Friday, May 22, 2009

The opportunity for Lexmark printing RFID to fix High School Education in the States

I did a post saying the RFID on a laser printer by Lexmark is way cool. Then I got some clarification and changed the post. You can check the snippets below of he said, I said.

Here's the thing about bottom of the pyramid high school. The amount of time that is wasted by taking attendance and finding the right person during the day would amaze anyone not familiar with it. Although it's very similar to the time wasted in meetings.

The situation today:
There are typically 45 minutes of instruction time a day in a subject. Of that precious time 10 to 15 minutes for stragglers to show up, the class to settle down and then take attendance. Then another 10 minutes for the teacher to walk down to give them the attendance report. Then that paper is fed into a computer. This has to be done because funding depends on attendance. It takes teacher skill and transforms it into clerical skill.

15 minutes out of 45 is a full 33% of face time in the classroom. That means 33% of FTE is wasted. Meanwhile teachers are laid off to save 5 to 10% of a budget.

The situation as it could be:
Student ids could be laser printed on RFID tags. Lateness and absence is picked up by the Cloud. It is instantly in the admins office and to central for accounting purposes. A text message could be triggered to mom's cell phone. An email could be triggered to mom's email address. A postcard could be triggered to notify mom that junior was late or didn't show up.

All in the background. Creating 15 to 33% more teaching time with no investment in headcount. And no layoffs.

The Butterfly Effect
Sooner or later someone is going to do it. When they do they will be surprised to find out that the primary reason bottom of the pyramid high school ed is broken is that everyone is too busy being busy to leave time for reading and talking.

Sounds much too simple?
To see if I'm on the right track talk to anyone you know who teaches in the classroom. Not an admin or on a school board. It has to be a student facing teacher.

Ask "How cool would it be if you never had to take attendance or send a postcard home to a mother? Ever. Then ask "how would you like to have online or in print, the record of who came to class on what day and who was late, and how many minutes late they were?"

I'll deal with principals in a later post. But for now, principals will understand the I-can't-find-her/him -problem when a parent is taking a break from work to deal with a child's school problem. Or the professional development teachers-acting-worse-than-kids problem.

Consider the demonstrated significant effects of a printed checklist in reducing medical errors in emergency rooms. Or the government's response to the swine flu to print millions of three by five cards to be handed out at airports. Or the best advice from the CDC - Wash your hands. Sneeze into your elbow, if you don't have a handkerchief. Or the radical decline in mortality at birth when doctors learned to wash their hands or ......

It really is true that in complex communication ecology, a seemingly prosaic tiny intervention can lead to a radical phase change. Once the communication ecology of a school is healthy, the dirty little secret is that almost anything that is done in the classroom, consistently, every day, day after day, works. Until the communication ecology is fixed, nothing works predictably. Nothing can scale.

The other under appreciated fact about high school education is that it's a logistic problem of organizing movement through space and time during the school day. The other factor is the skill of the classroom teacher in discovering teachable moments and understanding how to intervene as necessary. It has almost nothing to do with curriculum, tests or specific content.

If you want to know why I know this is true, just post anon, ask for more and I will be glad to share what I think I know.

Comments from previous post are below:

He said: A little picky there, as you still can't name another vendor that can even do this and it'll be a good 6+ months bare minimum before anyone does this.

The potential behind this is huge with exhibitions, people tracking, security, product tracking in distribution and legal/financial document tracking. Having seen an example of this in person, the ability to program and print onto an RFID tag is very impressive. If they can improve the technology to print onto multiple RFID tags on a page, then they're going to be streets ahead of other vendors in relation to this technology.

I said...

Dear Anon,
Notice I didn't change the headline. I still think it's way cool. It's just the engineer wanna be in me that loved the idea that it could print RFID tags complete.

I agree that the new applications are awesome. The one I'm interested in finding out about is anything that is happening in bottom of the pyramid high schools.

I'll do a post describing the opportunity in a little great length than is appropriate in this comment.


  1. I just found this video on You Tube that really shows how germs and viruses spread. It is so cool. It's meant for kids but I even learned a lot!

  2. Thanks for the link. Maybe someday will do a video about how to fix high school ed aimed at kindergarteners. They say if you can't make it understandable in clear language you don't know really know what's going on.

    According to Dennis Dutton in the Art Instinct, textbooks in biology and astronomy have been written using only the 850 words in I A Richards and C.K.Ogden's Basic English for International Communication.