May 24, 2013

Toward A Networked Approach to Improving Education

Categories: Digital Learning, Educational Practice
blurry photo of student hands writing on test paperwork

Which comes first, coordination or collaboration? It’s a classic chicken or egg debate that surfaces among network organizers and one that Peter Wardrip, a Ph.D. student in the Learning Sciences and Policy program at the University of Pittsburgh, has been exploring for the past three years. In today’s interconnected world, there seems to be a network to support just about any interest or profession. If you’re a writing teacher or an edtech leader, your options include the National Writing Project or the Consortium for School Networking. Young people from metropolitan areas such as Chicago, New York, and Pittsburgh can expand their learning experiences by joining the Digital Youth Network or the Hive Learning Networks. But what do the inner workings of these networks look like, and what design mechanisms are put in place that best encourage collaboration across all fronts?dmlsra-2013-green_2_copy

Wardrip examines how these networked organizations spread and support innovations. Currently, he is involved in a study that seeks to better understand how networks get started and how they form. Two years prior to this work, Wardrip was part of the research team of Quantway, a network improvement community that addresses the alarming drop out rates of community college students in developmental math. Quantway, which comprises eight community colleges across three states, aims to improve mathematical outcomes for all students by constructing engaging learning experiences that support the development of quantitative literacies. The key to this, Wardrip says, is the network structure of Quantway.

In the video below, Wardrip discusses several fundamental components of the networked organization including the community’s decision to develop a new curriculum that shifts the focus of development math from algebraic concepts to those of quantitative reasoning. Wardrip presented his work at the DML Summer Research Associates Institute in 2012. Below are just a few highlights, but throughout the entire video, Wardrip discusses the role coordination plays in collaborative work and the effects both have on the implementation of effective network improvement communities.

For collaboration to happen or to advocate for collaboration and have it implemented, there have to be structures put in place in order for people to be able to collaborate. I do a lot of research in high schools, and they often don’t support collaboration very well.

There’s no incentive for collaborating. There’s no reward for collaborating. In a school sense…the mindset of the administration, the leadership, as well as the teachers, has to shift in order to promote collaboration.

A common challenge of distributed work is being aware of what everyone on your team is doing. You have to figure out the ways to build group awareness – whether it’s through technologies, through frequent face-to-face opportunities, or phone calls.

Learning from many different places, testing out curriculum in multiple places…and adapting to the contextual factors that are important to each classroom can broaden the educational opportunities for students in a diverse array of places in the country.

Production credit: Marc Bacarro
Banner image credit: jeremywilburn