Connecting Education


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This Point of View identifies some major constraints to achieving large-scale and lasting education success in today’s connected world. It outlines four major principles for government and education leaders, the adoption of which can make a fundamental difference to how students learn and education systems work. It is written by Kevin Johnson and Jim Wynn of Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), drawing on their own insights and those of global colleagues and external commentators.

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Connecting Education

  1. 1. Point of View Connecting Education Authors Kevin Johnson Jim Wynn November 2007 Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) Cisco IBSG Copyright © 2007 Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
  2. 2. Point of View Connecting Education Effective education remains fundamental to economic development and social cohesion. It already attracts massive investment (typically 5 to 15 percent of countries’ GDP) and, with new skill requirements and global imperatives, its importance has never been greater. In reality, however, many education systems are either broken or poorly prepared to meet the needs of today’s world. Skill gaps are widening, not narrowing. Education policy does not reflect the dramatically changed expectations of individuals, the requirements of employers, or the wealth of newly accessible global resources and services. There are several reasons for this, most notably the historical inertia of education systems. Most have been slow to recognize or embrace recent developments in communication and collaboration. Progress has typically happened in isolated pockets, and this combination of inflexibility and fragmentation is now a major constraint to large-scale, sustainable success. “Many schools preserve the routines, cultures, and operations of an obsolete 1930s manufacturing plant.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, March 2007 This situation creates some familiar consequences: • Cohesion on curriculum, not technology: While governments are typically prescriptive about what is taught, they often give autonomy on information communications technology (ICT) matters to local practitioners—a role many practitioners neither want nor are equipped to handle. One result is fragmented islands of excellence that rarely interoperate and are not cost-effective to sustain. • Misconceptions, causing poor return: The full value of ICT investment is not being gained because the ICT agenda is seen as being about (1) teaching ICT, not using it to help people work better, or about (2) user devices and software, not the processes they might help improve or the core enablers required to make them effective. • Focus given to inputs, not outcomes: Resources are often wasted by leaders focusing on inputs or reach, not strategic outcomes or impact. This prompts success measures to be based on relatively meaningless factors such as PC-to-child ratios, or ambiguous metrics such as percentage of “broadband” coverage. (The speed required for useful two-way collaboration in multiple classrooms and schools is very different from the public “broadband” speeds often cited.) 1 Cisco IBSG Copyright © 2007 Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
  3. 3. Point of View • Fostering of old-world realities: Our future leaders, employees, and citizens are learning from people whose outlook reflects yesterday’s world. This is inevitable, given how these individuals are often recruited, trained, and managed. Most students and staff are also operating in physical environments that don’t reflect today’s realities. Where taxpayers’ or sponsors’ money is spent to address this problem, old-world design and construction approaches typically perpetuate the ICT constraints of yesteryear. In short, current educational practices are seriously out of touch. This current, challenging situation need not be the case. The incredible capacity of today’s technologies, driven by the explosion of digitization, connectivity, and related services, has created possibilities previously unimaginable. It’s clear from our work with governments and other major organizations around the world that huge potential now exists to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and user satisfaction. In our view, four major principles—if truly believed and adopted deeply—can make a fundamental and lasting difference in how students learn and education systems work, with profound impact on how national and global socioeconomic needs are met. 1. Run the Enterprise as It Deserves Education is a business like any other: in other words, it will not run well if left to chance or just to local best efforts. Fragmented, “point” solutions may have generated significant local benefits in the past, but the opportunities—and complexities—created by the technology avalanche of recent years demand a different approach. First, the foundation for lasting, large-scale success must be laid: • This starts with ensuring ruthless clarity on strategic outcomes and priorities, in most cases concerning improved access, affordability, and quality of education. • From this beginning, the frameworks and core enablers that are essential for effectiveness, agility, and compelling user experiences in any enterprise can be built: – Business architecture: core processes and organization enablers – Information architecture: easy access to truths, insights, and knowledge – Technical architecture: a suite of relevant communications, collaboration, and management tools, connected by a secure network platform Disciplined thinking and the provision of core enablers are a fundamental starting point for running large education enterprises. One of the greatest insights of the historian Will Durant was that “liberty is a product of order.” That is particularly true for making large-scale, ICT-enabled progress in education. This has been recognized by countries, regions, and major institutions whose leaders are successfully taking a strong, enterprise-wide approach, such as Northern Ireland and Scotland in the United Kingdom, Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada, or Case Western Reserve University in the United States.1 1. See for more details on the Northern Ireland, Scotland, Case Western Reserve University, and other case studies. 2 Cisco IBSG Copyright © 2007 Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
  4. 4. Point of View 2. Nurture All Aspects of 21st Century Talent Once enterprise fundamentals are in place, further attention can turn to the greatest asset of any educational system: its people. The world today is different: the talent needed to thrive amidst today’s realities must, therefore, be nurtured accordingly, in three key aspects: • Use it: Today’s children and teenagers learn, think, and interact in ways that are very different from those of their parents—because they can. Today’s youth are often habitual, compulsive collaborators who multi-task as the norm. This should be seen as a boon, not a threat, embraced and used for mutual success. • Prepare it: Those same students are also tomorrow’s employees and leaders. Their education must imbue them with the competencies they need to thrive in society. This includes systematically ensuring that they enhance their natural skills, attitudes, and the ability to apply these in today’s world. This can be taught to some degree, but will be developed much further by immersion in environments where those same competencies are required and used routinely by all around them.2 • Expect it: Expectations of teachers and leaders must evolve to foster today’s needs and avoid always having to “play catch-up.” Creativity, adaptability, and digital fluency are now as much core requirements for teachers as are subject knowledge and classroom craft. Leaders, meanwhile, need the competencies to run large, complex enterprises successfully in the digital age. This won’t just happen; different standards are needed at every stage, including training, recruitment, and management support, along with the time and focus required to change old habits permanently.3 3. Pool Wisdom Adoption and execution of principles 1 and 2 will establish a platform on which to start taking advantage of the phenomenal possibilities that now exist. We live in a world where almost everyone is connected to everyone else, and capabilities reside in a multitude of small, dispersed parts. With the right connections of places, people, and information, location becomes irrelevant, constraints are removed, and possibilities increase exponentially. • Connect to access: Network connectivity enables access to basic education and help in places and ways that were not feasible before. Lessons are streamed to remote locations or to part-time students at their workplaces, and subject expertise is shared via video networks. Children excluded from mainstream schooling gain an approved education through online services they access from home, while Massai teachers in Kenya receive personal coaching via mobile phone. 2. For relevant insights, see “Maximizing the Impact: The Pivotal Role of Technology in a 21st Century Education System” by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, November 2007 3. For further views on the criticality of staff talent, see “How the World’s Best-performing School Systems Come Out on Top” by McKinsey & Company, September 2007 3 Cisco IBSG Copyright © 2007 Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
  5. 5. Point of View • Connect to collaborate: By using the wealth of networked tools and capabilities now available, students, teachers, and researchers are co-developing ideas and collaborating in increasingly inventive and interactive ways. Undergraduates in Singapore work in real time with others in Canada and Germany, while children in Northern Ireland help diffuse historical tensions by conducting collaborative projects between primary schools. In 2006, TIME magazine named “You” as its Person of Year because “The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter.” This ability to interact with and help other people characterizes today’s collaborative world. • Connect to enrich knowledge: Connecting disparate information sources has the same powerful network effect as pooling the ideas of individuals and groups. As a result, knowledge becomes more integrated, contextualized, and relevant, saving time and enabling better decision-making. This applies equally to academic matters and other operational needs. When this richer knowledge is then connected to information about users’ preferences, needs, and location, it can be “pushed” to the right people, at the right time, and in the most useful way to add even further value. 4. Make It Personal—Systematically The fourth and final principle is, in many ways, the key goal—building on the foundations and practices of principles 1, 2, and 3 to improve permanently the experience of all stakeholders. Ultimately, those experiences drive the emotions that students, teachers, parents, or other partners feel when they interact—hence, their engagement, cooperation, and, ultimately, achievement. Today’s connected world makes it possible to improve experiences in a large-scale and systematic way—if the fundamentals for success are in place. Other people-centric sectors, such as retail, entertainment, and social services, have realized this, and the opportunity in education is equally high. A high priority for education leaders who are ready to take this step should, therefore, be to: (1) understand what’s driving the personal experiences of students, teachers, and others; (2) understand their interdependencies; (3) capture that knowledge; and then (4) use connected architectures, approaches, skills, and tools to help address the core issues systematically. “Education can learn a lot from the entertainment industry. The primary lesson? Know your audience.” Lord David Puttnam, chancellor of the Open University and retired filmmaker, March 2007 4 Cisco IBSG Copyright © 2007 Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
  6. 6. Point of View The increasing number of good local practices and some recent and more holistic research suggest that addressing personal experience in a habitual, systemwide way is feasible.4 This is partly due to the recognition that, while people vary greatly, their experiences and actions are often driven by similar things. It also comes from the increasing range of relevant ICT tools that are now available to help practitioners address those experience drivers. Combine this with the right processes, architectures, leadership, skills, and culture, and large-scale, sustainable experience improvement becomes a reality. For example: • Give parents, staff, and students timely information and help as a matter of course, in ways and via devices that are most useful for them at any given moment in time. • Increase stimulus in lessons by giving teachers and students new capabilities for their core “tool bags,” including solutions based on live or recorded video, gaming and simulation, or sensor-, biometric-, or digital-surface-based approaches. • Free up time to build one-to-one relationships by using connected approaches to reduce “time-wasters,” such as (a) allowing easy access to tools, people, and knowledge, wherever users may be; (b) enabling sharing and co-editing of documents real time, rather than repeated e-mail exchanges; or (c) using inexpensive, high-quality videoconferencing to meet, rather than traveling. Conclusion The four principles outlined in this paper build on each other and, in our view, are funda- mental to lasting, large-scale success in education. Priorities and entry points will vary, but the same principles apply whether a national school system, a university, a system that’s broken, or a strong one trying to achieve more. Government and education leaders who share this view can make a significant start by establishing clarity of where they wish their systems to be and why, then assessing the current reality against those goals and against each key element of the four principles. Leaders now have unprecedented opportunities to avoid historical pitfalls and acceler- ate desirable outcomes. The socioeconomic impact of doing so could be profound. 4. Cisco IBSG research with The Innovation Unit ( and UK Department for Children, Schools & Families, “Improving the Experience of Students, Teachers & Parents,” June 2007 5 Cisco IBSG Copyright © 2007 Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
  7. 7. Supporting Sources Economist Intelligence Unit, “Foresight 2020: Economic, Industry and Corporate Trends,” March 2006 ( rs/2006/2020foresight) Cisco IBSG, “The Connected Republic,” September 2007 ( Cisco IBSG, “21st Century Trends for Higher Education,” August 2007 ( Forrester Research, “Unified Communications Delivers Global Benefits,” September 2007 European Union ICT Task-Force, “Skills & Employability,” 2007, plus various “Skills Gap” reports, including IDC, 2006 Insights from the 21st Century Schools Program, USA ( Acknowledgements The authors thank the following IBSG colleagues for their valuable contributions to this paper: William Buller, Pete Cevenini, Damien Dunne, Paul Johnston, Anne Lange, James Macaulay, Bob Moriarty, Michelle Selinger, Tam Shepherd, Nico Smit, Maria-Jose Sobrini, Martin Stewart-Weeks, Tracey Wilen, and Simon Willis. In addition, the authors acknowledge the contributions of many others in the wider Cisco Education family. More Information The Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), the global strategic consulting arm of Cisco, helps Global Fortune 500 companies and public organizations transform the way they do business—first by designing innovative business processes, and then by integrating advanced technologies into visionary roadmaps that improve customer experience and revenue growth. For further information about IBSG, visit Americas Headquarters Europe Headquarters Asia Pacific Headquarters Cisco Systems, Inc. Cisco Systems International BV Cisco Systems, Inc. 170 West Tasman Drive Haarlerbergpark 168 Robinson Road San Jose, CA 95134-1706 Haarlerbergweg 13-19 #28-01 Capital Tower USA 1101 CH Amsterdam Singapore 068912 The Netherlands Tel: 408 526-4000 Tel: +65 6317 7777 800 553-NETS (6387) Tel: +31 0 800 020 0791 Fax: +65 6317 7799 Fax: 408 527-0883 Fax: +31 0 20 357 1100 Cisco has more than 200 offices worldwide. Addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers are listed on the Cisco Website at ©2007 Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. Cisco, the Cisco logo, Cisco Systems, the Cisco Systems logo, and MeetingPlace are trademarks or registered trademarks of Cisco Systems, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the United States and certain other countries. All other trademarks mentioned in this document or Website are the property of their respective owners. The use of the word partner does not imply a partnership relationship between Cisco and any other company. (0705R) C11-437096-00 1107