HourSchool at SXSWedu
Christina presented a Future15 talk last week at SXSWedu on “Designing for Peer Learning.” See audio & slides of her talk here.
Her presentation includes some of the lessons we’ve learned about peer education and tips for:
- changing people’s perception of “classes” and “teachers”,
- scaffolding the journey from student to teacher, and
- supporting new teachers in peer-learning environments.
Featured Mission: Parlez-vous français?
After learning a foreign language in high school or college, many people want to pick it up again later in life but have a hard time finding the time, place, or people to practice with. The mission to “Learn more about French and the Francophone world” is bringing together French speakers of all levels in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mission members are able to practice the language amongst new friends AND explore the rich French culture—from the country’s folk music to its famed cuisine.
“The past few months have been exciting, as I have met many people interested in building a French HourSchool community in Ann Arbor. The mission is now more than30 participants strong. Thanks to creative and inspired teachers, we now have many different classes that are meaningful and original. As a mission creator, I feel gratitude toward the whole crew.” ~Mijo, mission creator
Above: Francophiles discuss the play “Rhinocéros” by Ionesco at an HourSchool gathering.
Here are some upcoming events in the mission:
Nov. 3: Drop by Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor. Our French chef, Brigitte, is giving a cooking demonstration about how to make madeleines. It will be delicious.
Nov. 7: A French wine tasting evening.
Nov. 15: A sing-along of traditional French songs at Sweetwaters, a well-known Ann Arbor café. Bonnie Ion who plays the ukulele will accompany us.
Nov. 29: A cooking class by our French chef to help us prepare for the Holidays. We will learn how to cook duck and make a “bûche de Noël”.
Mijo continues: “Our deep thanks go to all our members. It has been a pleasure to see how much interest there is toward this kind of informal and convivial learning. Everyone is cordially invited to join the mission to learn more about French and the Francophone world.”
How to Make Tomatillo Salsa
A few months ago we were blown away by the support at our Mission Launch Party. It was an awesome event, full of great people, great conversation…. and incredible homemade SALSA! Well a few of our friends were kind enough to cut a short vid on how to make the Tomatillo Salsa we had at the party! Check it out below:
Here’s the recipe directly from Chef Henry:
HourSchool Missions Activate Communities of Practice
In a nutshell: Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
The key word is “practice.” As we learn-by-doing, we develop practices that change who we are and the way we define ourselves. As we grow and achieve our goals (“I want to learn how to cook” “I want to run a marathon” “I want to make my own website”), we can adopt new identities (“I’m a cook” “I’m a runner” “I’m a hacker”).
HourSchool missions help people participate in a community of like-minded peers. In addition to learning new things, the community’s support allows people to practice and experiment in a new mindspace. Learning becomes ingrained when it extends beyond the classroom setting, so we built it into our missions: HourSchool encourages people to host a variety of events, from classes and workshops to socials and working sessions.
What does this end up looking like? Here’s an example grounded in the kinds of conversations we hear every day.
I recently attended a day-long introductory workshop to Ruby on Rails, but I won’t become comfortable in the programming language unless I continue learning through my own projects. The chances of me continuing with my own projects are greater if I surround myself with other Rails developers, if I attend hacker nights where I feel comfortable asking questions, and if I start to feel part of the Rails community. I want to find people to pair-code with, and I also want to find people I can hang out with at the next Rails happy hour event. HourSchool lets me start a mission and rally people in my local geographic area. I can connect with others with similar goals as me (learn to program), and I can find support from those who know a little or a lot more than me.
Communities of practice are everywhere, and we are naturally a part of many different communities. But sometimes when we want to try something new, have moved to a new place, or are just dreaming BIG…it can be hard to jump into a new community. HourSchool wants to make it easier for people to achieve their dreams. We want to help you activate your community of practice.
HourSchool wants to be part of the conversation at SXSWEdu about building learning communities and engaging students in peer learning. What do you want to see at this year’s conference? Vote for our talk here: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/7478
Tips from IdeaMensch: Bringing your Ideas to Life
I went to an event called IdeaMensch last week. Their goal is to bring together speakers and audience members around the idea of entrepreneurship; the theme of the 4 talks was tips for bringing your ideas to life. The Los Angeles event was the kick-off to IdeaMensch’s 48-state, 50-event roadtrip over the next 4 months. Check them out if they’re coming to your city!
Here are my takeaways and the stories that most inspired me.
Charlie Capen of HowToBeaDad.com, an entertainment website for a new generation of dads (read: not absent, not dumb) using humor “as an anesthesia to get points across.” Examples: Zombie vs. Baby and Baby Sleep Positions (1-10)
- Connect with the community. Think about how you can serve the community. They were constantly tweeting not about the site but about life like crazy before site launch to get out into that community. Recognize that each platform has a different model of message half-life and “viral” spread (Twitter: lots quickly but then dies off. Facebook can have a long tail and longer life.)
- Forget soft launch; do it right. They spent a 9-month gestation period backloading the site with content and making it the way they wanted to see a website for dads.
Josh Dykstra of Strengths Doctors, a consulting firm helping companies create healthier cultures and systems. He shared 4 principles of building healthy start-up cultures. (I also liked his presentation flow: introduce the principle, share a story, provide an action item).
- Strengths: Deliberately focus on strengths. Two groups of school kids given the same speed reading course. One group went from 90 words per minute to 150 wpm. The group that started out at 350 went to…2900. Great becomes excellent; bad becomes not-quite-as-bad. Focus on your strengths, be comfortable with what you’re not good at, and find complementary strengths in your partners and the people you work with. Action Item: Do a strengths assessment like StrengthScope. (Focus on strengths during performance reviews, not shortcomings.)
- Simplicity: Get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good by being relentless about your focus. Apple’s focus is “creating better products” and they’re ruthless about cutting the crap. Action Item: Have 1 noble cause. What’s the one thing you do? How would the world be worse off if you weren’t doing what you’re doing? Use your 1 noble cause to focus.
- Space: Build rhythms and cycles into your culture that create space. Rests & space are the difference between music and noise. Alternate really intense periods of activity with rest (think athletes or musicians). What you plant now, grows later. “Hectic cultures don’t grow into rhythmic, restful ones.” Action Item: Build post-production times into your schedule.
- System: Structure determines function. Alignment determines whether you’re spiraling up or down (can’t do both at the same time). Action Item: Ask “WHY?” Make sure all your systems (including meetings and communications) reinforce strength, space, and simplicity.
Shivani Siroya of InVenture, a social enterprise focused on bringing financial access to people in developing countries by giving them tools & data (read: credit score to prove they are low-risk for loans from traditional banks).
Shivani structured her talk around the quote:
“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” ~Alan Cohen
- Dream jobs are sometimes not enough. With her finance and econometrics degrees, she was working for the UN doing cost-benefit analysis and evaluating the development programs in sub-Saharan Africa. It was a dream job, but she was stuck behind a desk and pushed for a position in the field, talking to micro-business owners. The problem she perceived at the time was: Lack of capital & Lack of tools.
- “I started solving it and ended up with a company.” She started creating InVenture with partners on top of their full time jobs since no one was solving the problem at the level she wanted to solve it (ground level, working with the micro-entrepreneurs in a holistic sense. Not just providing capital, but also asking why and whether they even wanted to start their own businesses. Some people just wanted jobs.) InVenture Fund started as a “micro-venture capitalist” fund with 3 pilots that successfully had a 30% ROI, and the micro-businesses created 3 new jobs each. From there, they grew fast.
- Constantly and relentlessly ask why. They were constantly asking themselves: What is it that we’re solving? Is this worth solving? Are we the best ones to solve it? Do we actually have to provide the capital? Do we have to do the training when dozens of other NGO’s do that? Can we solve the inefficiencies in the system?
- Pivot as your understanding of the problem evolves. Though pivots are talked about a lot in the tech entrepreneurship world, social enterprises usually don’t. They don’t share the story and reasoning of their pivots with the world, leaving the public to figure out why you have a new name or new look for themselves. However, social enterprises who are committed to solving a specific problem will NATURALLY grow, evolve, and “pivot” more than the average new company that is founded around a specific solution. As InVenture talked to more people and were in the space longer, they saw that the real problem wasn’t access to capital but rather lack of access to formal institutions because of a lack of reliable data—people didn’t have credit scores, and banks weren’t willing to take that risk. InVenture created an SMS-based accounting system called InSight. Micro-business owners can use it as a tool for basic accounting, and banks can use it as a source of data to determine credit-worthiness.
- Trust the dots. The dots only connect looking backward; trust that they will connect in the future.
- Her greatest strength? Perseverance. The InVenture team recently used Strengths Finder 2.0, and Shivani’s ended up being “competitiveness,” which meant persevering through criticism and thus being willing to get tons of feedback constantly throughout the journey.
Mark Mertens of SESO, a digital marketing design firm which focuses on designing experiences for purpose-driven organizations in the health, education, science & tech, and arts & culture fields. They started out as a traditional advertising firm (design in service of business), made a decision to do more fulfilling and passion-driven work, and gradually shifted their client base and portfolio over time to design of ecosystems (design shapes nature, culture, and business, like this Bruce Mau diagram).
He shared 4 design tools that anyone could use:
- Design Journalism. (AKA design research.) Build relationships with your community. Prototype early and often in the field. Surface challenges and opportunities along the way. (You don’t know what you don’t know.)
- Imagination. Can’t solve a problem in a new way by playing by the old rules. They make a deal with their clients that for 6 weeks, they throw out all limitations (money, resources, feasability) and design the best, most ideal solution. From there, after everyone’s on board with the big vision, they work backwards. 80% of a big vision is better than 100% of a small one.
- Human-Centered Thinking. People. Use experience maps to think about things from people’s POVs. Example they gave was their experience map for LACMA including a spectrum of low levels of commitment to high levels of commitment. How could they create low levels of demand of a new visitor to the site to ease them into the experience? They came up with a model of “surprise me” —> “explore” —> “experience” for the art museum’s website.
- Rapid Iteration. Example: the new TED Ed. They built it over 4 months, launched it, and are giving themselves a year’s window to perfect it. The plus side is having real users interacting with it and giving feedback, so they can evolve the product for the community.
What big ideas do you want to bring to life? What have you always wanted to learn to meet your goals? HourSchool is all about helping passionate people turn their ideas into action, so let’s get started!
Elements Of A Great Trip
And How To Plan & Execute An Excellent Adventure
By Katie Inglis
I just returned from traveling around Costa Rica for 8 days. It was my first time out of the country in a few years and the first time I’ve travelled to a primarily non-english speaking country with my significant other. It was also the first time I’d ever planned to meet anyone in a foreign – and rural – place and the first time I’d ever vacationed with my family as an adult. So! Not only did I have a fantastic and memorable adventure, I learned a lot too – about how to plan and execute an adventure appropriate to different age groups with varied interests, about how to communicate when you don’t know much of the language, when to put the guide book down, how to roll with the punches and have an awesome time even when things don’t go as expected. Today I want to share the things I learned with you!
BEFORE THE TRIP
When you have to plan a trip for multiple people it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
• Research the destination. Check out guidebooks and maps, talk with people that have been there before, cruise the internet for objective information about the area, and and check the weather forecast before you go.
• I’ll call this out because it’s really important: become familiar with the local culture and its customs before embarking. Get a phrasebook and a dictionary if you don’t speak the language. Find out if there are religious or social mores in place that might affect your behavior or your plans. In going to Costa Rica I didn’t realize beforehand that the streets and roads don’t have widely used names. I’d printed out a bunch of Google maps that were totally useless because they only showed road names. Next time I’ll find out how the locals navigate before heading out on the road.
• Think about the interests and abilities of the people you’ll be traveling with. If you know someone is mortally afraid of a specific activity, avoid it. But don’t be afraid of to push you’re party to experience new and exciting things that they wouldn’t try at home.
• Talk about what kinds of equipment and supplies each person in the party will need. Make sure everyone is prepared to bring what they’ll need or share supplies as necessary. Being prepared makes every adventure more fun.
• Don’t sacrifice everything you want to do for the sake of the group. It’s important for your sanity that the activities you plan are things you’ll enjoy too.
• Create an itinerary. Estimate travel times and estimate the cost of paid activities. Share the itinerary with the group and iterate on it. Then when you go, if you’re traveling to a remote location or in the backcountry, leave a copy of your itinerary with an emergency contact back home.
DURING THE TRIP
• Make sure the party informed about the plans by discussing them right before embarking. People like to know what’s going on and when they are expected to be somewhere. This can be as formal or informal as you want, but good communication in the group is key.
• Stay flexible with the schedule and remember that the more people in your party, the slower it will move. Remember that you’re on an adventure and go with the flow!
• Keep an eye on each other. Offer water/sunscreen/snacks/breaks to anyone who might need it, and encourage the group members to do the same. Keeping everyone hydrated, fueled and sunburn-free is the best way to ensure each person is having a good time.
• Respect the land and the community. Stay on the trail, don’t touch delicate formations and don’t remove anything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, from its natural setting. Follow the Leave No Trace philosophy and pack out what you pack in. Preserve the place for future generations to enjoy.
• Stay open to the unknown. You never know what sort of unexpected events might pop up that can really make your day, so stay flexible in your plans and welcome the unpredictable.
• And don’t forget to stop and smell the roses! Take a moment to absorb your surroundings. Really look at where you are and commit it to memory. Take a deep breath and be thankful for your ability to get yourself to where you are!
AFTER THE TRIP
• Rest, refuel and rejuvenate! Take some time to relax, eat some nutritious food and get ready for your next adventure.
• Share stories and memories. Figure out the best way to share your photographs with each other and arrange a swap so everyone has an opportunity to relive the experience through another’s lens.
And a few other things to keep in mind when you’re travelling:
Guidebooks are a great way to get to know a new area and what it has to offer you. Get a good guidebook well before your trip and read it! Choose your guidebook based on your interests – different publishers and editions often focus on different elements like history, eco-tourism, extreme adventuring, budget travel, etc – flip through all of your options before you pick one. Reading a guidebook that you chose because of its content or layout will inspire your trip and will give you lots to think about while planning. Guidebooks will help pass the long hours of traveling and can keep you informed about your next location but don’t forget to put down the guidebook and really experience what’s around you! You might miss something if you’ve got your nose in a book the whole time.
Do your homework before heading to a country where a different language than your own is primarily spoken. Get a good, simple, scannable phrasebook that you can reference on the go. I learned that it’s really helpful to write down key phrases that I commonly use in the beginning of the book, for easy reference. If you have time, do some background research on language to understand the different forms of gender, tense, and grammar. Also get a thorough, pocket-sized dictionary for reference.
CONSIDER THE COMMUNITY
When you travel to another country, consider where you’re staying, where you dine and your activities and ask yourself: “Is my money enriching the local economy? Is it staying local? Am I supporting small businesses and families or huge international conglomerations and chains? Are local foods and local guides being employed? Are my activities supporting responsible stewardship of the land or am I contributing to waste and mismanagement of resources?” And of course, check in with yourself to evaluate if these considerations are important to you. You have the potential to enrich and positively impact the community that you visit.
YOUR REASONS FOR TRAVEL
Ask yourself what you hope to gain by traveling to a new place. Is it to check items off a list or to enrich your life by expanding your worldview? How will your trip live on afterward, and how will you share your experiences? How can you fold them in to your day-to-day life and incorporate your experience into your becoming?
In summary, traveling to a new country can be as exciting or as relaxing as you make it. Traveling with a group of friends or family is a lot of fun with a little bit of planning and flexibility. Take some time before and during your trip to check in with yourself and your party, evaluate your plans and expectations, prepare for the worst and make the best! These principles can also be roughly applied to discovering what you might want to teach as an HourSchool class, so next time you get that creative urge consider this advice and make your class the ultimate adventure!
Moving from one-way knowledge transfer to networked learning
Top-Down or Bottom-Up Education?
A lot of traditional education is top-down. When I was teaching for a summer writing camp, I made executive decisions about the curriculum—what we would read, the activities we would do, and the structure of the class. I always gave my middle school students a choice whether to complete a particular group exercise or to work on their own writing projects, and I continuously adjusted the curriculum to their progress and goals (explicit or assumed). Since the camp was a short few weeks long, I felt I had to set a structure in place to create a safe space to hold their unstructured creative work as writers. Thus, the choices students made were limited to what they were going to write, how they would interact with their classmates, and how they would use their time in class—not necessarily about what they were learning or how.
A lot of peer education is bottom-up. When I was working at a medium-sized design firm, I picked up a bunch of skills from my co-workers and bosses. I learned file management, more efficient ways to use software, and how to present my work in client meetings. None of this occurred at “professional development” seminars or with explicit training. One day when I was looking for certain logo files, a co-worker showed me how this particular company organized their files and what he liked and disliked about it. As I was walking by a colleague’s desk another day, I glimpsed something cool on her screen, stopped to chat, and she showed me a couple Adobe Illustrator tricks. During presentations, I observed my bosses and took note of the language they used when explaining and defending our designs. This kind of learning was driven by my curiosity and desire to become a better designer. My co-workers were limited in their teaching to the context of my current questions.
Top-down education provides students safe and reliable structures to learn within, but the burden is on the teacher to plan the curriculum and to ensure their lessons are meeting student needs. Bottom-up education provides teachers context and scope for their knowledge sharing, but the burden is on the student to initiate their own learning and to ensure they’re getting what they want out of the experience. Both remain one-way knowledge transfers.
How about both?
The HourSchool team is working to design platforms that combine the best of both approaches, and in doing so create more directions for knowledge to flow.
I’m currently working on HourSchool’s program framework for peer-education programs at non-profit organizations. Typically before we’re involved, nearly all classes are initiated and planned by staff. (Staff are like the teachers planning the curriculum based on perceived student needs, and the community members are the students.) To start changing this, first HourSchool helps to start conversations about what people want to learn and we introduce request forms—ways for the community members to start asking for the classes they want to see. Now the community members can initiate classes, and the staff continues to plan the logistics. This helps staff and teachers plan classes that are in direct response to student needs and goals. Over time, the staff encourages really active students to start teaching classes. Our program framework scaffolds these community members as they start planning classes and dealing with logistics themselves. In the end, we consider our programs successful when community members are actively initiating and planning classes for other community members.
In reality, there will always be both organization-initiated events AND community-initiated events (top-down AND bottom-up). But instead of just one staff member being responsible for deciding the topics, finding teachers, and setting up ALL the classes, the HourSchool platform allows and encourages everyone within the community to complete any of those steps. The lines also become blurrier between “teacher” and “student.” Everyone in the community has potential and opportunity to be either at different times and in different contexts. In blurring the hierarchy, one-way knowledge transfer gives way to a community of learners. Everyone has something to learn; everyone has something to teach.
Our program framework’s intentions are to:
- - encourage more direct collaboration between the people organizing the education programs and the people taking the classes;
- - shift the learning model from linear to networked; and
- - disperse the responsibility of initiating and planning by sharing it among all community members
The HourSchool team is also currently working on new features for the website that incorporates these ideas of networked learning happening within an active community. Because learning can begin anywhere—top, bottom, or sideways.
Local Spotlights: The Ghisallo Foundation
This past week I had the pleasure of sitting down for a brief interview with Christopher Stanton of the Ghisallo Foundation. The Ghisallo Foundation works on various cycling related initiatives in Austin, including trail maintenance with Keep Austin Beautiful and sponsoring a cycling team. But their main initiative is the expansion of the youth programming initiatives at local middle schools.
We are a mentoring program, realistically, we’re not just trying to give an info sheet, we’re trying to engage with them at an interpersonal level, to produce some sort of community within your group, and it’s not just between the student and the instructor, you’re trying to build a cohesive group among the students…. the interesting part of our program is that we use bicycle maintenance and riding skills to provide a framework for all those interactions. And the end desire is that the student begins to feel connected to cycling as a social interaction and a lifestyle interaction.
Another great aspect of the organization is their take on how bicycling is attached to choice of activity:
Through cycling you can increase the volume of choices you have
Kids whose worlds used to encompass their block now have a new freedom, a freedom of choice to explore their surroundings at an entirely different scale. (with permission of course)
One of the core beliefs of HourSchool is the simple notion that everyone can and should teach. We believe that we all have knowledge to share, and our communities are better off when we actively share that knowledge. We love how the Ghisallo Foundation shares this belief.
You have to engage the individual with both the content provided and a way to own that knowledge.
Check out the full interview here, including an incredible story of kids learning to teach each other at an impromptu cycling event.
For more information on the Ghisallo Foundation, please visit their website here: http://ghisallo.org
Thanks to Christopher and to the Ghisallo Foundation for taking the time to sit down with us.
The HourSchool team.
Teacher Tip: Invite a Friend, Gain a Helper
We’ve been talking to HourSchool teachers, listening to their stories, and asking them for tips to share with the community.
One thing we’ve known at HourSchool HQ for awhile now is that classes are always more fun with friends, so we’re always encouraging people to invite their friends! Teaching and learning from your friends breaks the ice and increases the comfort level of any class. But we also found that for teachers, a side benefit of inviting a friend to class is having an extra pair of hands during set up and an extra dose of friendly during class.
HourSchool teacher Monet, a food blogger who taught a Bread baking class earlier this year told us she had planned out the timing of her class very carefully, since she had prepared multiple doughs to be used at specific moments during the lesson. She was grateful for the extra help her husband provided on class day. She held the class at her home, and while she was setting up, her husband made sure the students were comfortable, got drinks, and met each other.
“My husband was around, and he’s great at talking to people and interacting on that level,” Monet said. “It was good because I didn’t feel like I had to bear the weight of making sure everyone was connecting. There’s something to be said of tag-teaming a class. Even if they’re not teaching it, have someone help with getting people fed, getting them drinks, talking to them. Have somebody, even a friend, come just hang out with you—someone who knows the space and can help people get what they need. Have a friend come over and help you with the hospitality aspect so you can focus on teaching.”
So the next time you teach an HourSchool class, invite a friend or two—and don’t be afraid to ask for help! It’ll make the experience better for everyone, including you!
P.S. Monet’s teaching another class on Homemade Bagels on June 16—sign up before the seats fill up!
[Photos by Monet, from her blog Anecdotes & Apple Cores]