A Parent’s Playbook for Learning
By working on these collaborative projects—and through regular meet ups and teach-ins—educators develop their own connected learning and digital literacy skills. In a sense, a Hive is at once an open source digital literacy lab and a peer-to-peer professional development program.
The thinking in Pittsburgh was this: a city is an ecosystem with many actors and many interdependencies. To solve complex problems and achieve long-term goals, people need to put their energy together around a common vision. Remake Learning brought together educators, designers, technologists, researchers, artists, entrepreneurs and community members around the idea that they needed to transform education if they wanted Pittsburgh to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family. Each member of the network acted independently to pursue their own mission and was committed to a loose but intentional affiliation to these common goals.
As networks like Hive and Remake Learning mature, we start to see innovation not only in the cracks of the system, but also at the heart of the system itself. The growth of creative digital literacy programming in New York City provides an example of this. As an initial spark in this effort, enterprising educators in organizations like MOUSE and the New York Public Library helped Mozilla create a program that quickly gets young people making things together.
It then builds more real-world skills like resilience and advanced creativity and technical skills from there. Their Digital Ready program connects Hive organizations to schools to provide the kind of digital learning experiences that schools cannot typically offer. This is how innovation spreads—and how networks have an impact.
It is about making the kind of shift to 21st skills that young people need today available to everyone—whether they can get to a specialized after school program or not. Hives are very focused on who learns, why, and when, in great part because network leaders and members share a commitment not only to new skills and new approaches to learning, but also to equity. With the right approach and patience, a network can start to move the ball on the equity agenda.
It also includes a set of work practices that make it easy for people to collaborate across organizations and locations: collaborative writing in shared online documents; shared public plans on wiki or other editable documents; progress reports and insights shared in real time and posted on blogs.
These simple practices are the grease that lubricates the network, allowing ideas to flow and innovations to spread. More importantly, they make it possible for people to genuinely build things together—and learn along the way. This point cannot be emphasized strongly enough: when people build things together they tend to own them emotionally and want to roll them out after they are created.
If the people building together are from different institutions, then the innovations spread more quickly to more institutions. Another key element of open innovation is connecting these city-based networks to each other.
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This effort provides ways for local educators to see what is happening in other cities, get copies of program materials and curricula they might try in their own work and, from time to time, to travel to other cities and countries to work with their peers. This global work is essential fuel for the work of local educators who are able to adapt new ideas quickly to their own local context.
The result is an approach that is at once global and local. In the past, social innovators like the members of Hive and Remake Learning could only share information through informal networks or trade publications with limited distribution. In the age of the web and open source, we have the opportunity to build networks where ideas move much more fluidly—and where new innovations seep more quickly into the cracks.
As these networks mature, they have the potential to spread innovations beyond the cracks and into the mainstream. They have the potential to make new skills and new ways of learning available to everyone. They have the real potential to change the system. What does this mean for transforming education? If we can build that future where this is the mainstream of education, we can help all young people not just get a job—we can also help them pursue their own path and figure out who they want to become.
The real challenge is developing a supportive infrastructure strong enough to guide that network forward, yet flexible enough to get out of the way and let the network members take the lead. The Remake Learning Network operates several programs and services to support innovative people and organizations in the greater Pittsburgh region. Within each action area, this chapter explains the theory of change that connects our activities to our outcomes, describes how the strategies have evolved over time, and provides starter ideas for implementing these techniques in your community.
These strategies can be executed in whatever order makes sense for you. They are presented in the general order in which they were established in Pittsburgh, beginning with the earliest activities to support a nascent network and concluding with more advanced activities to formalize and sustain a maturing network.
For more detailed step-by-step instructions for implementing plays based on these strategies, see the Plays in Detail section near the end of the Playbook. Building a collaborative network begins with bringing people together. You can deploy several strategies to convene relevant people and organizations. Ongoing events enhance the individual and collective capacities of network members, as well as create opportunities to import knowledge and expertise from outside the network.
Activities can take a variety of forms—from face-to-face in-person meetings to virtual exchanges taking place online—and can range in terms of size, duration, and formality. Match the structure of the event to the goal of the convening. In the short-term, convening strategies enable you to recruit interested people and organizations to join the network, improve internal communication and coordination, and share relevant information and resources across organizational boundaries.
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Among network members, convening strategies create an environment in which individual educators, innovators, and practitioners are better informed and equipped to pursue opportunities, confront challenges, and engage in collaboration. The goal is to further seed the ground and spur innovative learning projects and programs.
In Pittsburgh, these strategies have been essential to building the field of professionals who feel connected and empowered to do more because of their participation in the network. Host Network-Wide Events : Invite all network members to gather for important events where members can establish relationships, focus their attention on issues and opportunities of critical importance, collaborate directly in facilitated discussions, reflect on past accomplishments, and look ahead to potential future opportunities. Offer Ongoing Networking Opportunities : Host open and informal meetings for small groups of network members with shared interests to provide ongoing opportunities for network members to meet, share, and collaborate, whether in face-to-face meetups or through online webinars and hangouts.
Emphasize Professional Development : Offer continuing education credits to educators seeking to incorporate new and innovative teaching methods into their practice, or partner with established professional development agencies to offer credit at network events so that more educators find valuable professional opportunities through the network. See detailed instructions for implementing these and other convening strategies in Plays in Detail.
Offering regular, ongoing funding opportunities open to a diverse range of people and institutions makes the network more open and approachable. Design a variety of funding mechanisms that appeal to specific constituencies but insist that active cross-sector collaboration be built into all of them. Research fellowships for emerging scholars and program managers build the brain trust of the network, while startup competitions encourage new education technology firms to work directly with educators and students.
In addition to direct funding, offering non-financial support for projects and companies, such as shared workspaces, leadership development workshops, and mentoring relationships with established innovators have enabled us to leverage small investments into widespread impact. Whatever form it takes, catalytic support seeds new ideas with early-stage funding so that network members can quickly turn ideas into action. Provide Mini Grants : Offer small-scale funding awards to catalyze new and innovative learning projects both in-school and out-of-school so that network members have the support necessary to put their ideas into action.
Encourage proposals for pilot programs, design partnerships, and product prototypes that educators and students can use to explore new ways of teaching and learning. Incubate Ed-Tech Ventures : Establish new or support existing start-up incubators where local entrepreneurs can develop emerging education technology companies.
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Connect these ventures with educators and researchers in the network to co-design, playtest, and evaluate new education technology products. Support Project Leaders : Provide value-added services to support the professional and leadership development of network members by connecting them with experienced mentors, equipping them with toolkits and guides, and partnering unincorporated groups with fiscal sponsors. See detailed instructions for implementing these and other catalytic strategies in Plays in Detail.
Networks rely on effective communications and the productive exchange of information to keep all members informed and engaged. By making use of blogs, social media, e-mail marketing services, web forums, and digital publishing, as well as traditional forms of advertising and marketing, you can communicate about the resources and opportunities available to network members.
Create a recognizable identity for the network in the minds of its members and of outside observers. Naming the network, establishing a visual brand that can be shared by all members, and cultivating an authentic voice that can speak on behalf of the whole network are important early steps. In Pittsburgh, remakelearning. The network itself can be a clearinghouse for news, editorials, information, and interpretation through blog posts, newsletters, and publications.
Establishing regular, robust communications methods for the network enhances the ability of members to engage and collaborate with one another and national peers. Beyond speaking directly to network members, you can implement communications strategies that raise greater awareness among local audiences and stakeholders outside of the network.
These multimedia assets are invaluable when you later develop a public relations strategy and start pitching stories to attract media attention. Create a Network Directory : Create a digital directory that collects the basic information and contact details for the people, programs, and organizations that make up the network so that network members can see themselves as part of a larger whole, access a catalog of available resources and support services, and browse a calendar of upcoming events and opportunities to engage.
Document Local Innovation : Commission writers, photographers, videographers, and designers to produce original stories and images that capture the network in action, shine a spotlight on network success stories, and amplify the voice of individual network members. Amplify Youth Voice : Invite young people to contribute authentic stories and personal reflections on their learning experiences in your community. Create a public channel for sharing the voices of youth with network members themselves, as well as other audiences.
See detailed instructions for implementing these and other communications strategies in Plays in Detail. By organizing advisory groups, setting the strategic agenda, and prioritizing measurement and evaluation, you can coordinate the evolution of the network from informal and ad hoc beginnings to a more robust and sustainable future.
Coordination with other organizations operating outside of the network is also critical to the long-term health of the network. External partners become increasingly important as a network grows in scale and complexity. The network will begin to represent the learning leadership in your community when you connect with stakeholders, funders, partners, and policy makers. These national and international relationships may also attract additional investment for the network as a whole or for individual network members.
Be strategic about roles. Intermediary organizations—those whose mission it is to provide support financial or otherwise to front-line organizations—are well-positioned to coordinate activities and delivering support services to network members.
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