive (from WordPress and Facebook to Craigslist and Oracle). WSJ has a piece by Tony Wagner asking how schools can teach more creativity and innovation.
Though expertise is important, Google’s director of talent, Judy Gilbert, told me that the most important thing educators can do to prepare students for work in companies like hers is to teach them that problems can never be understood or solved in the context of a single academic discipline. At Stanford’s d.school and MIT’s Media Lab, all courses are interdisciplinary and based on the exploration of a problem or new opportunity. At Olin College, half the students create interdisciplinary majors like “Design for Sustainable Development” or “Mathematical Biology.”
Learning in most conventional education settings is a passive experience: The students listen. But at the most innovative schools, classes are “hands-on,” and students are creators, not mere consumers. They acquire skills and knowledge while solving a problem, creating a product or generating a new understanding.
Wagner a Felllow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and author of the forthcoming, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, later writes,
Mandating that schools teach innovation as if it were just another course or funding more charter schools won’t solve the problem. The solution requires a new way of evaluating student performance and investing in education. Students should have digital portfolios that demonstrate progressive mastery of the skills needed to innovate. Teachers need professional development to learn how to create hands-on, project-based, interdisciplinary courses. Larger school districts and states should establish new charter-like laboratory schools of choice that pioneer these new approaches.
Creating new lab schools around the country and training more teachers to innovate will take time. Meanwhile, what the parents of future innovators do matters enormously. My interviews with parents of today’s innovators revealed some fascinating patterns. They valued having their children pursue a genuine passion above their getting straight As, and they talked about the importance of “giving back.” As their children matured, they also encouraged them to take risks and learn from mistakes. There is much that all of us stand to learn from them.