Stanford asks its students to tackle the biggest education challenges

In Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, students spend a year in pairs or teams developing solutions to some of the most pressing education challenges

education-challengesBuoyed by the idea that today’s collaborating young minds, armed with a technology arsenal, can solve most any problem, Stanford’s Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) Program in the university’s Graduate School of Education are asking their students to address any number of challenges existing in education today.

Though learning by doing is not a new concept–many educators believe students learn best when they participate in project-based learning where instructors act as coaches–the LDT program is going one step further, asking students to actually solve some of the biggest education challenges by learning to work with peers from diverse backgrounds and gain new perspectives on the challenges they’re attempting to solve.

“We’re bringing together people with a range of skills, backgrounds, approaches, and perspectives to work together for a year and collaborate about these meaningful problems, and develop new insights into what we can do with technology,” said Karin Forssell, the LDT program director.

“If you just throw technology at things without some deeper understanding of the complexity that is education, you’re unlikely to be lucky enough to hit on something that’s really important. It’s nice to get people to work together and honor each other’s skills and perspectives,” she said.

The program admits roughly 20 students each year, and Forssell said one emphasis is on evaluting each student’s project idea with an open mind, because students generally work in pairs or teams to bring a master’s project to fruition.

This year, the LDT Expo took place on July 31, 2015. During the expo, students give private presentations, offer oral defenses and conduct question-and-answer sessions in the morning. In the afternoon, the expo is open to a larger group.

The LDT website offers a glimpse into some of those student master’s projects.

Superherolympics: Unleashing the superpowers hidden inside all of us,” by Mariana Duprat and Seth Trudeau, is a “multi-player massive-scale board game designed for early adolescent ‘Third Culture Kids’ who are navigating different cultures in their home life and in their world at large.” The game’s interactive and collaborative nature helps users “develop their collaborative and cooperative skills while also practicing different forms of self-presentation.”

CodeTalk Revisited: Getting computer science students to talk in class,” by Mikala Streeter, was created under the premise that while students can learn by talking about content or ideas, not all students are comfortable with speaking in class. “This interactive guide teaches computer science instructors why productive talk is important, what a productive problem solving discussion could look like in computer science, how to set and maintain classroom norms that help students feel safe to participate, and how to plan, practice and evaluate their discussion faciliation.”

ToGetThere: Empowering teachers and students for group work success,” by Jesse Harris and Laura Pickel, is a “centralized digital repository of interventions and activities designed to help teachers and students learn, perform, and reflect in group work. It also serves as an online community of practice designed to promote sharing and learning between teachers, researchers, and students about group work experiences.”

A critical course component is cooperation and remaining open-minded.

“If you buy into your own ideas too soon, then you’re not as open to working with someone else,” Forssell said. “We’re focusing on owning different people’s ideas. We work to the point where students build on ideas and work together, so no one sees a project as someone’s idea.”

Laura Ascione