Musing published February 2010.


Musings Index

School Projects: A New Vision of Education

For some time now, a small group of us have been deploying the Wideman Education Foundation (WEF), a charitable organization designed to raise awareness of project management skills among high school students. The students are challenged to team up together to undertake a specific project to deliver a product in a tight timeframe. The environment is competitive. Members of the winning team receive cash prizes, certificates and recognition. So performance and quality of the end product are paramount.

To date, two very successful competitions have been held in conjunction with Simon Fraser University, Surrey campus. Our last competition called for the production of a short YouTube-like video on why students should consider post-secondary education. Details were provided in a Business Case and the program included workshops covering both project management and use of the necessary software. Video cameras were provided on loan by SFU.

Ten teams from five high schools in the district signed up to compete, and students subsequently expressed great fun in meeting a new challenge in a new environment. For our part, the WEF has been remarkably surprised at the ability of these students to absorb a basic project management approach and apply it effectively to an unfamiliar technology within the classic constraints of the typical project - scope, quality, time and effort. The winning team, by the way, was selected by a panel of experienced project managers.

The movie-making process is an exciting one for young people. It means real and personal involvement. It means getting your hands on a video camera and showing off to your friends. In this case, thanks to Adobe's educational program, it means grappling with new and expensive software otherwise beyond the reach of most people. With a bit of luck and hard work it could even mean some extra pocket money. Of course, the student teams also had to satisfy their sponsors (us) with acceptable progress reports and a final report, as well as a potentially winning product.

During this process, I could not help being reminded of the reflections on education by Jeremy Schneider in his recent book Chalkbored: - What's Wrong with School & How to Fix It.[1] In his book, Jeremy said:

In 2001, New Line Cinema spent $93 million to make The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which played on over one thousand U.S. movie screens for fifteen weeks. The budget paid for the salaries of actors, writers, key grips, animators, editors, etc. Together, they produced a landmark film with remarkable special effects and memorable performances. The secret to movie magic is spreading work out among many specialists to create one amazing product ... .

Wherever you are right now, take a look around. Almost everything you see is a product of mass production: furniture, appliances, cars, clothing, carpeting, etc. What is not mass produced is constructed from materials that are. Even information relies on this principle. Software, books, movies, radio, and television are distributed (or broadcast) to millions of people as copies of one original.

Most industries mass-produce their main product. This is true in publishing, entertainment, agriculture, and manufacturing but not education. In education, our main product is information. Yet aside from sparingly used textbooks, this [educational] information is not mass produced.

In high school, although most teachers work over forty hours per week, only twenty of those hours are spent in class. The remaining time is spent on other activities such as marking, lesson preparation, and meetings. In other words, teachers have less than twenty hours to prepare for twenty hours of instruction. For lack of a better term, I will call this the Preparation to Presentation Ratio [PPR], which basically means "production values". The maximum PPR for teaching is 1 (20 hours of preparation [divided by] 20 hours of teaching)... .

[By comparison with television] Saturday Night Live lists a cast of fifty on its website, including actors, writers, producers, and directors. Not on this list are technicians, cameramen, ushers, interns, personal assistants, etc. If we assume that seventy-five people each spend fifty hours to create a ninety-minute show, the PPR is 2,500 (75 people x 50 hours [divided by] 1.5 hours). If you subtract commercials, it is closer to 3,500. Similar calculations can be made for music, movies, and video games.[2] [All emphasis added.]

Given the low PPR of class work compared to TV and movie productions, there is clearly room for significant improvement in efficiency. Given the enthusiasm with which our students engaged in our brief movie productions, there appears to be room for improvement in effectiveness as well.

Perhaps the WEF has established a portent of the future - self-motivated projectized education? That is, project-based education that simultaneously provides engaging activities for students and useful resources for teachers. Once the best of the new productions have been selected and distributed, think of the savings in teachers' class preparation time and the consequent improvement in the Preparation to Presentation Ratio.

Even modest professional film production costs, such as that quoted above, means serious money. But given the extent to which educational budgets could be freed up, the cash prizes to the student teams for the best productions under this self-motivated projectized education scheme could be quite generous!

1. Schneider, J., Chalkbored: What's Wrong with School & How to Fix It, see
2. Ibid, pp 116-118
Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page