We’ll get in the habit of posting more regularly as we stumble upon interesting things. This is a long overdue post.
We have always been interested in finding new ideas and problem solving, this has been the most exciting aspect of our work. Especially as we have begun to delve into the MYP and now into the PYP, but more practically, we have had to prioritize our time and practice triage.
We are a small team of three people trying to fix a complex problem with many moving parts that is not ‘owned’ by any one person, let alone any single organization – not even the IBO.
To provide some context, when we started with CAS Manager back in late 2007, we were fixing a very clear and focused problem: for students, we were eliminating the paperwork, and for the Coordinators, we were providing real-time information on where students stood with respect to their requirements. It was a ‘win-win’ outcome. Students would not waste time with forms and paperwork, Coordinators could clear out filing cabinets and minimize admin time.
The same core idea was also applicable to the Extended Essay, Personal Project, etc. but beyond the DP core and a tiny part of the MYP, we had two possible paths. The first choice was we could leave it at that (take a nice job and move on), or we could double-down our risk, and try to fix the bigger systemic problems, which consisted of streamlining coordination, planning, and assessment & reporting.
A complete restructuring.
It seemed ludicrous to us to have Coordinators manually registering hundreds of students on IBIS one-by-one, for teachers to be doing MYP assessment in Excel sheets, and to have each school designing its own information systems from scratch at an enormous and duplicative cost.
What we observed was the absence of standardization in systems and processes, which inhibited ‘economies of scale’ across the IB. In other words, the fact that more schools were adopting the IB was not directly translating into better systems for existing schools, faculty and students.
This is a bold assertion to be making, but it is the reality on the ground because despite Access being a 2020 goal, there is a wide gulf in resource allocation among schools, and nowhere is this more readily apparent, than with technology resources and systems.
To clarify when we describe ‘systems’, we are not talking about having a fancy computer lab with shiny computers. Hardware is not going to fix these problems. Technology accelerates productivity (the difference between walking 20 miles to work vs. driving) because paperwork and an over-worked Coordinator are not tenable long-term solutions. The ‘system’ in this case walks out the door every night exhausted.
A tragic misallocation of resources.
The most technologically-advanced IB school on earth is in Singapore. We were impressed – awe would be a better word to describe it. They have a team of developers building their own systems from scratch in-house. The caveat is, that they have customized to such an extreme degree, that their systems are effectively useless to any other IB school. This pattern has repeated itself hundreds of times at a tremendous cost.
We asked ourselves: we are not living in a world, where everyone designs their own electricity plugs? Why are information systems operating under the same curriculum any different? We felt that there was a very clear purpose for standardization.
Charlie Munger said it best: Always invert.
Stepping back just think of the harm that would have been caused if everyone refused to use the same electricity plugs. It would have been virtually impossible for anyone to: (a) deliver electricity, and (b) design and mass-produce electrical devices efficiently.
Without clear accepted standards, decades of progress would never have materialized. No computers, no indoor lighting, etc. Basic things that we take for granted were all contingent on a very simple process of standardization.
This is analogous to the root problems we are addressing within the IB community through ManageBac. The paper forms are already obsolete.
Much like the film Inception (no spoilers for those, who haven’t seen it), Cobb tells his team we only have one way and that is to continue, so for us in 2009, it was foregone conclusion.
We have always had some ‘Projections’ getting in our way, but the idea is in place. 528491…