Action Collabs and Rapid Fire Presentations at Big Ideas Fest 2011

It is almost six o’clock on Tuesday and I am sitting in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay at the Big Ideas Fest 2011. At the core of this unique conference is a product development process called an Action Collab. Think Startup Weekend with a focus on big ideas in education, and add colored construction paper and pipe cleaners.

The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) is the organizer of the Big Ideas Fest. They are the people behind the OER Commons, and have emerged as a thought leader and organizational facilitator in open source educational resources. I am a big fan.

The conference offers attendees the opportunity to work in heterogeneous teams of about a dozen people to conceptualize a product that is a response to a real problem in education. Given that broad constraint, there is no shortage of ideas. The action collab process, used to creatively solve problems at another thought leader, IDEO, engages participants in an abbreviated, mock product development cycle. Teams move from identifying opportunities to Design, then on to prototyping, and finally develop plans to scale and spread their concept.

To inspire big thinking at the Big Ideas Fest, ISKME has also adopted the TED presentation model for their featured speakers in what are called Rapid Fire sessions that last less than fifteen minutes. The docket has so far consisted of a diverse array of speaker including Lee LeFever – founder of Common Craft, Adora Svitak – the most articulate thirteen year old teacher/author I have ever met, Martha Kanter – Arne Duncan’s undersecretary of education, and Bill Ayers – yes, that Bill Ayers, the one from the Weather Underground whose presence at a fundraiser with candidate Obama caused a momentary speed bump in the ’08 campaign. I hope Martha Kanter never plans on running for president!

The enthusiasm in the rooms at the Big Ideas Fest is palpable. The conference attendees – educators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, foundation leaders – are all here with the intent of creating the opportunity for better educational outcomes with students of all ages in the US and abroad. Much of the chatter and many of the presentations are about making high quality educational content free and accessible.

It was inspiring to see Neeru Khosla present her cK-12 flexbook concept that avails high quality, free textbooks to any child that has access to a digital device in any K-12 subject. I am hopeful that the DOE’s What Works Clearinghouse 2.0, that enlists the help of Stanford Research International (SRI), will provide actionable information to district leaders and teachers about what options exist to improve education with technology. I was moved by the story of 826 National, a now nation-wide group of tutoring centers founded by Dave Eggers, that are occupying that ‘third place’ to provide free services to middle school kids that not only need help with homework, but a place to be after school.

Tomorrow my team will present our product to the entire conference after having done the same today and received some quality feedback. Are you curious?

ARWAR the Wizard is a mobile, real-time, interactive, project rubric creation and assessment platform that engages students with their teachers and their parents. Replete with all of the elements of effective game design, ARWAR encourages students to seek their parents’ support on long-term projects, and encourages parents to provide that support in a structured way. Please direct all further inquiries to our legal team.

Addendum, it is now the morning of the last day of the conference:

Three of the nine teams have been selected to move their ideas forward with ISKME’s beta tool, an online action collab platform, in collaboration with IDEO, thanks to the support of the Gate’s Foundation. It turns out this really was like a startup weekend – and the commitment to support further development is a surprise for everyone. This is a really exciting model for edtech product development – particularly the kind of development that is appropriate for landing in the free and open space. Bravo, ISKME.

About Jack West

Teacher, team member, father, neighbor.

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