E2E Newsification

Below’s the news from E2E land — where the universities have their head in the sand, employers are starting to wake up, and all the job seekers are above average.
If you have any colleagues or friends who you think would want to be copied, have them add their email address here.
Quick story I thought I’d share, some of you have heard . . . last year (2013-14) I was a Year Up mentor for a 19 yr old guy named Stephane who’d recently immigrated from Cameroon, dropped out of community college in Boston, and was working as a waiter. In Feb 2014 he got an internship with a pharma company doing basic admin of their Salesforce database. Taught himself Salesforce, got a basic Salesforce certification, and after his 5-month internship ended he got headhunted and landed a $60K job doing Salesforce.com admin with a company in DC. Fast fwd 6 months. Stephane texted me the other day to say he’s now getting headhunted by Fannie Mae to do Salesforce for $100K+ annually. Doesn’t have his Associate degree yet, and has 11 months of white collar work experience. So maybe there is something to this whole skills gap thing.
Please keep sharing interesting stuff you see, anecdotes, and feedback — community project here!


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Education-to-employment newsletter

In the couple years since we started to work on the educationt-to-employment challenge, we’ve struggled to find any reliable news aggregators on this theme that help us keep up with the latest innovation. So I’m starting to store up interesting stuff I come across and will send it out via newsletter (and cross-posting on this blog when I can) once or twice a month.

See below for the first crop of stuff. Eager for feedback on what to change about this to make it more useful!

If you or anyone you know wants to receive these updates by email, fill out the super-quick signup form here.

Besides E2E other newsletter themes will be lifelong learning and next-generation hiring/HR practices. We’ll continue posting our own thoughts about these and other themes on this blog, separate from the newsletter.

Happy new year everyone!! Here’s to getting a ton of deserving, hungry, growth-mindsetty young folks into great jobs in 2015.

and some good pieces about the home team:


After 900 years, it’s time to stop the experiment

Lloyd Armstrong’s fantastic blog pointed me to a new study out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics”. The article is a meta analysis of 225 studies of academic performance across lecture-based and active learning courses. The results are decisive:

Students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.

This isn’t the first study to come to these conclusions (the PNAS study sites a number of other similar results), but it is the largest so far. And the authors’ discussion of the results is perhaps more damning – after looking at the magnitude of the effect across the sample size they conclude:

If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition might be discounted because the treatment being tested was clearly more beneficial.

In other words, if active learning was a new drug being tested on patients – like early trials of antibiotics for example – it would be unethical to continue the alternative treatment because of how dramatically inferior the results are. With the significant difference that this experiment has been going on for 900 years, since the development of the first lecture-based university courses in the UK.

At Kepler and Spire, we’ve been building new models of higher education that reflect our beliefs that letting these students fail through a reliance on outdated pedagogy is unethical. We’re redesigning the classroom experience to dramatically reduce the time and money spent on lectures:

  • We use technology, leveraging content from edX, Coursera, and other exceptional providers to run a flipped classroom – where students watch lectures for free online at night so we can use class time for active learning;
  • With the money we save by shifting lectures from expensive professors to free online resources, we are able to invest in many more coaches and facilitators to reduce student:teacher ratios and enable small group problem solving and discussion sections;
  • Rather than constructing huge and expensive lecture halls and campuses that force a passive learning approach, we’re designing our classrooms to look more like office space to facilitate active learning with small teams working together to solve problems;
  • Finally, through tight partnerships with employers, we are able to expose students to work-based learning from day one, further reducing costs for students and driving even better outcomes in terms of academic quality and employment rates.

We’re working hard to prove out our model and demonstrate through our results that traditional lecture-based models for higher education are not only unethical from a quality perspective, but are often more expensive due to expensive staff, huge infrastructure requirements, and much higher rates of failure and repetition. Thanks for following along with us as we learn.

You have betrayed us

If you work in education or international development – or are simply interested in either – you should read Lant Pritchett’s new book, “The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning.” Pritchett makes a powerful, well-supported case that the focus of most education systems across the developing world on increasing enrollment is failing students and their families. More young people are sitting in schools, but they are learning little, if anything. 

Perhaps the most powerful segment of the book appears in the introduction. Pritchett relates an exchange he witnessed in Uttar Pradesh, India that should evoke deep horror and a burning sense of urgency for anyone even tangentially related to education systems serving the poor. The learning outcomes of a rural school had been captured for the first time and the nonprofit leading the work had convened a community meeting to discuss with the results. An older man stood up and addressed the principal of the school: “You have betrayed us. I have worked like a brute my whole life because, without school, I had no skills other than those of a donkey. But you told me that if I sent my son to school, his life would be different from mine. For five years I have kept him from the fields and work and sent him to your school. Only now I find out he is thirteen years old and doesn’t know anything. His life won’t be different. He will labor like a brute, just like me.” 

He may have been looking at the principal, but his words were as much addressed to tens of thousands of others standing invisibly behind him, policymakers, donors, teachers, and NGO workers, among many others. Any individual, organization, or system that is not pushing feverishly for better learning outcomes every day is complicit in this crushing betrayal of the greatest hope of poor families around the world. 

There are many reasons why learning is not a greater focus. Outcomes are difficult to measure. Leadership is poor. Money is scarce and materials limited. They are all excuses. Those of us working in this field should be significantly increasing learning for the greatest number of young people as possible. If we can’t, we should be held accountable, explaining ourselves to that man in India and the many others like him.

Leading Kepler: Straddling the Lines Between Hopes for the Future and Contending with the Past


As we continue to plod forth focusing on the students’ futures, here’s (amongst many other things) what we’re dealing with from their educational pasts, which are present both in Rwanda and in most students across the globe:
  • As in many classrooms in the world, students are often required to copy notes and memorize them to “learn” content. Teachers often tell them what to do, when its due, and have small, individual incremented assignments for students.
  • Generally, students have used limited technology in their learning—even in countries where it’s available, the cost, teacher training, and just change itself can impede the use of technology.
  • While group learning has become more common, most students will arrive at their post-secondary institution having completed far more individualized assignments rather than work with others for desired outcomes.
  • Students also get used to set dates and concrete assignments that are submitted and often never looked at again. They’ve never (or rarely) had to complete a task where there may be unclear or missing pieces of data sets, nor do they get a returned assignment requiring refinement to meet a high standard. Generally, schools are places that remove ambiguity through their rigid structures and often-fictitious problem sets that don’t mirror what our students will actually have to face in work.
Schools are hierarchical, and students take their roles in the classrooms, as do teachers and the principal. In my last ten years as both a K-12 and university educator, I found many schools to adhere to hierarchies that often don’t let students exercise real leadership, stymie teacher innovation, and ensure that each student appropriately takes his or her place in the educational hierarchy (and doesn’t challenge the teacher, administration, or institution). As a result, there are only a few students that graduate with the skills to lead through influence—perhaps those that played on a sports team or had a role within a club. But for most students, the educational system’s curriculum has our students learning how to function within a hierarchy that lacks fluidity. The reality of today’s workplace doesn’t mirror strict hierarchy—multiple projects sometimes require leadership, sometimes to be an active team player. More importantly, leadership no longer works well simply through title. Leaders need to know how to use influence to get the most out of a team. Most students will leave school and enter the workplace without having the chance to develop this skill. Instead, the few lucky who either participated in an activity to develop authentic leadership or are “naturally charismatic” will be competitive in the job market.
In educational institutions all across the world, students are required answer questions—in class, on exams, in projects, in essays. We rarely, however, ask them to think critically by asking questions before arriving at a solution. Reflecting of my own education, I can recall few experiences or assessments asking me to process HOW to think about a problem rather than to simply find a solution. Thinking through the different angles from which to solve problems are key steps in the critical thinking aptitude that employers resoundingly report are missing from today’s university grads.
So what to do about all of this? While of course there are exceptions, generally at the university level, educators are faced with a group of students that have been conditioned in individual, route learning, with little practice in critical thinking, working in groups, leading by influence, and most have used technology much more out of the classroom rather than as a learning tool.
It is easy to gripe about these shortcomings from a desk, in a discussion with colleagues, or to write a fancy model that will beautifully address the gaps that today’s university students arrive with on the first day of class. It is another, however, to go through the daily grind of reversing these factors of educational conditioning through curriculum design, delivery of instruction, curriculum modification, analyzing student data, and carefully examining student outcomes, which is what we’re doing to the best of our ability at Kepler.
We’re seeing great improvements in our students. But, we’ve already had to revamp schedules, reconsider how we cover content in lessons, and re-think our overall scope and sequence to address these concerns. Additionally, some of our master teachers are hard at work on a pilot program for our upcoming third term to study how we can move students through at more individualized paces–offering opportunities to push forward hard when students are showing mastery and utilizing appropriate methods to support students more fully when the habits of hierarchical, route learning creep up from their educational pasts. There’s no doubt our students are developing at an exponential pace. But our task is creating improvement fast enough to ensure success once they enter the workplace. Undoubtedly, reversing 13+ years of the educational past in the short time of post secondary education is no easy undertaking. I truly believe we’ll make it happen, but it will require a constant refinement to ensure student outcomes match our goals. En masse, the ebullience of this work comes from the ways in which students will master undoing their previous educational habits, while also surprising us with those we thought would be easily overcome, but required additional support and “un-teaching” in ways we didn’t expect.
Once the pilot is finalized and underway, we’ll report about our specific successes and areas for improvement. Would love to hear thoughts on how others are addressing this challenge, or how they think it can be best addressed.

Leading Kepler: Straddling the Lines with Our Academic Program



In my last post, I discussed the challenges of straddling the line between a rigorous program designed for success in the 21st Century workplace while also trying to ensure students can meet our demands. I also mentioned another line we straddle–we want to create disruption in university education while making sure we don’t push to a point where there’s so much innovation that it compromises proven best practices in teaching and learning. That line is not always defined or clear.
Here in Rwanda, the basics of the Kepler model we’re using to disrupt the traditional system while straddling the lines mentioned above includes the following:
  • Using a flipped model, students are watching mooc lectures at home and preparing for classes and coming to us to do projects or other exercises that would usually be considered homework.
  •  During the day, the students also engage in a series of seminars, workshops, advisories, and coaching to make meaning of the material they viewed at home.
  • Seminars are groups of 50 taught by two teachers (at least one that speaks Kinyarwanda) to go over the big concepts, do “homework” in class. Eventually we plan to have this seminar taught by 1 teacher and have a student assistant help with language difficulties. (Language is a challenge for our students–Rwanda switched to the English language in 2008, so they are still learning how to master reading, writing, and speaking in a second or third language).
  • Workshops consist of groups broken down into A, B, C (language levels) managed by two teachers–at least one that speaks Kinyarwanda to support students with difficult concepts (or push advanced students) in the course.
  • Advisory includes groups of 15-20 students meeting with their assigned advisor to talk through both academic and personal challenges. There is also a literacy component to advisory, where students read and discuss articles (this is due to the challenges learning English as well as a limited culture of reading in Rwanda).
  • Coaching consists of one on one 15 minute meetings where students have to practice self directed learning through tracking their progress, setting goals, and making small steps toward goals.
Students have an in-person meeting point (the campus) and a digital meeting point (Canvas, the learning management system we use). They are graded, receive course materials, feedback on assignments, get homework, and have discussions on-line through Canvas. For a group of students who had limited or no exposure to technology before coming to us, this can be quite demanding.
Final exams are College For America projects. Courses are designed to build the skills needed to complete the projects, and are submitted on an on-line platform to be evaluated by CfA staff in the United States. Since this is also brand new in the US, we’re excited to bring it to Rwanda at the same time!
Students do a combination of traditional learning (on paper), digital learning, group work, and individual learning.
A huge amount of our work involves evaluating the model with the students’ futures in mind. However, as future-driven as we desire to be, there’s no ignoring the fact that the students’ pasts matter as well. We can do our best to build a model that will best prepare our students for a knowledge-based economy. But, on the ground, the reality is that there’s a significant gap between skill sets students come in with and what’s needed in order to successfully engage in a model like the one we’ve designed at Kepler. It’s not an easy line to straddle.
I’ll be posting more about how the Kepler team manages these challenges–how we understand what’s working and what needs revamping, when to keep trying at something and when to work it from another angle, when to incorporate student feedback and when to push ahead even though it might feel too hard on them, how teachers create change, and what other educators and professionals comment on when they come and visit Kepler. Would love to hear any thoughts or comments on the program we’ve developed thus far!

Leading Kepler: Straddling the Lines

One of the most exciting yet challenging aspects of launching and leading Kepler Kigali on the ground is navigating the many lines we straddle on a daily basis. For example, innovation versus traditional best practices, understanding core concepts versus pushing critical thinking, building a program for scale versus meeting student needs, local relevance versus globalization, partnership needs versus our own mission/vision, learning for the sake of learning/growth versus learning for the sake of employability. The list is endless.
In some ways, we are not unique because all industries have to navigate the fine lines that can greatly impact the outcomes of an organization. However, the joy of working in an educational setting is that the choices made can be life changing, but the terrifying part is that if we make the wrong decision, the stakes are immeasurably high. Our students won’t have a second chance at a university degree, and the difference in the quality of the education we provide could determine if our students live a life of poverty or move into the middle class.
As we’ve launched into the oh-so-fabulous and equally oh-so-challenging project called Kepler, one of the most interesting lines we’re straddling isn’t relevant just to Rwanda—it’s a world-wide issue and challenge.
We’re committed to planning the best program for our students, and to do so we concentrate deeply on their futures.  In examining their futures, we’re working to figure out how—as the world of work rapidly changes—do we develop a university program for students that are coming out of a K-12 educational system that hasn’t necessarily prepared them for readiness in a rigorous curriculum like the one we’re designing? It’s a program that at a minimum requires the following:
– Blended learning (in person teaching and on-line teaching) that demands high levels of independence
– Technological fluency
– Skills to collaborate and effectively work in a group for desired outcomes
– The ability to access, analyze, and synthesize complex and large quantities of information
– A flexible attitude that embraces engagement in ambiguous situations and rapid change
– Leadership through influence
– The ability to think critically by asking questions about problems rather than rushing to solutions
-The willingness to take feedback and continually improve projects until they demonstrate competency
In grappling with how to best build these skills for our students’ futures, we’ve quickly been brought to their educational pasts.
Every corner of the world has its own local version of how these readiness challenges manifest themselves, but university educators have some universal similarities in preparing students for the world of work. Essentially, higher education institutions have two choices: 1) continue the traditional models that many students have engaged in for their first 13-15 years of education, with the likely result that students will not be prepared for tomorrow’s workplaces; or 2) disrupt the traditional system and develop models of teaching and learning that prepare students for a rapidly changing knowledge-based economy. At Kepler, we’re choosing the latter, which is clearly an easy choice (maybe the only one?). But choosing and implementing are two completely different phenomena, and it’s our daily efforts at executing the decision that bring the challenges, imagination, failures, resolutions, and aspirations of building Kepler to life. 
I’ll be posting more about our curriculum, implementation, challenges, and our efforts at disrupting higher education as we build Kepler in the weeks ahead, so keep an eye out.