Problems are an Opportunity

Running my own business means days filled with fire fighting and trouble shooting. Customers come to me with problems, employees come to me with problems, partner organisations and other stakeholders come to me with problems. But I love it. Problems are an opportunity to excel, highlight our strengths, create value and develop the best solution in the market. Problems are a call to action to move us to create a desired future.

Educational website blocked by Department

Problem: educational website blocked by Department

Solution/Strength: professional network

Value: expedited solution

I started my business as a sole trader, running children’s coding classes myself. I used Scratch, a web based visual programming tool designed for children to learn computer programming concepts, in my classes. I ran classes in school computer rooms using State Government’s Department of Education and Training internet access. One day, in my first few weeks of running classes, I found myself in a class with 10 students and the Scratch website blocked by the Department. I had two classes that day and 2 classes the following day. I quickly emailed my schools and asked them to send a request via the Department’s internal IT request system to urgently unblock the educational website.

This website, which was developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is used as a learning tool by schools all around the world, I wasn’t sure how it got onto the list of blocked websites. As I informed my schools I was told that the Department normally takes a couple of weeks to respond to IT requests. This was not going to cut it. In the interim I used other online educational tools, which worked in the short term, however it would be helpful for beginner students to have some consistency in tools rather than having to learn the quirks of new tools early in their learning.

I made a call out to my LinkedIn and Twitter professional network asking about connections to the Department’s IT team to unblock an educational website. My call out got shared by many and I felt the support of my network. Within a couple of hours someone from the Department’s IT team had reached out to me and expedited resolution of our website access. It was then, in a time of crisis, that I saw the value and support of my professional, online network.

Missing children

Problem: safety, supervision of minors

Solution/Strength: automated communication

Value: guaranteed safety, immediate communication

By the end of the first year I had classes that were not longer run by me, but by employed staff. It was through problems and incidents that I was forced to create systemic solutions to a growing problem.

One evening I was about to start a business tax workshop when my phone rang. It was a customer, she was obviously upset. There was an incident at the school involving her ten year old daughter. Her daughter and friend had been late to arrive to coding class. The classroom has one wall that is glass from floor to ceiling. So whether you are in the classroom or in the building corridor, you can see fully what is happening on the other side. The door to the classroom automatically locks from the outside when the door is closed. You can exit the room, but to get back in you need to be let in by someone inside the room or leave the door ajar. The two girls were late to class by about 10 minutes, they knocked on the door but were not seen or heard by four tutors or anyone in the class. No one had noticed that the girls were missing or that they were outside knocking to get back in. Class ended and they had still not been let in, they spent the duration of the class waiting outside sitting on a bench.

Speaking to the mother of one of the students I realised that we had made a mistake by not recognising that the two students were missing or that they were knocking on the door. As none of the tutors knew that this had happened they were not able to inform me and as manager I was also left unaware. In speaking with the mother she had raised a very good point, we did not have a roll call and could not identify missing students. So I rallied a staff member to support and we started our brainstorming and problem solving.

My business IT solutions guy developed an online roll call prototype. The intention was for staff to conduct roll call within 15 minutes of the start of class. In submitting the online roll call, the system would then automatically send an SMS to the parent of the absent student. We tested the prototype with two classes during the Christmas holiday program. We made a few refinements and then implemented across our 28 classes in the following term. We had to fix a few bugs along the way but now we have a system that works.

We had one incident where a parent was expecting their son to be in coding class but had received  an SMS from us notifying her of her son’s absence from class. She called me to confirm that the SMS was correct, indeed it was. She then called around and later found out that her son forgot he had coding class that afternoon and caught the bus home. It was all good in the end and she was very grateful for having been notified early that her son was not present in class.

Computer rooms as classrooms

Problem: learning environment

Solution/Strength: breadth of experience

Value: Recommendations for creating an optimal learning environment

I have seen a lot of different types of computer room layouts in my time. Of all that I've seen, some have been more functional than others. If you are designing your computer room from scratch, here is my blog post on how  to make it an optimal learning environment for your students.

Public misconceptions

Problem: misconceptions

Solution/Strength: our teaching philosophy

Value: authentic learning, and agile, relevant education

Coding and robotics education for children is a hot topic at the moment. It’s buzzing in the media, at schools and in households. Everyone is talking about it but very few understand what it is, what it means and implications for education, the economy and jobs. My conversations with parents, teachers, and school principals highlight the misunderstandings and misconceptions.  

Common misconceptions are highlighted by these questions:

  • I want my child to learn relevant skills for the future so they can help solve real world problems. However, I don’t want them learning how to build computer games. Do you run classes that don’t involve building computer games?
  • What is the best programming language to get a job?

  • My 10 year old daughter has an idea for an iPhone app. Do you have a course so that she can build that?

  • How many classes will it take to learn to code?

These misconceptions are enough to be addressed in blog articles of their own.

  1. Why we focus on game design to learn how to code

  2. What is the best programming language to get a job

Our products are based on our teaching philosophy. We don’t deviate from that. Sometimes we are asked to provide a service outside of that scope, but we can’t do it. If it does not align with who we are and what we believe then we respectfully decline.

Problems are a call to action

With all these problems, I love what I do even more. I have the problems of a lucky person. These are opportunities for personal and professional growth. I’m working on solving a nebulous problem: developing agile and relevant education in a world facing relentless pace of technological disruption.

There are always problems. If I am moving forward, the problems are new and different. If problems are the same, then it probably means that I am moving in circles. Problems are an opportunity to develop systematic solutions to solve all future problems of the same nature, my intention is to solve problems only once. If the same problem reappears, it means that I have misunderstood the nature of the problem and designed solution that did not address it, rather it addressed my perception of the problem.  

My IT solutions team, who are IT, computer science or game design students or are self-taught programmers, are the type of problem solvers our future and present world needs. Problems are an opportunity to excel and create value to customers and develop the best solution in the market. With the skills of super problem solvers; independent, driven, creative, collaborative and empathetic to user needs, the world can move towards a better place.