The Agora Roermond Story
What is Agora Roermond
Agora Roermond is an experimental high school in The Netherlands that’s breaking away from the limitations of traditional education.
Evidence of the school’s values can be found everywhere
The Agora team believes that if you have 100 students, they should follow 100 different learning paths. To seasoned educators, this may seem like an unattainable dream – and yet they now have over 120 students (ages 12-15) using Targetprocess software to follow and visualize their unique learning paths.
The idealistic goal of putting learning in the hands of the students has been made possible by applying the ideals of the Agile Manifesto to education, and empowering each student to follow their own learning style. There is a focus on “wundermoments” — those moments that make you scratch your head and say “that’s interesting. I’d like to know more about that.”
Students at Agora pick the topics they are most curious about, and then learn about these subjects incrementally. They can ask and follow-up on their own questions, instead of being confined to a curriculum. They’re not learning how to repeat the information conveyed to them by a teacher or textbook; they’re learning how to be curious, how to think, and how to find and analyze information. They’re learning how to learn.
How is Targetprocess used?
Targetprocess is used by students, coaches, and administrators at Agora. For students, the software serves as a digital journal of their journey, with detailed records of student progress and growth.
Coaches visualize the same student data on different views to help monitor and guide the class. Administrators can view the progress of the entire school, and use Targetprocess reports to share student progress with parents and the Netherlands Ministry of Education (who is watching the Agora project with keen interest).
The Agora team has customized their Process to make Targetprocess fit their style. Features have been renamed as Challenges, and User Stories have been renamed as Phases.
Students identify the general areas of study which interest them most (such as astronomy, religion, health, etc.). These areas of study become the central Challenges. Students are encouraged to think about Challenges through the lens of one of the “Worlds of Agora”: Scientific, Social, Artistic, Spiritual, and Ethical. These “worlds” are included as a Custom Field.
Students then think of Phases for each Challenge. As time progresses and the students learn more about a Challenge, it tends to grow as the students add more Phases (like an Agile team embracing changing requirements).
A Question Board at Agora
Coaches and teachers also have their own boards to help monitor each student’s progress. They regularly meet with each student for coaching sessions, in a similar fashion to retrospectives. In these sessions. Targetprocess is used to visualize learning over time by identifying obstacles, insights, and “wundermoments.” The reflections from these coaching sessions are saved in Targetprocess for future review.
The Agora team has also set up a number of custom fields to further tailor Targetprocess entities for the purpose of education. These fields help users to define when an entity is ‘done’, categorize the various questions and challenges, and let users quickly enter relevant information.
How have the students reacted?
Guido van Dijk, a developer at Agora, Promvendus at the Welten Institute, and one of the creators of the Agile Education Compass, was initially discouraged by students’ reaction to the new style of education.
It was very disappointing at first. Everything we thought should happen didn’t happen. Kids came in and asked “what should we do?” The teachers asked them “what do you want to learn?” and they had no idea. The first 6 weeks was a hell of a job to get them in the mood – it was very hard to get them wondering about learning.
But soon, everything just clicked, and they started coming in with more and more questions. We could see the change: suddenly, they wanted to learn. It was no longer work for them.
Like many Agile transformations, the new focus on curiosity over curriculum was an initially difficult transition. But, once everyone got comfortable, the students took over the process and dove into their Challenges, asking questions that even surprised their teachers.
In fact, the day before a school vacation last year, several of the students asked their coaches if they could open the school despite the vacation, as they had some Challenges they wanted to continue researching. The school remained closed for the break, but the students ended up congregating at a separate location during the vacation to continue learning on their own.
By using Targetprocess to monitor progress and look back for reflection, students have found that their learning process has gained focus. The so-called ”wundermoments” in their lives are easier to identify. Students don’t just forget lessons learned, because they can always look back at what went right, what went wrong, and how they decided to improve. This digital trail of learning and reflection can be used for continuous improvement and self-analysis.
At traditional schools, there is an easily identifiable line between learning and recreation. Kids see learning at school as work, and they relish their time off. At AGORA, these boundaries are washed away, and learning becomes integrated in students’ lives as something they do every day, simply because they enjoy it.
Bridging the gaps between Agile and education
The concept of Agile thinking was created for software developers in the context of a customer-producer relationship. To bridge the gap between business and education, a few dozen educators from around the world got together at the Global Scrum Gathering in 2015 to develop the Agile in Education Compass. They came up with the following values:
These values are being continuously applied at Agora, as Guido and his team continue to improve their process and enable students to be curious about learning. Targetprocess aids them in this endeavor by acting as a visual platform for the 4 steps which are crucial for effective learning: think, plan, execute, reflect.
Looking to the future
The folks at Agora aren’t claiming that traditional education is broken. Rather, they’re recognizing that the schools of today’s fast-paced world need to produce students that can learn and adapt on their own. Agora is pioneering this approach by combining the lessons of the past with the new paradigms of the future.
Agora Roermond plans to continue using Targetprocess to support their students’ educational journeys. They’re happy with recent changes, such as the Project Teams Selector update and our Visual Reports Editor. In the future, Guido would like to apply Targetprocess’ visualizations to learning analytics for deeper insight into students’ journeys.
The Agora team is excited to see that interest in the Agile education model is growing, and other schools have already looked into using an Agile mindset paired with a digital platform to put the joy and curiosity of learning back into the hands of students.