Normally I would look for the best examples of coordination technology at the most advanced high tech companies in silicon valley. Doing so would miss one of the best deployments of coordination technology. Who would expect to find it in our public schools? Not the place one normally looks for high tech accomplishment.
Consider Schoolloop. This is a system that has been in use at the high school in my area for more than 8 years. What it does is both simple and highly effective.
How It Works
Each student has an account, each teacher has an account, and each parent can have an account. The teacher, quite simply, records a few words about the assignment they are making. Some teachers have detailed notes about every day’s lecture, while others have Spartan entries that such as “quiz ch. 9” on a given Tuesday. As students complete assignments, the scores for an assignment are recorded in the system.
Then every day, at 5pm, an email is sent to the parents letting them know the current status of their kid’s work in every class. That’s right, I get a report card every single day on the progress of my student. It delivers a top level assessment in each class: a letter grade and a count of missing assignments. For each class I can drill down to see the complete list of grades for all assignments for that semester.
This is the simplicity and the brilliance of the approach. It is not about enabling new forms of collaboration, or new modes of interacting. Neither the students, nor the teachers, nor the parents have to learn any new technique. It is simply timely, accurate feedback on how the student is doing that makes the difference.
The system has a lot of other features as well. There is an internal email feature (send email from student to teacher, parent to teacher, teacher to either). There are groups and mailing lists. Students have “lockers” for storing and sharing files.
Because Schoolloop is used in a public school, and because public school is mandatory, Schoolloop has to implement a very strict security over identity and access. Participants can provide Schoolloop with an email address to send notifications to, but nobody else can ever, under any circumstances, see your email address. When you receive an email outside of the system, no other email address is in the header. If you want to reply to the person that sent the email, you have to use a special reply button that takes you back to Schoolloop web site for composing the reply. It is a minor inconvenience, but it is the only way to guarantee the privacy of all students, teachers, and parents, while still allowing messages to be sent back and forth.
Schoolloop is adopted by thousands of schools today across the country. In our area it is has spread from the high schools, to the middle schools, and even the elementary schools are starting to adopt it.
Not every teacher in the school uses it. No teacher is forced to use it, and some don’t. That is too bad. In some cases innovative teachers are ahead of the curve, and started using their own competing system ahead of time, and the barrier to change can be high. Most teacher who care about the students, care about their success, also care about communicating, and understand how this can have a rewarding effect on good students, and a correcting influence on the students running behind. In my impression, it is usually the teachers who care the least about communicating with students and parents that fail to use it, and it is sad see teachers who care so little about success. I have been helping in the schools in my area in programs to help educate teachers and parents on techniques for using these capabilities.
To extend every fairness possible, as with any social technology, the benefits are never clear until you experience them yourself. A test drive is insufficient because it is only after the teacher has invested significant time in setting up the class assignments, and started entering the grades, that the network effect yields a positive benefit.
To the students, however, it is entirely natural. They look at me in disbelief when I explain how in my school we couldn’t just log in any time of the day or night to find out what the assignment (due tomorrow) was. This has completely changed the nature of discussions on “don’t you have an assignment due tomorrow?” (I only had to call my son’s bluff once.)
With Schoolloop we have the essence of coordination technology: the teachers clearly communicate their goals in terms of assignments to the students, and they communicate progress to students and parents. This is done continuously, so if there is a mistake, it can be corrected before the final grade. This saves time of teachers, but more importantly allows students and parents the information necessary to adapt their behavior to what the teacher wants and the course requires. Mistakes of “doing the wrong assignment” or “recording the wrong grade” are virtually eliminated.
I keep wondering what it would be like if companies, particularly high tech companies, worked along the same principles. Long term goals, as well as immediate assignments would be entered into a system for tracking, and is available to both the boss and the workers. Reminders would be regularly sent (daily) listing the impending and overdue tasks. Completion of tasks would be visible to the entire team. The documents necessary for a task would be there in the system for easy access, and deliverables would be similarly preserved and distributed.
Why, this sounds a lot like Adaptive Case Management, doesn’t it?
Consider this: those students growing up, and entering the workforce, not only are fully prepared to handle work using such a system, they used to it, and are expecting to have such capabilities part of their normal work environment. These digital natives will not accept the lower efficiency presented by outmoded forms of coordination. Agile organizations wishing to attract the latest generation of workers should get such systems in place now, in order to be ready to the potentials of this kind of productivity.