Big Ideas

How Educators Teach Each Other

The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education has access to tons of research and innovation. Their Big Ideas Fest helps helps them spread it.

Photo by Lars Howlett / ISKME Big Ideas Fest.

Six years ago,  the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) created Big Ideas Fest (BIF), a three-day conference that brings together about 200 stakeholders in the world of education — teachers, students, administrators, researchers, and policymakers. (The 2015 meeting will be held in December in San Jose, California.) 

“We as an organization had been looking for a way to take all of the work that we do around innovation and education,” said Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., ISKME’s president, “and the work that we have the privilege to be exposed to in the space…. We see so much, we learn so much — we had been looking for a way to bring together some kind of convening around how we catalyze other educators to innovate in the field.”

Here’s how ISKME does that.

Learning by Doing

“A lot of our work,” Petrides said, “is based on design thinking and a very hands-on approach.” For example, at BIF’s Action Collab sessions, attendees break into groups and work together to come up with a solution to a challenge, such as “How do we create learning opportunities for global collaboration?” Sometimes involving pipe cleaners and Styrofoam balls, Petrides said, the process takes people “from a design challenge all the way out to provocation and then back to a real solution.”

BIF Talks

At Big Ideas Fest 2013 at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay in Northern California this past December, speakers included Shiza Shadid, co-founder and CEO of the Malala Fund, which advocates for access to education for girls in the developing world; poet and educator Taylor Mali, whose poem “What Teachers Make” became a viral video; and Joan Blades, co-founder of “They basically tell their story around their innovation,” Petrides said. “Often they’re telling us about how they identified the opportunity initially.”

Continued Contact

Big Ideas in Beta invites BIF participants to pilot-test Action Collab ideas in the field. ISKME also emails them a different tip about innovation each week. In these and other ways, Petrides said, “we try to keep them in their design thinking throughout the year.”

Group activities

During an opening exercise last year, ISKME presented attendees with 2,000 old textbooks and invited them to put a brown-paper-bag cover on one of them, then write or draw on the cover something related to “reframing what the conversation should be in education.” Then BIF’s artist in residence assembled the books into a “learning labyrinth.” “As much as you can, it’s not about telling people things,” Petrides said. “How do you get them to feel it? How do you get them to experience it?”


Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.