The COVID-19 pandemic brought fast and dramatic changes to my teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. We moved everything online in the middle of the Spring 2020 semester, and we are remaining online only for all of the 2020-21 academic year. I first taught a version of my Fall course, called Innovation by Design, in 1990-91 (a long time ago). 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. Moving this course to serve students across 13 time zones has presented challenges and opportunities. It's exciting, and the work is fueled by the passions of the students.
For the past several years, I taught a Spring course called Adaptive Learning: Investigations and Exercises that examined ways to respond to the multiple dimensions of learner variability. Learners differ in what they know and can do, how they manage the learning process, and to what extent they care about the learning, believe the learning is possible, and feel a sense of belonging in a learning community. Figuring out which learner needs what scaffold, nudge, worked example, alternative instruction, emotional support, or whatever at any given moment is a challenge. In what ways can technology help, potentially automating adaptive responses or informing teachers and learners about ways to adapt the learning environment more appropriately themselves? in the course, we investigated different approaches to detecting learner needs, including helping learners be more reflective, and what kinds of responses will be most effective.
For the Spring of 2021, however, I have chosen to offer a series of 4 mini Project Studios where students can target specific aspects of existing projects in a mentored workshop environment. Topics include: identifying context relevant learner variability; supporting the learning process (e.g., attention, emotion regulation, mindset, etc.); adaptivity; and scalability. For each studio, students come out with an evidence-informed improvement blueprint.
Working at that intersection of research, theory, and practice has also been central to my long career in the publishing industry. 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, and I've carried it since 1982 when I first came to HGSE to enter the doctoral program in what was then called TCLE (Teaching Curriculum and Learning Environments). After graduating from Yale and teaching public high school for a few years, I came to Harvard and immediately connected with budding ed tech pioneers Tom Snyder and Rick Abrams. I joined them in 1982 and helped found Tom Snyder Productions, one of the early leaders in educational technology, while getting my doctorate. In late 2001 the company 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.
These days I teach, I speak, I consult, and I create.