School Design

Re-thinking the school corridor:

The factory model of control and direct instruction still pervades most new schools. If we are to have thorough-going school reform, we must change the design model, too, starting with the place students first enter the school.

Roughly one-third of the typical school building is used not for learning, growing, or interacting, but for getting to the places where that happens.


Filed under: Design, EDUCATION

Pirate Radio and Other Urban Artifacts

Palladium makes boots. They’ve also created this ongoing exploration series of underground or abandoned urban relics and strongholds.

Exploration #6 delves into pirate radio stations, past and present, in London. My first look at the rusting anti-aircraft towers that housed original 60s broadcast centers reminded me of oil pumps in Southern California – which I later noticed is subject of Exploration #4.

Interesting both for content and as a marketing ploy. Also reminds me of the abandoned Taiwanese pod city of San Zhi.

Filed under: Design, Voodoo Media

Arguments for Evaluation

Millennium Villages Project aims to develop and bring clusters of African villages out of poverty.

Without sound evaluation, it simply cannot be known-regardless of what is observed today at MV sites-whether the money devoted to the MVs is accomplishing its goals. An intervention of this scale deserves proper evaluation, which can only make it better as it expands.

A careful evaluation of the MVs would comprise two critical elements. First, long term follow-up is essential. Second, the villages that get the intervention must be compared to villages that do not get it, in such a way that which villages do and don’t get the intervention are randomly picked from an initial group. I will show with real-world examples why these elements are “must have” rather than “nice to have.”

Examples include follow up findings that children in Africa did not learn more in schools with textbooks despite studies implying otherwise, and a 1995-2000 project in Chinese villages that yielded no long term results and ultimately no difference between aid recipient and other villages.

Scalability is incredibly difficult to gauge – the act of setting policy alone is never enough because implementation is where the real work begins.

Relative Elsewhere, an argument for randomized trials.

What is missing is the political demand for tests of what really works. Too many policies on education, welfare and criminal justice are just so much homeopathy: cute-sounding stories about what works leaning more on faith than on evidence.

Filed under: Design, Policies & Agendas

Technology to Scale Design

In nearly every sector of the economy, technology drives costs down – just as your digital camera gets cheaper and better every year, so technology drives down the cost of manufacturing, the cost of retailing, the cost of research. But for some reason, in healthcare, technology has the opposite effect; it doesn’t cut costs, it raises them.

There are a couple reasons for this. For one thing, there’s far too little price transparency in the medical technology market. Without an open marketplace of prices and services, it’s difficult for hospitals and clinics to know whether there’s a better deal elsewhere, and manufacturers can keep costs high. Secondly and perhaps more significantly, medical technologies still tend to rely on an expert class to actually deploy the technology.

So, unlike most other trends in technology, healthcare technology has great difficulty in scaling down to the point of no more expert class.

How many schools are teaming with student twitter even as main office clerks plod over account after account by mammoth paperwork? Outside of government contracts, most public enterprises are slow to benefit from new technology because private developers have more motive to protect their profits by keeping offerings removed. New design must create the incentives to bring technology down to scale.

Filed under: Design, TECHNOLOGY

From a Home-Schooling Parent

Speaking broadly, American public education, especially in the early grades, has become dominated by a bizarre orthodoxy that is almost completely unsupported by rigorous research, or for that matter by teachers, education professionals and child psychologists. It’s the orthodoxy of political buzzwords like “standards” and “accountability,” the orthodoxy of business-school methods like standardized testing (and the hours of test preparation that accompanies it), drill-based and scripted instruction and repetitious busywork.

Germany ditched its “early-learning” kindergarten curriculum after a study suggested that kids who had attended play-school kindergartens outperformed those who had not. Finnish children often don’t even start school until age 7, and consistently score among the highest in the world on an international exam given to 15-year-olds.

From an opinion piece where most points seem to stem from one study. The view obviously comes from a specific sector of parents, mostly in a position of privilege, but I appreciate the allusions to ‘command and control’ models familiar to the military and the business world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Design, EDUCATION

Data Collection and Crisis Mapping

The site collected user-generated cellphone reports of riots, stranded refugees, rapes and deaths and plotted them on a map, using the locations given by informants. It collected more testimony — which is what ushahidi means in Swahili — with greater rapidity than any reporter or election monitor.

The program was founded in Kenya in response to violence and used most recently in Haiti to find trapped victims. A texting number was advertised via radio.

Ushahidi also represents a new frontier of innovation. Silicon Valley has been the reigning paradigm of innovation, with its universities, financiers, mentors, immigrants and robust patents. Ushahidi comes from another world, in which entrepreneurship is born of hardship and innovators focus on doing more with less, rather than on selling you new and improved stuff.

in this instantaneous age, this kind of testimony confronts a more immediate kind: one of aggregate, average, good-enough truths.

Filed under: Collective Bargaining, Design, Power