Where's the R&D in Education?

Two comments on my last post about the New-School ads talked about R&D in education.

If schools had the R&D and PR departments that private industry has – and were equally responsive to “customers” – education might be as cutting edge as your doctored ads suggest! By diane

This has had me thinking the past couple of days on where does R&D come from. I believe the answer comes from us. The collective knowledge that is the edublogosphere and other networks such as Twitter, Ning. In my position anyway I feel it is key to have R&D time. I experiment with new tools, VoiceThread being one that turned into some pretty cool projects. I’ve experimented with different wikis and have used them with teachers as well. I am the R&D for my school (well one of many anyway). Schools have always relied upon teachers themselves to take risks, try new things, and experiment. With recent pressure on teachers to cover more curriculum, prepare students for tests, etc, We’ve seen a decline in the risk taking teachers do. To the point where I think we have stifled creativity in education. At the beginning of the year my Superintendent actually hands out a little piece of paper that says “I Blew It!” it can be used for anything that a teacher might try that doesn’t work. Why is it we feel we have to give teachers permission to take a risk and potentially fail?

I believe it is up to us in the educational technology arena to continue to find time to do R&D in education and how these new digital tools change our learning landscapes. At this point most of us end up doing that R&D on our time. But what if we could get schools to buy into the idea that we are the R&D department. What if we had 20% time like Google employees?

A great read about the power of 20% is the story of Google Reader. Google has taken R&D and embedded it as part of their practice for employees. What if we educational technology people had 20% of our time to research and develop tools, concepts, lessons. What if 20% of our time was set aside to help to get to know these new tools, to mash them up, remix them, bounce ideas off of each other, and see where it leads. 20% of 180 days is 36 days. Of course that 20% probably wouldn’t come in day long chunks, but if you had the equivalent of 36 days throughout the year to research, develop, think, reflect, and implement new tools would we not speed up the pace of change? Of course we would have to be allowed to fail from time to time. Not all projects become the next Google Reader. Many may never make it into the classroom, but in the process we continue to learn, think, and rethink how these tools can affect learning.

I would love if every teacher got 20% R&D time. But what if we started with technology and libraries and showed the power of embedded R&D. From there could we not make great strides in implementing technology in schools?

[tags]Google 20%[/tags]

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