Adaptability Project, Day Four

whiteboard

Having come to clarity on the scope of our project yesterday, my teammates and I got down to work  this morning as soon as our Head of School wrapped up the opening discussion. We held a team summit in a classroom in the MDA Library and covered a whiteboard with our brainstorming. Basically, our “technology renaissance” proposal will include four elements: 1) hiring a technology integration person, 2) joining an online consortium, 3) expanding independent study opportunities for our students to take online classes, and 4) expanding the use of blended learning techniques in our classrooms at GS.

In addition to listing the important elements and benefits of these four ideas, we also started laying out a five-year roadmap for implementation. The tactical sequencing is important in order for us to paint a picture for the “sharks” who will be evaluating our proposal next Thursday, and we need to do this kind of thinking in order to explain the financial impact of what we are suggesting. Like many initiatives of this nature, our plans will probably cost the school money in Year 1, a little less in Year 2, break even in Year 3, and (we hope) have a net positive impact around Year 4 and beyond. My task today was to research online consortia and expand my knowledge of their financial models.

The picture isn’t so great. The two most appealing consortia, the Global Online Academy and the Online School For Girls, are very cannily priced for an efficient market. In other words, if a typical independent school has an average class size of 15 students, and fifteen of that school’s students take a class via one of these consortia, the cost to their home institution is almost exactly equal to the savings that school could reap by not paying one of their faculty members to teach that section. Follow me? It nets out to zero impact to our bottom line. Now joining one of these consortia offers an impressive array of appealing classes to our students, and we are confident that they are taught well, but the Adaptability Project is tasked with bending the cost curve and trying to fix the structurally unsustainable business model that all schools such as ours find themselves in.

To learn more about the Global Online Academy (GOA), my teammates and I Skyped with our former colleague Christian Donovan. Up until this past year, Christian was the Director of Admissions here at George School, but for the past year he has been doing the same job at Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA. Head-Royce was a charter member of GOA, so Christian was the perfect person to give us his impressions of GOA through the lens of what he knows about George School. Christian gave us a lot of positive feedback about the consortium, but like other schools that we know of that are members of GOA, the total number of students at the school that take the online classes available to them is rather small. I’m trying to envision a future for GS in which just about every student is taking one class online, and some techno/edu futurists are predicting that roughly 50% of classes nationwide will be taken online ten years from now. Christian was able to help us understand the logistics of GOA in ways that we needed, but we are still only able to imagine what a major push would look like if we rolled it out here. (Thanks a ton for giving us your time today, Christian! We hope you can make it to campus for the “shark tank.”)

Now we’ve been hearing for a while that Drew Smith, the Executive Director of Friends Council on Education, has been trying to build a Friends School consortium though the edX platform. When our Head of School was discussing this with me this afternoon, I told her that edX was really a MOOC platform and therefore not equivalent to the experience we offer in our classrooms. Nancy fired off an email to Drew, and his response came back after our team had left for the day. Drew informs us that edX does indeed support the kind of small, interactive classes that we are looking for via a private consortium, so that is interesting news indeed. We won’t know the financial details of such an incipient consortium before we need to present to the sharks next Thursday, but we would certainly want to be founding members of a Quaker consortium when it comes into existence. Drew will be at GS for the “shark tank,” so we will learn more from him then. Although I’m not going to be teaching any classes next year (I’m a newly-minted Associate Dean of Students), I’d be eager to offer an English or Art History class via the Quaker Online Consortium (QOC?) as soon as it is ready for prime time.

Tomorrow morning is going to feature a visit from David Lacey of The Hirshorn Company, so my team scheduled an early morning meeting with our CFO to dig into some of the financial ramifications of our proposal. After lunch we will have to get back to work refining our ideas. Come Tuesday, we’ll need to devote 100% of our time to planning our presentation/sales pitch, so time is of the essence.

Thank you to all of my readers out there who have let me know that they are following along with the Adaptability Project via my blog. I welcome your comments here and on Twitter (@EricAfterSchool).

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