Improvement is a Team Sport

Manuelito Biag recently reflected on educational improvement in the Carnegie Commons Blog, arguing that improvement requires a user-centered strategy. Excerpts of the article appear below:

In education, knowing what works, for whom, and under what conditions requires deep understanding of individuals — their needs, concerns, and motivations — as well as the contexts they inhabit. The very first of Carnegie’s Six Core Principles of Improvement is to make the work problem-centered and user-focused. In a school setting, users can include students, teachers, administrators, family members, and other youth-serving individuals. A user-centered strategy is premised on the notion that those who face the problem day-to-day are the ones who best understand it and, therefore, hold the keys to its answer; accordingly, a user-centered approach holds promise in creating democratic and desirable solutions that work in context and endure over time.

Tracing its roots in engineering fields such as computer science and ergonomics, user-centered design has several aspects congruent with the science of improvement:

  • User-centered design encourages explicit understanding of users, tasks, and environments.
  • Consideration of the whole user experience is another key premise of user-centered design. We know that the work of teachers is embedded within larger complex social structures.
  • To maintain a focus on human, in addition to technical, needs, user-centered design promotes active user participation throughout — from the analysis of the problem to the planning, development, testing, evaluation, and refinement of potential solutions.
  • Finally, from a user-centered perspective, system change can often be iterative and incremental in nature. As such, continuous iterations based on user feedback and other measures of effectiveness are a crucial part of the process.

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