Category Archives: Service

Putting Failure to Work in Education

My own educational philosophy is deeply rooted in the concept of learn-by-doing and an understanding of the role that failure plays in learning.  So, when the New York Times came out with its annual “Innovation” issue cloaked in the premise of failure, I was very interested. Adam Davidson’s “Welcome to the Failure Age” develops a curious, almost distasteful, narrative around failure through the metaphor of the Weird Stuff, the Silicon Valley reseller that has built its own success in large part off the failures of the high tech industry.  Don’t misunderstand me. It’s brilliant (both the idea behind Weird Stuff and Davidson’s depiction of it), but the entire piece takes on a somewhat post-apocalyptic hue that doesn’t map to my own . . . appreciation of failure.

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the role failure can play and believe that it’s time to put failure to better use in education. In the initial stages of my professional life, I spent 15 years teaching in a well-respected institution of higher learning where team teaching supported an environment of creativity, experimentation and continuous improvement. Quite honestly, failure was not highly tolerated, but the built-in mechanisms for peer engagement and feedback made for higher on-the-job learning curves.

Working for Roger Schank and developing simulation-based learning programs corporations and institutions of higher learning in the early 2000’s, I saw firsthand how technology-enabled instruction provides an incredibly safe means by which to leverage failure for positive learning outcomes.  Therefore, my own experience, from a practitioner’s and a designer’s experience, has made me keenly aware of the role that failure can play in the classroom and beyond in the ongoing evolution of educational practices.

We’ve seen change over the past few years but not all for the good. There are still some obstacles to the type of change that is needed in education. The failures of the past few years need to be leveraged in order to make room for positive change. In brief:

  1. Recycle MOOCs

I think Weird Stuff knows exactly what can be done with MOOCs. Let’s recycle the millions of megabytes of video and online quizzes and instead of those being the bulk of the course on their own, incorporate them into more of the high-touch, facilitated online learning programs we know people are really looking for.

  1. Lead with services rather than technology

There are fantastic tools being developed in the name of enhancing the learning experience, but let’s spend more time working with real practitioners understanding the root cause of today’s inefficiencies. Why build a better mousetrap if the mousetrap isn’t what we need?

  1. Revamp the school day

Given what we know about today’s workplace, it does not make sense to spend each of the current 13 years of school inside one building for 7-8 hours a day. Expanding the responsibility for learning beyond the walls of the classroom may be the single most important change we’ll see in the coming decades. It’s a 70:20:10 approach to learning that should be propagated throughout the entire educational continuum.


In his article, Davidson notes that “Education is facing the threat of computer-based learning posed by Khan Academy, Coursera and other upstart companies.” The threat that they pose is not in that their products will entirely replace what we know as education today, but they have shown us that people are hungry for change, access, enhancement, or revision of the status quo. But they themselves and all of the rest of us along the educational continuum have risked the potential for replacement if we don’t recognize and learn from our present failures.

For more on learning design and social impact, visit us at Designs2Learn.















Virtual Internships and Opportunities for Social Impact

VIP_e-collaborateThis week we’re kicking off Designs2Learn’s series of interviews with social edupreneurs whose work we respect for how it uses technology and learning design for social impact goals. Our first interview is with Naina Boveja, founder and CEO of e-collaborate. Naina and e-collaborate are doing some great work in using technology to bring kids together globally and introduce kids to the concept of service and hands-on education.

Designs2Learn: Can you provide a quick snapshot of e-collaborate for our audience?

Naina Boveja: e-collaborate started in 2010 with the idea of connecting classrooms and communities globally. We developed programs in clean drinking water for the K-12 audience.  Since then, we have spent a lot of time working on a Virtual Internship Program that connects high school students to non-profits across the globe for the purposes of learning empathy, career readiness skills and social entrepreneurship.

How did you get into the world of edupreneurism? What initially inspired you?

I had always been involved in the non-profit world as an intern or volunteer, but never really thought I could start one on my own. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated from college, I thought it would be valuable to offer programs to teens that could help them make that difficult decision and help them choose a path.

What were some of your initial challenges? How did you overcome them?

Since I was new to the education space, I learned a lot about the “system” and the way things are done in schools.  I also realized that we need to provide dynamic and engaging programs that students can do on their own, instead of requiring a teacher to spend class time to try our programs.  Teachers have so many things on their plates and our intention was to help provide programs that would be meaningful and add to a student’s life, not burden a teacher’s. We have started reaching out to other avenues, including PTAs, career centers, global studies programs, private schools, and schools with a focus on global education for a better fit.

Can you tell us about the Virtual Internship program you are currently working on?

The Virtual Internship program (, as I mentioned above, connects students to NGOs across the globe for a “virtual internship experience.” They fill out an application based on their interests and are matched to one of our partnered NGOs. We introduce a Mentor/ Teacher component to help support students and provide feedback. Teachers can chose to fulfill the mentor role by having a class of students who are virtual interns, and they can follow their students and give meaningful feedback before the work is submitted to the NGOs..

The platform is engaging and dynamic with videos, interviews, presentations, and activities for the students to complete. We are also introducing the idea of a “social resume” to the program, where students can highlight the work they are proud of, keep track of their volunteer hours, and share the link in their resumes, cover letters, and college applications.

What type of responses are you getting from your current participants?

Current participants and people in general are impressed with the platform and the idea.  We are trying to strike the right balance between interactions with the non-profits, and provide a meaningful experience for the students.  The virtual internship program is being launched this year, and we are still looking for students to sign up to get more feedback.

What are your plans for growing the program?

Currently, we are reaching out to schools and teachers within our network. I have also recently started my M.A. at Georgetown University, and am working to spread the word through that community and reaching out to different groups.  I am already impressed with the resources Georgetown has, such as the Center for Public and Non-Profit Leadership, Hoya Entrepreneurs, and the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation. I plan to utilize as many resources so I can continue to help spread the word.

What are some projects on your roadmap?

Right now, we are focusing on getting more students signed up for the Virtual Internship Program. In the future, I hope to continue to provide programs that help young adults learn valuable skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives.

What advice do you have for others who are interested in focusing on educational projects for social impact?

I think ideas are best realized in a supportive, collaborative environment.  I always feel talking to people about my ideas and getting their feedback helps create a better project.  I can’t stress how important feedback is, because sometimes you have an idea about something and it could be so much better when you take into consideration different perspectives.

Thanks, Naina!

Stay tuned for updates on learning design for social impact and more from Designs2Learn.



Lessons from Living outside the Box

MountainsUponMountains_coverA recent conversation with a respected educator friend prompted me to add Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains” to my end-of-summer reading list. Her recommendation coincided with plans for launching Designs2Learn and provided some unique perspective on the concept of service.

Many of you are already familiar with Tracy Kidder’s work through “Among Schoolchildren,” and many may know of Paul Farmer through either Kidder’s work or Farmer’s own writings. Kidder is a world-class storyteller, and Farmer a medical practitioner and anthropologist whose quest for social justice is nearly impossible to replicate, but whose example is inspiration to at least try.

Farmer is an out-of-the-box kind of guy not only because he spent part of his childhood living in a school bus, but also, and more importantly, because of how he has approached problem-solving some of the most challenging health and social issues of our day.

There are quite a few lessons to be drawn from Farmer’s story for educators, designers, and managers of learning experiences in terms of the impact we can make on people’s lives through the work we do.

“Education wasn’t what he wanted to perform on the world . . . He was after transformation.”

Farmer’s work often goes against the status quo of those in his own and related fields. Whether it is the time spent visiting patients in the far flung villages of Haiti or prisoners in Russia, or the amount of money spent per patient, or the range of services rendered, his work is seen by some as not only exceeding expectations but contradictory to accepted practices.

In the case of his beloved Haiti, as well as in Peru and Russia as well, it is not only the relief of pain and suffering from TB and AIDS, but the eradication of the conditions that caused the development and spreading of these illnesses that he has fought for.

In our own work as teachers, designers, and managers of learning, we all have the capacity for enormous change.

“Medical science does not exist to provide students with a way to make a living but to ensure the health of the community.”

Farmer read the works of Rudolf Virchow while a student at Duke, and the medical anthropologist’s perspectives on service to the community had a huge impact on him. Virchow himself had led a campaign for compulsory meat inspection and designed a sewage system for his native Germany while also being the first to propose that the study of disease should be focused on changes in the cell.

In Virchow, Farmer saw a model for social medicine.

In Farmer’s work, we can see a model for social impact within our respective fields.

“We should treat sick people if we have the technology.”

When Farmer was working in Peru to treat a relatively small number of MDR (Multiple Drug Resistant TB) patients, the prevailing argument was that MDR was not as pervasive as drug-susceptible disease and that it was simply too expensive and difficult to treat in these areas. Most people felt that as a clinician, Farmer was too focused on the treatment of individual patients to see the big picture required for successful public health initiatives and that efforts should continue to center on drug-susceptible disease under the current set of practices.

Not only did Farmer believe that every patient deserved to be treated, he knew the data proved that the then current course would lead to the spread of MDR and increasingly resistant strains of the disease.

He saw both the big picture and the individual impact that was required to get the disease under control.

With new technology being continually developed for educational purposes, it makes sense to not only share but focus some of this development with and on the disenfranchised or underserved.

“For me, it’s a privilege.”

This was Farmer’s response to the mother of a three-year-old patient who was thanking him for helping to save her son from MDR. In his diagnosis of the case and ensuing recommendations for treatment, Farmer drew on his vast understanding of infectious disease, but he also needed to help his fellow doctors in Peru go beyond established, approved procedures to treat this particular type of TB.

When his efforts began to prove successful, as in the case of this young child, Farmer not only provided a cure for the individual patient but enacted considerable social change as well in reducing the costs of treatment and incidences of the disease globally.

As teachers, designers and managers of learning, we share the responsibility and privilege inherent in being able to make an impact on individual lives as well as the potential for social change that comes with education.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more from Design2Learn on how people in the field of education are using their skills and resources for social impact.