Social lesson planning

It’s time that lesson planning became an open and social process. We want to build ‘GitHub for teachers’ to do just that.

The opportunity cost of teachers planning in isolation is way too high*. Lesson planning is one of the most powerful yet least visible aspects of teaching. Students and other stakeholders in education rarely see it happening, but it has a significant impact on learning experiences and outcomes. However, as things stand, the vast majority of teachers engaging in this activity do so in isolation. And as John Hattie points out in his mega meta-analysis, this lack of collaboration has a painful opportunity-cost on young people’s lives, and all our futures.

‘The co-planning of lessons is the task that has one of the highest likelihoods of making a marked positive difference on student learning.’ John Hattie

This is the persistent social challenge that we have set out to redress.

Young people deserve to have an outstanding experience in school – one that gives them the greatest opportunity to enjoy and succeed in life. They deserve to have access to the best lessons the world can offer. Yet every year, their experiences are built on the shoulders of individual pursuit. Year after year, teachers all around the globe plan lessons by themselves, created predominantly from scratch, and based on similar content.

This amounts to many thousands of hours of deep thinking and gritty expertise ploughed into each and every plan. Sadly though, these are thousands of hours of teachers doing the same thing in different rooms, rather than thousands of hours of cumulative, collaborative practice. The product of all this is a slew of underdeveloped documents, left to languish in the folders of desktop computers, with the resulting learning outcomes residing in individual minds.

* ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers… [and] the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction.’ McKinsey & Co

Now imagine something different

Imagine all that thinking and expertise being harnessed and directed towards a common purpose. Imagine all those teachers working together to create the most engaging and effective plans.

Rather than starting from scratch, imagine taking a lesson plan that has been through the minds and classrooms of a thousand teachers, improving it, adapting it for you own particular context, and then evaluating it (so the system can learn which strategies will be the most powerful for your learners). It doesn’t take much imagination to see that some interesting things are going to start to happen.

Nothing currently meets this need

We’re not the first people to build a lesson planning tool. However, we are the first people to understand the subtle and sophisticated needs of the educational ecosystem, and the importance of an evidence-informed and evidence-generating approach. Tools that have come before us fall into several camps:

  • Content repositories Claiming to be lesson planning websites, these are little more than resource repositories*. Lesson content is not the same as lesson planning. One teacher can use a resource in a completely different way to another, and the resulting experience and outcomes will be vastly different. It is crucial that we share and develop the how of learning as well as the what.
  • Time savers Some websites focus on streamlining the administrative side of lesson planning. Although this is welcome, it does not have a transformative impact on learning. To achieve this, we need a tool that has social and pedagogical architecture designed into its fabric.
  • Clunky experiences Sadly, many lesson planning websites underestimate the importance of design, and end up with user experiences that are confused, bloated and uninspiring. Teaching is all about powerful experiences. The lesson planning process is no exception.

*Although we support the progress made by Open Educational Resources (OER), unless we develop systems that also facilitate the development of pedagogy, there is a real risk of fostering a culture which prioritises lesson content over learning experiences.

Social and pedagogical architecture

These is a clear need for a better tool, and we are confident we know how just how to build one. We believe in lean, clean and agile design. As a consequence, some parts of our build will emerge through testing and iterative development. However, there are also aspects which are pre-determined.

Months of dedicated hard thinking and research have resulted in a foundational 3-layer framework*, driven by the needs identified in our Rationale. Although it will give you little more than a flavour of our vision, we hope that it will help you see OpenPlan’s potential to have a transformative impact on the way teachers plan and how students learn.

The personal layer

  • The planning template will be a blank plaintext canvas, so that it is pedagogically neutral, and to allow for maximum appropriation by the community.
  • The system will use tags (for both content and context) along with a powerful find and filter search tool as the primary mechanism for organising and browsing plans.
  • Each teacher will have a modest personal profile which will stream their plans and related activity.

The social layer

  • Teachers will be able to ‘Fork’ each other’s lessons (in a similar vein to GitHub), allowing them to remix and repurpose plans whilst leaving a credit trail to previous authors.
  • Teachers will be able to ‘Follow’ each other (in a similar vein to Twitter), so they can be the first to see lessons from selected planners, as they are created.
  • Teachers will be able to comment on and evaluate their own and other people’s plans.

The pedagogical layer

This is where it starts to get a little complicated, but also where our most significant value proposition lies.

  • The plaintext planning template will be embedded with a pedagogical markup language (imagine a friendly version of HTML) which will highlight and encode the various pedagogical aspects of any plan.
  • The content of this language will be community-driven, being created and catalogued as common practice emerges.
  • Learning analytics will use this markup along with evaluations to explore the efficacy of plans in particular contexts.

User experience gets the last word

We believe that outstanding functional design is not enough. Teachers need to have nothing short of a stunning experience when they engage in lesson planning through OpenPlan. We have had too many underwhelming experiences with educational technology – and we plan to make a point.

*In addition, there are several detailed design decisions that accompany this broader framework regarding things like co-authorship, draft plan limits and file attachment – these details will be published for your consideration and comment at an appropriate stage.

Powered by evidence

‘I think there is a huge prize waiting to be collected by teachers… by collecting better evidence about what works best, and establishing a culture where this evidence is used as a matter of routine, we can improve outcomes for children and increase professional independence.’ Building Evidence into Education by Ben Goldacre

Using and generating evidence are essential activities in any good educational process: they should be used consistently to inform design and assess impact. Edtech should be as much about seeking to understand what works best in education, as it is about building tools to disrupt and transform practice. At OpenPlan, we view evidence-informed practice as a responsibility rather than a right – our commitment to these ideas hang around two core threads:

1. Evidence informed design

  • Our initial framework is grounded in evidence of what works (and what doesn’t work) in educational technology. We are painfully aware of edtech’s poor track record in this area, and so are taking a distinctive approach – drawing on evidence from the field of complex adaptive systems to identify and create the optimal conditions for learning to emerge.
  • The development of OpenPlan will employ a Design Research Methodology, and use regular iterations of evaluation and redesign to ensure that what is being built meets the needs of teachers as well as having a positive impact on learning experiences and outcomes.

2. Impact evaluation

  • We will freeze our design at key stages, to allow for large scale RCTs to be conducted in the pursuit of rigorously assessing impact against baseline performance, alongside more qualitative approaches essential in explaining how learning works in the context of the project.
  • Large amounts of data will be generated through the analytics of OpenPlan’s teacher evaluation and pedagogical markup language. Putting this kind of #BigData in the hands of teachers has the potential to foster just the sense of professional autonomy and evidence-informed practice that would make Ben Goldacre proud 😉

Peps is deeply passionate about lesson planning. If you like this, you’ll like Lean Lesson Planning.