For close to 10 years, the Remake Learning Network has been a resource for the people, organizations, and ideas shaping the future of teaching and learning in the region. In that time, the network has grown from a grass roots effort to a network of 250 organizations and 3,000 educators and innovators across the Power of 32 region. With a broad range of programs and services being developed by network members, it became apparent that the network would benefit from a coordinated strategic focus.
In June 2014, the Remake Learning Council was formed as a blue ribbon commission of community leaders to set a long-term agenda for the network. The two-state Council, encompasses Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and includes Mike Green, president of the West Virginia Board of Education and Amelia Courts, ED, of the Education Alliance.
"The early agenda for the Council focused on larger systemic issues that no one organization could tackle on their own," explains Anne Sekula, director of the Remake Learning Council. "Issues that needed to be addressed collaboratively across the region."
According to Sekula, the larger issues included the following:
Equity of opportunity. Creating broader awareness and communication for the innovative learning experiences in the community.
Research. Pursuing research findings that explain the impact of learning pathways and networks, and identifying what research is needed to support innovative learning programs.
Policy. Determining what types of policies exist that support innovative learning efforts, and what policies are needed to advocate for needed changes.
"Within these overarching issues, there are specific areas that all of these issues trickle through," continues Sekula. The Council supports regional efforts to advance STEAM education, the maker movement, manufacturing connections, technology education, professional development and modern-day credentials that reflect students' learning.
One example of a new effort that Sekula points to is an about-to-be-launched innovative professional development program. The program will take school district leaders from around the region who have remade learning within their schools and match them to peers in underserved districts who want to move in this direction. To support this peer-to-peer learning, the Council will provide relief time pay as well as planning and project support.
The Council has also received funding to support an initiative to bring together broad stakeholders in STEM learning from across the region to determine how to work collaboratively together. As part of the initiative, the group plans to work on an articulated STEM pathway for Pennsylvania.
The Council is also supporting the Remake Learning Network's advancement of digital badging, a supplement to — and even replacement for — traditional credentials like grades. Badges document skills and competencies, particularly those learned beyond classroom walls, and are gathered in an online portfolio.
"Remaking Learning is a movement," declares Sekula. "We have seen growth in the network, growth in the diversity of network members, and growth in the places where kids are getting modern-day learning experiences."
"Regionally we have created a robust network that can continue to expand," adds Sekula. "In fact, the Remake Learning Network is seen nationally as the model for how to remake learning regionally."
Resonance Outside of the Region
Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation and co-chair of the Remake Learning Council, agrees with Sekula.
"The work of the Remake Learning Network has gotten the attention of people outside the region," says Behr.
To make his point, Behr notes the long list of local and national articles posted in the Media Room on the Remake Learning Network website, including stories published from CNN, Slate, Education Week, The Atlantic and more.
He also points to the fact that the network and network members have been the recipients of national awards. For example, the 2014 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award to Pittsburgh based on the strength of the Remake Learning Network, and Digital Innovation and Learning Awards presented to three educators in the region. In addition, Behr says that a number of network members have been invited to the White House for the Science Fair, the National Maker Faire, the Summit on Next Generation High Schools, as well as other national events such as South by Southwest and the Sandbox Summit at MIT.
The work and recognition of the network has resulted in funding from outside the region as well. In February 2013, the MacArthur Foundation awarded the city $500,000 to join Chicago and New York City in creating a "hive learning network" to support nontraditional youth programming.
"These awards, invitations to attend significant national events, and major funding signals that the region has established a strong position in the forefront of innovative teaching and learning," says Behr.
"About two years ago, the White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy challenged us put together a Playbook that would simultaneously accelerate what's happening in the region, but would also be instructive to other cities," explains Behr.
With the production of the Playbook by the Sprout Fund in 2015, the increase in interest nationally has been significant.
Behr says that Atlanta is starting its own version of the Remake Learning Network supported by the Blank Family Foundation, and that a group of superintendents and educators from San Diego recently came to Pittsburgh because they want to start their own version of the Remake Learning Network. This is happening in Huntsville, AL; Charlottesville, VA; and Madison WI, he adds.
The fact that Pittsburgh is seen as the national leader in learning innovation doesn't surprise Behr or Sekula. They agree that the region has a rich history of coming together to make things, which harkens back to the roots of manufacturing in the city and connects the innovation for which our region is now known.