Business as a Classroom

Erin Connery joined the Wikispaces team recently as our Operations Manager. Be sure to tell him hello below and stay tuned for more thoughts from our new team members over the coming months.

I studied social innovation at Babson College and much of my education focused on entrepreneurship and social responsibility. After graduating I worked at a corporate social responsibility consultancy for three years. Our team comprised of entrepreneurs and academics and served as one of many parts working to improve the business practices of a multinational corporation (generating multibillion-dollar annual revenue).

The power in a large corporate checkbook was exciting to me; we’d tell them how to spend all that money and the world would become a better place! But I soon realized that while the corporate business leaders control a lot of money, and this money can purchase many things (our advice, branding, lobbying power) a large checkbook does not by itself create responsible leadership inside a corporation. Too often “corporate social responsibility” turns into branding and philanthropy.

This idea that responsibility wasn’t simply for sale, and couldn’t be purchased, resulted in a more serious lesson: creating a strategy to actually improve responsibility inside a large and complex company required focus that was deliberate and relentless. It required concentrating attention on the target with the power to implement change, which in this case was the managers and leaders inside a company.

When trying to figure out how to improve something without a clear definition of success, such as improve “responsibility” or “education” the business has to become much like a classroom. We spent much of the first year in conversation with their corporate team, listening and building personal relationships in order to discover how we might add value, trading role of teacher and student as we collaborated on ideas. This lesson about focus transfers to where I am today, at a company developing a digital classroom. A classroom is, by general definition, “any place where one learns or gains experience.” So how do you create “any place”—a digital platform that is customizable for a wide range of users (i.e. K-12 classes)?

Improving “education,” like improving “responsibility,” lacks a clear definition of success, and so requires the same rigorous focus. Unlike corporations, schools and teachers generally have very small budgets. The “education technology” field is full of companies designing technology to make these small budgets stretch farther. But great technology by itself cannot create a great education inside the classroom; it requires teachers. That’s what drew me to Wikispaces; this small company iterated its platform design based on the feedback it received from its users over the course of 10 years. This led to the simple and powerful objective it holds today: to help teachers help students.

It seems when the goal is to improve areas as complex and personal as “responsibility” and “education” there is no easy solution. The solution must be created, and we must treat business as a classroom in order to find the focus with which we develop that solution.

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  1. Posted May 31, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted to comment about teachers. I went to the U of Alberta in Edmonton when our
    children were ages 4 to 10 years, and I worked very hard and graduated with distinction.
    I have never been sorry that I worked so hard to get my teaching degree. I have been retired for a number of years now, but I applaud teachers, as I know the challenge that is aways before them. All I can say is, “God bless all the teachers who work so hard to educate students.”

  2. Hannah Fairbanks
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I agree with the author of this article. I am in a community where our school system is at the “D’-“F” level. It doesn’t seem like there is much of a plan to improve. When you bring to the attention the various things that are happening in education globally, it appears that our administration shuts down. We have almost 80% ELL students. The non-ELL students are functioning several years below grade levels. So what are your ideas?

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