Over the last 30 years I’ve lead dozens of teams through strategic planning as a CEO and as an outside facilitator. I’ve learned there are three essential characteristics for a good facilitator.

  • Strong listening skills
  • A coherent framework

In the mid-90’s I had the pleasure of working for a genuine serial entrepreneur (defined as someone capable of having 10 number 1 priorities). He was charming, he was brilliant, and as the company got larger he was a disaster.  Eventually the lack of focus caught up with us and the company cratered.  It was only saved by a new infusion of capital, paring our development back to a single product line, and several years of patient turnaround work.

Setting priorities and focus for product development is one of the core questions all companies have to wrestle with. The answer determines how resources are focused. It also drives explicit and implicit organizational structure and power. It quite literally defines who you are as a business.

I’ve found that a simple framework with three options is the cleanest way to start this conversation. The three options are all valid, but they have very different strengths and weaknesses. Picking the right one for your company is critical.

Watching my kids play World of Warcraft in 2005,  I had a moment of clarity about video games and learning.  At root WoW is a Learning Management System (LMS) with Orcs and dragons in the presentation layer.  But grokking that potential and translating it into improved outcomes in school is a huge leap.

Connecting developmental psychology, brain science, and play is critical to seeing the whole picture. The Game Believes In You does just that.

Ten years ago, after reading Jim Gee’s What Videogames Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning , Raph Kosters A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s Rules of Play, and Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good For You I had exhausted the canon of the early aughts.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are here to stay.  Publishing, despite the rumors, is not dead.  The real question is not “if” but “how” these two options will co-exist in the instructional materials market.

A starting point is sorting out where each type of resource makes the most sense. For me the two most important criteria are the degree of complexity in crafting the materials and the ongoing requirements for maintenance.  How these two criteria map against content looks something like this:

OER vs Print
Degree of Complexity

In January 2001 as the dot com boom burst online education site wwwrrr.com went out of business overnight, literally. Coverage tended to focus on the employees – who ultimately filed a class action lawsuit for back pay and 401k contributions.

Lost in that ugly coverage was the blunt reality for teachers and schools that the new era of on-line content had a very dark side. Teachers who were relying on wwwrrr’s materials on January 9th were left with absolutely nothing on January 10th. They had no warning.

When schools buy a textbook they own the thing. If the vendor stops offering the book the school still has the thing. With cloud-based solutions schools are buying a license to a service. If the vendor stops offering the service it evaporates. Teachers rightly want some assurance that if they integrate a useful solution into their lesson plans that they can use it for several years.

Texas has been a vocal holdout on adopting Common Core State Standards (CCSS) since the beginning.  Last week all 14 publishers who submitted high school biology textbooks for adoption in TX ignored the state’s demand to include creationism.  I believe these two news items are directly related and reflect a huge shift in the market dynamics for instructional materials in the United States.

Partisans think the creationism kerfuffle is because the publishers are taking a principled stand for scientific accuracy or, conversely, because they are elitist liberals.  In some cases these may have been factors in publishers’ decisions.  That said, I think it is much simpler and can be explained by following the money.  For the publishers this was a business decision, not a political stand.
This is the clearest example to date of how CCSS is going to reshape who gets to dictate the overall  structure and content of instructional materials.  The hypothesis I floated in 2010 – that the combined market power of smaller states could steal the march on the big 3 (TX, CA, FL) – appears to be  happening.

“During the gold rush its a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”  Mark Twain

There are large amounts of capital flowing into the education publishing market today.  It appears we are experiencing a small gold rush as savvy technology investors bet that the digital transition in education will yield significant returns to those doing the disrupting.

Some basic facts:

Frank has a great post over on Geekwire that does a great job of explaining why Dumbo Drops of tech don’t work in schools.

The question he didn’t completely address is why do people keep making this mistake?

One explanation is that a massive initiative that “attacks” a “problem” is far sexier than a thoughtful program to incrementally improve classroom practice. Don’t forget that many Superintendents are politicians. These things get headlines.