This article builds on a previous post that defines our view of a successful ecosystem in an education context … “a complex network of stakeholders – schools, start-ups, investors, industry, advisors, and government – that extends across industry verticals, connecting via digital and physical platforms and interacting in ways that have a positive impact on learning, teaching, and leading”.1

The term ‘sandbox’ is traditionally associated with childhood – a safe, isolated environment where children play without fear of hurting themselves or damaging anything else in the process. In recent years, the software industry has adopted the term and defines it as “an isolated environment that companies use to build, test, and deploy software without affecting other aspects of the business”2

Building on this definition, LearnTech Lab will introduce sandbox environments in schools to test, iterate, and build products – with schools and for schools – to solve some of their most challenging problems. Each Sandbox Lab ™ serves as a safe space within a school environment and connects the people and organisations who are best positioned to surface and catalyse ideas and actions.

Although the SandBox Lab ™ is described as a safe environment, the reality is that virtually nothing we do is totally safe and yet this is what we (understandably) want in education. No-one wants to expose educators or students to potentially unsafe experiences, products, etc. The interesting tension is that innovation simply cannot take place without some risk. SandBox Lab™ serves as a safe space for schools to experiment, fail forward, and trial new ideas without risking it all. In many ways, this approach may be viewed as a minor risk as the school is not spending lots of time & money on solving the wrong problem and creating a solution that no-one actually wants.

Within SandBox Lab ™ we will connect the people and the organisations who collectively hold a purpose before profit mindset. Purpose-led products and services see their customers as more than just buyers – they are interested in cultivating deep relationships and delivering on their promise. Public/private partnerships are a critical component of SandBox Lab ™ and the wider education ecosystem through creating solutions that increase access to educational opportunities, improving learning outcomes, and making curricula and pedagogy relevant to the needs of modern society.

School-Centred Design™

Sandbox Lab ™ takes a School-Centred Design™ approach where schools are placed at the centre of the design process. This approach draws heavily on Human-Centred Design and ensures that the starting point for any new ideas/challenges/opportunities comes from the school as opposed to the EdTech company which has traditionally been the approach. The traditional model of tech development and deployment is one that sees EdTech companies presenting a solution to a problem they have unearthed in schools. However, this hasn’t always been successful as in many cases schools have told us that they didn’t know they even had a ‘problem’ to begin with.

A School-Centred Design approach places the school at the centre of the design process challenging them to think about the problems they experience on a day-to-day basis, eventually drawing out the most pressing school-based problems. The ecosystem surrounding the school will work with the school to deeply understand the end-user, challenge assumptions, and reframe problems in human-centric ways, so that collectively we bring ideas to life and help them to flourish. For example, schools have a great idea they want to test, iterate, and build alongside companies with technical knowledge and knowhow, and investors want to support these developments for either the EdTech start-up, or the school, or both.

Hand-in-hand with the School-Centred Design process is efficacy. We know that more than half of education technology going into schools is not being used properly or not being used at alli. Introducing efficacy trials at the start, to understand the impact of the innovation being tested and also the process of the testing, will help to ensure the development of effective, robust, and fit-for-purpose products. Efficacy trials are too often an afterthought rather than a core aspect of the design approach, leading to the loss of important learning and evidence.

LearnTech Lab’s role

While we are talking about high-tech, we also believe in a high touch approach where we will be readily available to ensure the focus remains school-centred, and as such only a very select group from each sector of the education ecosystem will be invited into each SandBox Lab™. For example, schools invited to be a part of the SandBox Lab™ will come from across sectors, all of which are early adopters, keen to have access to new and emerging technologies and determined to solve current problems facing learners, teachers, and leaders.

We will leverage our vast network of stakeholders up, down and across the education ecosystem to help broker excellent outcomes while maintaining a focus on ensuring students, teachers, and leaders are at the centre of all innovation, testing, iteration, and building.

Become involved

Whilst we do have deep connections and understanding of the EdTech ecosystem we also recognise it is a rapidly changing environment and as such we’d love to hear from interested schools, EdTech startups, investors and others who are keen to explore being a part of a SandBox Lab™.

With thanks to Bronwyn Olsson for her feedback and input into an earlier draft.

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