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Learning at its Best

Developers working with schools

This is cross-posted from the Disruption Department Blog.

Just a few moments ago an article came across my twitter feed via

It piqued my interested because it highlights a problem both schools and small businesses face, which is not simply building apps.

It has to do with solving problems.

Software developers and designers are intellectual engineers.  They frame ideas and experiences in terms of usable interactions with technology.  They take an idea, establish a user experience, build the experience, test said experience, and deploy the experience in a way that users can access frequently.

In 2012, these apps must interconnect with services users are used to, as well as playing to expectations of gestures, past experience with software, design aesthetics and emotions.  The business has the idea, the developers make that an idea a reality (and typically improve the idea through the process).

In this article, Christine Erickson describes the company Trigizzi‘s efforts to build a mobile app ecosystem that is completely visual.  These have existed before, but the article highlights the role that small businesses might play in developing their own working prototypes that can then be build upon by hired developers (lets face it, some things just need to be built by engineers).

So that got me thinking.

What if the Disruption Department served as the mediator between app developers and teachers/students/community members?

Of course, there could be some apps that came from this, which has been an often described experience that we should be exposing our students to.  Not only because it prepares many of them to exist in a coding environment or to understand the nuances of software development directly, but also because it would expose them to the collaborative process and project development.  They could help us build apps for sure that make our lives easier, help us better interact with families, or provide deeper learning for students.  Just to name a few.

But I could think of another idea. If software developers are intellectual engineers, what if we employed software engineers to help us solve problems?

The cost would be low, because there would be little actual coding work done in these circumstances. But we would pay them, because their expertise deserves compensation.

Furthermore, it would allow for the complete cycle of project development to come to fruition between teachers, their classes, and the devs.  The devs could help model what feedback cycles look like.  The devs could learn about the types of problems that exist in schools, preparing them to work with the educational community in the future.  Finally, we would be not only simulating a “real world” environment of collaboration, but we would actually be having students/teachers/community members participate in it.

What kinds of problems do you think devs could help us solve?


About mrsenorhill

Head of Product @linksdao


4 thoughts on “Developers working with schools

  1. I think every school/PLC needs a coder or a culture of coding amongst teachers and students. How do we build something together to address a learning need, rather than tweak assessments for our testing needs? That might be an unfair question, but I think approaching learning as making – or as learning to program something that reflects our learning – is better than approaching learning as an opportunity for assessment. If something works, there you go. If it doesn’t work, well, then, everybody has a compelling reason to wade through another prototype or draft of messy code to fix it. If a student fails a test “accountability” gets messy in a much less productive way.

    Does that make any sense?

    Best regards,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 14, 2012, 12:02 pm
  2. This is something I’ve thought through for a few years and worked for in my current school. Sadly, the lack of school coders is another layer of the shift away from the “bicycle for the mind” and to consumption computing. At a time when we have more computing power and machine readable data at play in our schools than ever before, but but we can rarely address our unique needs and questions.

    When a school needed a new reportcard system in 1995, a homebrew FileMaker report card system might seem like a great solution. But over the next 15 years, many schools have found many reasons to regret that decision – the system creates excessive dependance on an individual employee, the system comes to limit rather than support the school’s choices, etc.

    The solutions to all of these problems are well-documented in the FOSS community. We have two decades of best practices and tools, all designed to allow the needs of a community to drive software and route around all sorts of obstacles.

    But our schools spent those decades becomes more nerd-adverse and more suspicious of homegrown solutions.
    And so we turned our data over to ed-tech companies, and moved software development out of the school environment.

    Bringing that development process back into our schools has a number of benefits, both for the quality and control over software and for the cultural effect of *making” things within the school.Software devs do have some experience solving problems, but they’re not magic. The chief benefit that software offers for problem solving is the low cost and high speed of iteration.

    Don’t put software on a pedestal – the same cultural benefits could come from having an active development loop with the facilities wood shop, or an active culinary partnership between students and staff in the school kitchen.

    Posted by tieandjeans | June 16, 2012, 11:11 pm
    • I’m with you on this. I think the FOSS community/ies can serve as a model for the type of community thought building we’re doing here, and want to do in our schools/districts.

      My point with this article wasn’t to necessarily to even include devs in the process of creating software, but rather to facilitate the process of solving problems outside the locus of most schools. This would add additional layers of insight and creativity that folks involved in the fray oftentimes don’t have to the degrees necessary to make substantial change. Because software developers have experience with designing usability and testing experiences, they have the mental framework for solving problems and executing new ideas. Building this framework in schools, stemming from the collaboration with devs, would assist in solving new problems in the future.

      I agree though, that partnerships with other community entities would cultivate a richness in programs that just can’t be done in schools alone.

      One of the things the Disruption Department wants to do is exactly what you describe, bring experts into the fold, widening our perspective and making learning more “real” in the sense that students are working with professionals on projects that have an actual impact on the community.

      Thanks for reading.

      Posted by mrsenorhill | June 19, 2012, 12:13 pm
      • I’m excited to be part of this conversation, and thrilled to see how many places these same ideas seem to sprout and focus.

        I’ll admit to being a bit jaded on the notion of software developer’s special kinds of insights. The design/feedback/iteration cycle depends on data, mechanically collected and human comments. My experience has been that the experiences I think are most valuable for learning often have a poor data footprint, and thus don’t serve as good anchor points for the software dev cycle. When we talk about incorporating those skills and that mindset into designing learning experiences, especially “outside the locus of schools,” my cynicism fears losing the human core of learning in favor of something that offeres a richer mechanical data set.

        You should check out a Startup Weekend EDU event if there’s one even remotely in your area. There’s a great community of software and business folk looking for new angles onto learning and education, and they dearly need the voices and experience of teachers and students.

        Posted by tieandjeans | June 19, 2012, 12:53 pm

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