Film series profiles visionaries in 21st-century education

The film series highlights a dozen innovative and compelling school-reform leaders from around the world.

The nonprofit Pearson Foundation hopes to start conversations and get people thinking about educational innovation with a new film series that profiles remarkable people and their accomplishments in school reform.

“We know we aren’t going to change minds entirely, but we want minds to be changed a little bit,” said Stephen Brown, a contractor who manages and produces all the films created by the foundation.

“That’s why we say in our introduction to this [project] that we want to ‘nudge’ the conversation a little bit. And, if that’s all we do, then I think we’ve actually accomplished what we want to accomplish. Because there are a lot of people on the fence. Just a little nudge could push them over.”

The film series, called “A 21st Century Education,” highlights a dozen innovative and compelling school-reform leaders from around the world. The series was produced by the Mobile Learning Institute (MLI), a co-funded effort by Nokia and the Pearson Foundation.

MLI helps students in the United States and internationally use computers and digital-arts technologies to tell stories about themselves and their communities. The initiative also conducts professional development workshops and hosts leadership summits for school administrators.

MLI wants the audience for its “21st Century Education” film series to be inspired by stories such as that of David T.C. Ellis. He rose from the streets of St. Paul, Minn., and had a recording deal with pop-music sensation Prince, a Minneapolis native, but what Ellis really loved was helping urban youths graduate from high school. He created Hip Hop High to invite dropouts back to school to rap, write, produce, and perform.

“It’s about giving people ideas–and giving people who are successful with those ideas a chance to explain why they are successful,” Brown said of the film series.

The series builds upon other short films MLI has made at various ed-tech conferences, including “Learning to Change, Changing to Learn,” which was produced at a Consortium for School Networking event last year.

“We set up this studio. In walked all the muckity-mucks of [educational technology],” Brown said. “A lot of people came in and talked with us, and out of that came this video called ‘Learning to Change.’ If you Google it, it’ll take you right to YouTube and you’ll see it. And so far [more than] 50,000 people have looked at it. It isn’t the same as when Brad Pitt puts something on YouTube, but for educational audiences, it’s pretty big.”

The Pearson Foundation is committed to documenting exemplary educational leadership so that policy makers and school administrators can use these examples in their professional development, discussions, and outreach.

“We’ve naturally had an interest in documenting best practices. This is true of the foundation in all of our work,” said Adam Ray, director of communications and alliances for the Pearson Foundation. “We had an interest in documenting innovation in classroom practice and surfacing specific voices and leaders and the work they’ve done.”

He added: “You learn more about a subject, and are more inspired it, when you find someone who is really passionate about it and let them tell you about it.”

For the film series, Brown proposed the idea of getting innovators such as British ed-tech pioneer Stephen Heppell, Michigan State University education professor Yong Zhao, and High Tech High creator Larry Rosenstock to spend a day or two with Brown and his collaborators to produce longer, more in-depth films.

“Instead of taking their best 13 seconds, we would give them 10 minutes,” Brown said.