This is the second post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the first here.
I had a fascinating conversation with members of Building 21’s design and instructional coaching team, Sydney Schaef, Sandra Moumoutjis, Thomas Gaffey, Angela Stewart, Laura Shubilla, and Chip Linehan. At times I started to explode in giggles of excitement as we spoke about their insights and information management system. B21’s work is invaluable for us to tackle the elephant (i.e., respond to students who have multi-year gaps in their skills). Part of their solution is one of the most student-centered information management systems to support their personalized, competency-based process I have seen.
As described in the first blog, B21 is highly personalized, with students working in their zone along the continua of performance levels for each competency. In order to both monitor progress and measure grade-level performance, they knew they needed an information system that would fully support students and teachers. They visited a number of schools across the country and looked at many of the best information management systems designed for competency-based education. Even those that were the most interesting didn’t reflect their values or design. Most were still course-based, and often with a feel of checklist after checklist. Furthermore, the costs were high, and most weren’t open-source. Thus, despite all the advice to never build your own, they found a partner in Jarvus and their product Slate. (FYI, Ed Surge has a nice piece about the product. Matchbook Learning has used Slate as the platform for their information system Spark, and the U School (sharing space with B21) and the Science Leadership Academy also are using it.)
Designing a Powerful Student-Centric Information System
I wondered aloud how they were able to find a company that seemed to “get CBE” when so many of the vendors keep reproducing courses as the center of their architecture. Gaffey offered, “Get a bunch of twenty-two to twenty-six-year olds and they can do anything. The problem is the folks over thirty think they know what a student information system is.” His statement gets to the heart of the issue – what does a student information system look like in a student-centric, personalized, competency-based system?
Gaffey explained, “There were several things we wanted that traditional SIS and grade reporting systems have been unable to do. First, we want to make sure that learning across the school can be tracked. Second, we focus on mastery. This means we want students submitting multiple pieces of evidence of their learning in multiple contexts. Third, we want to be less course-oriented, more performance-oriented. Fourth, we want to make sure that students can see their growth and progress. Finally, we want everything to feed into a meta-profile for students.”
Here are some of the very cool things that B21 is working toward using a combination of Slate and robust Google Docs: (more…)