In one way or another I’ve managed dual lives in the academic and commercial worlds of education since 1982, the year I started my doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), while helping found a pioneering educational technology company called Tom Snyder Productions. I worked fulltime at Tom Snyder while completing my Ed.D., and I taught the first version of my longtime HGSE design course, now called Innovation by Design, in 1990-91. In late 2001 Tom Snyder was acquired by Scholastic. In 2015 that Scholastic group was acquired by HMH. Over that 30-plus year span I created and helped to create scores of award-winning educational software programs - for home and school - a highly-acclaimed animated science TV series that ran on ABC Saturday Morning, some professional learning courses, and more. I also kept teaching and very gradually began migrating more of my time to HGSE, where I am now fully engaged, while also doing consulting with commercial and nonprofit learning organizations.
Working at that intersection of research, theory, and practice has been central to my long career in education. I like the mix of academic and commercial. The publishing world requires that you produce something valuable that can be used at scale. That's a good obligation, but to achieve scalable impact, that obligation needs to have integrity with research and evidence. I remain committed to the goal of positive, scalable, and sustainable social impact.
That commitment is reflected in my courses. In Innovation by Design, students work on projects of their own choosing, leveraging research and an iterative, agile development process to innovate in education. The course, and names to describe the process (research-based design, design-based research, design-based implementation research, human-centered design, and so on), have evolved over the years. Essentially, we operate at the intersection of research, theory, and practice. Research from a wide range of sources informs and inspires theories of action that lead to innovative practices. We rapidly prototype and test those practices in context, feeding the research base and prompting revisions to the theories of action and the innovations. Innovations never work the first time, but we can learn from their early failures. So productive struggle is a big part of the process.
My other courses are structured as studios for students with existing projects or products to work on scaling and sustaining impact. In Scaling Impact across Learner and Context Variability, students articulate the constructs core to the impact they seek in their innovations and the ecosystems in which those innovations must thrive. They identify the individual and situational variability most relevant to the intersection of construct and learner/user. They design mechanisms to elicit and collect evidence of change that can guide effective responses to that variability, creating conditions for impact for more people in more contexts. In Sustaining Impact Over Time, the focus is on operationalizing the elements needed for impact. The course keeps impact at the center, considering potential business models as tools for supporting and sustaining the desired social change. Sustainability may come from a successful new business or product, or it may emerge from partnerships with perceived competitors, funding from foundations with share values, or someplace unexpected. All the courses are dynamic, hands-on, iterative experiences.
Before Harvard, I graduated from Yale and taught high school social studies. I spent 9 years on my local school committee, and I’m involved in a mix of projects that’s constantly changing.