A day doesn’t go by at Mount Vernon where I’m not impressed, positively impacted or challenged to be a better educator, leader and learner by one of my colleagues. Today left me in awe of our whole team. Our incredible college counselors, Erin McCubbin and Pam Ambler dreamt up something awesome and executed that vision today with such class and spirit. Our team, which consisted of a combination of students, teachers and administrators partnered with nine college admissions representatives to reimagine the high school transcript. The day began with a welcome from Bo Adams, our Chief Learning and Innovation Officer, who shared how we infuse a design thinking mindset into all our work at MV by sharing highlights from across all four divisions. Mary Cantwell picked right up with the now famous “cup challenge” that our admissions team has infused as a key component to their process, which helps them assess applicants’ ability to collaborate, communicate, and solve problems in a more authentic setting. Mary, a skilled design thinker and doer herself, led our reps through a “rose, bud, thorn” activity around some existing transcripts, which helped us gather insights on various versions of a transcript. One particular moment that stuck out to me was when one rep declared “we’ve never been ask what WE want to see in a transcript” and the entire group seemed to make a clear head nod toward the obvious: there is a disconnect between what colleges want to see and the student’s story.
The entire day, masterfully set up by Pam and Erin, took the form of a Design Challenge, ending with a two-hour facilitated session (see flow below) that challenged teams, which were composed of a mixture of students, teachers and college representatives to unpack what a transcript is supposed to do: “convey a mastery of learning.” Teams wrestled with what it means to demonstrate learning and let themselves run free to think about times where they felt accomplished or learned in a specific domain. Teams explored the stories around receiving the boy/girl scout badge or a trophy and then also stories about moments where learning went “unnoticed” by teachers, peers and family. Through empathy, teams uncovered insights about demonstrations of learning that helped in the discovery of possible cracks in the way we currently think about a transcript. This empathy work paved the way for groups experimenting with solutions that didn’t necessarily fit on one page or consist of only letters A, B, C, F – but instead explored ideas like apps, vlogs and ways for users to share learning in a collaborative, fun and engaging way.
We didn’t redesign the transcript today, but we did something far better. Through Pam and Erin’s leadership, we began bridging the gap between our users and our design. Collectively, we also pushed the envelope on what a transcript could be, and whether a transcript is even enough to share the complex and exciting stories of the inquiries, innovations, and impacts of our students. There is so much more work to be done in terms of unpacking all the insights, designs, ideas, pain points, and opportunities that our participants uncovered today, which is so exciting! Who better to write that story than Mount Vernon with the help and expertise of some of the most skilled college admissions counselors? Thank you MIT, Boston University, Sewanee, George Washington, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Washington University, Georgia Tech, and Lehigh for helping us write that story. We look forward to sharing our next iterations of the Mount Vernon transcript, so we can learn even more from your feedback. Whether the feedback leads us to small tweaks or massive overhauls, we are ready!