Igniting Educational Innovation with EdClusters

Lea(R)n Helps Ignite Educational Innovation during WaterFire.

Earlier this fall, we attended the 2016 EdClusters Convening in Providence, Rhode Island, a city full of progressive educators and palpable energy — perhaps fueled by having the most coffee shops per capita in the U.S.. Hosted by Digital Promise and the U.S. Department of Education, the convening brought together leading educators, entrepreneurs, researchers and other stakeholders to discuss education innovation clusters. Symbolically, we discussed how we can help EdClusters ignite educational innovation on the eve of one of Providence’s famed WaterFire events.

EdClusters are collaborative networks of key stakeholders (i.e., educational partners, research partners and commercial partners), each group bringing unique skills and expertise to the network in an effort to accelerate the pace of educational innovation. Through developing learning technologies, conducting educational research and examining the impact of technologies on instruction and implementation, these clusters promise to transform education.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s because we at Lea(R)n were founded on similar premises: our team of educators, entrepreneurs and researchers are building technology, conducting research and working with schools, districts and states to help them manage their edtech ecosystems and measurably improve impact on teaching and learning. As active participants in the EdClusters convening, we heard the following themes reiterated throughout the week.

Technology is Transformative. Technology is transformative, but only if it is designed, developed and implemented effectively. It:

  • Enables ubiquitous, anytime access to a global treasure trove of information;
  • Enables educators to build powerful, personalized classroom experiences;
  • Can engage students, enrich the learning experience and cater to the unique needs of each learner;
  • Enables teaching and learning to take place across vast distances, asynchronously, without walls;
  • Can be leveraged to increase educational equity and thereby close disadvantageous gaps in opportunity, fairness and achievement.

However, the impact of technology is contingent on numerous factors, including technical infrastructure, school environment, support networks and resource availability.

All of the aforementioned factors influence the quality and fidelity of implementation, which is why we built LearnPlatform to help schools, districts and states manage their edtech interventions and better understand the factors that lead to success. The result: better outcomes for educators and students.

Collaboration is Critical. Building an ecosystem of effective innovation requires collaboration among a network of stakeholders. Educators, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors must work together synergistically to commix a diverse set of valuable knowledge, skills and abilities. As a pragmatic scientist who has worked in both academic and applied settings, I have witnessed firsthand the innumerable gaps that exist between science and practice. This manifests in this context as a lack of communication between researcher partners, educational partners and commercial partners. Forming EdClusters is an attempt to address this issue by cultivating collaboration throughout the network of partners. Developed by a group of educators, developers and researchers, Lea(R)n operates with the same philosophy, and continues to work with partners from all camps to drive evidence-based decision making about learning technologies in a way that supports innovation and benefits the education ecosystem.

Impact is Imperative. Results matter! Innovation remains unactualized potential if it does not generate impact. All too often, organizations innovate for the sake of innovation without engaging in the process of measurement and evaluation. This renders unanswerable questions about learning and impact. To address this issue, organizations should adopt a systematic means of measuring the impact of educational innovations, and to examine important student-, class- and school-level outcomes to evaluate the extent to which innovations are efficacious in improving teaching and learning. Schools, districts and states have been leveraging LearnPlatform to do just that — they have been managing, monitoring and measuring edtech usage and impact, and they have been leveraging our reports and dashboards to inform important decisions. Ultimately, if we implement a systematic approach to collecting and analyzing data that generates actionable insights consistently over time, then we can develop an ecosystem that uses evidence to drive instructional, operational and fiscal decisions.

Conclusion. It was great visiting the beautiful city of Providence and participating in the 2016 EdClusters Convening. Being involved with educational innovation and helping organizations realize the potential of educational technologies has been both exciting and rewarding. However, the journey has just begun, and our team of educators, developers and researchers will not sleep until we see an education ecosystem that maximizes the potential of technology, collaborates effectively and synergistically and demands results!

Dr. Daniel Stanhope