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Experiential and Place-Based Learning in Higher Education with Ivan Cestero from MYX

You can also listen to this post on Episode 37 of the EdTech Classroom Podcast.

Maddie [00:01:00] Hello everyone. And welcome back to another episode of the EdTech Classroom podcast. In one of my very first episodes of this podcast, I interviewed Abby Brody from Mind The Gap. Since my conversation with Abby, Mind The Gap has iterated and transformed into a higher education learning experience called MYX. You guys seem to really love this episode with Abby, and more broadly, you all seem interested in higher education as it relates to K-12.

Maddie [00:01:30] When I found out about MYX, I knew I had to do another show on this topic. And today’s episode is truly rich with so much insight. You all know that I’m always excited to have guests on the show, but today’s episode is really a standout conversation.

For some context, MYX is a higher education company that combines online and experiential learning in residential campuses around the world. Their goal is to create transformative experiences that shape confident, purposeful, and life ready graduates. They do this through in-house classes and workshops, supporting personal growth and community facing project work, supported by living, learning and culture leaders, a house dean, and distance life coaching. Students have the chance to bring their online learning alive through projects, while also exploring their relationships community career and world.

In today’s episode, I chat with Ivan Cestero, head of experience design for MYX. Ivan is an experienced educator, and in our conversation, I learned so much about the landscape of higher education, some ideas he envisions for what learning in schools can look like, and that the future is right now.

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Maddie [00:04:00] Today I am so lucky to be chatting with Ivan Cestero, head of experience design for MYX, focusing on the place-based experiential learning component and supporting the education team on the fully integrated LX. Ivan is an educator and innovator committed to redesigning school for individual passion and collective purpose. He has lived and taught in Spain, Hungary, France, New York, and Brazil. Now in London, he has worked with Youth Business International and What If! Innovation and developed workshops for European Forum Alpbach and IDEO.

As a K-12 educator, Ivan was a founding faculty member at Avenues: The World School, where he taught courses in humanities, social innovation, entrepreneurship, and design. He has guided many student led projects and exhibitions. Ivan also earned his BA at Dartmouth College. He was a comparative literature major and still manages to find literary theory at the heart of everything. Ivan, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.

Ivan Cestero [00:05:00] Thank you, Maddie. I’m thrilled to be here and thanks for lugging it through that long introduction.

Maddie: So I know I just went over your bio and I talked a little bit about your career path, but I know that our listeners would love to hear directly from you. So could you talk about your career path and what led you to your current role at MYX?

Ivan Cestero: I’ve been a lifelong teacher, educator and innovator, and those things kind of all came at once in different ways. I moved to Spain after graduating from college where I was an education minor and comp lit major, and ever since having the first experience of being in front of students in a high school classroom and leading them through a very basic project, I was kind of hooked. My first teaching experience for years when I was living in Europe was teaching English as a second language, teaching global studies in Paris, giving bike and pub crawls. So from the start, I had a very different perspective on what education looked like or could look like. And I had something that was important to me as an educator licensed to be kind of wildly creative and to try things out that might fail in more, quote unquote, serious institutional contexts.

Ivan Cestero (cont.): So that’s kind of an important frame. And then I moved to New York and the end of 2005, and started working in more institutional traditional settings, a few different high schools, a startup international high school in New York state. Then when I started at Avenues and it was an incredible kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a progressive global school from scratch. So that was just as much of an education for us, I think as, as a founding teacher. At that point, I was teaching humanities, working with our pioneer ninth graders, which was the oldest group, so that we were going to see them through graduation. So it was an incredible experience to be with those ninth graders for four years and begin the cycle of the high school experience at Avenues while also having an opportunity to pull down some of the interdisciplinary skills and mindsets into the middle school and below, which became a part of my work a little later on.

Ivan Cestero (cont.): It’s a diverse experience. I was able to spend almost eight years at Avenues, and a lot of what I learned there and been exploring still to this day with mixing with some of the other workshops I’ve done in between. Then the last thing I’ll say about that those different institutional settings is that I had a brief year at an innovation firm as well, and doing gigs like that really helped brought in one sense of innovation and how people approach it, the stakeholders involved, facilitation and all of those things. I think you don’t see very much inside of schools. So I feel very lucky to have had exposure to those kinds of things.

Maddie [00:08:00] You mentioned that you were a founding teacher at Avenues. Can you think of a specific lesson that you learned as a founding teacher there that you feel like you’ve been able to take into your new role now?

Ivan Cestero: I was just talking about this the other day, so it’s top of mind, actually. One thing I look back on at Avenues is my own transition as a teacher from more of the traditional sage on the stage model to the guide on the side coaching or mentoring model. If I had to summarize my experience over those eight years, I would say that as our curriculum and as the school evolved and as we began to put more of a emphasis on project-based learning, I evolved as a teacher and I became hooked on design thinking and project-based learning. And so what that brought out in students, I’d done elements of that in the past, but never was able to really focus on it in the classroom. So my biggest lesson was sort of the power of PBL really, and the reasons why we should be working to mainstream that in institutionalized schooling.

Maddie: Well, it’s very clear that you have quite a bit of experience in PBL experience-based learning. Could you think of a possible example of a project or a course that you taught that you think is a really high quality example of PBL?

Ivan Cestero: Well, to be honest, I think the quality varies. If I’m being fair, we all have to start somewhere. And I think sometimes when I was leading early project based courses, I needed to hone in a little bit more on the operations and logistics, behind making the projects work and positioning students to succeed. That’s a really important piece in the background that I was learning as we were going along as well, to be honest. So with that said, I’d be happy to name a couple of projects that I think were really exciting.

We had a social innovation elective in which the entire class was built on project consultancies with external groups, usually NGOs. So we worked for six weeks with a startup called Project Hello World, helping them do a research and development assignment.

And that was based on a design brief that they provided that I worked on behind the scenes with them, that they presented on the first day of the project… the students felt the autonomy and the ability to, they understood why they were being asked to do this. They broke into teams, they took two different routes and presented two different solutions.

We also worked with crisis text line on a similar kind of a design brief to incorporate their student toolkit into high schools because they were broadening their reach to high schools at the time. So that felt incredibly relevant and real, and the students really enjoyed it. A highlight of that project I’ll never forget is that about a weekend after they put about maybe four, six hours into the project as a team, they realized that they hadn’t gotten to a shared definition of success.

Even though this could be easily extrapolated from the brief that they were given, they were busy kind of getting things done and they forgot to align. It’s really wonderful when they realized that over the course of a discussion, right, rather than you having to set it up for them and say, you need to do this, you need to do this, then you need to do this, right. It might cost you time, but it’s really great to see that in a moment of a project, when they make that connection themselves, I think the learning is that much powerful. So that ended up being a good project for that reason. They really took that away in their reflections. Um, more broadly we did in the fifth term elective, which is a full month for a project course.

We did a futurism exhibition that was basically inviting students to consider the future. And from a lot of different transdisciplinary angles, we had guests in, we made visits and then the students were tasked with creating an exhibition and experience that other members of the school would pass through. That was it. That was a product. So that was a really different approach for us. It was really exciting. Students worked incredibly hard to put together a hugely detailed and, at times kind of moving, spectacle in the corner of the school that took up about five or six rooms and a couple of hallways. Then they acted out this play. This is about 35 minute play that guided people through the tour.

Ivan Cestero (cont.) [00:13:00] So I think that was really effective because students had to activate their research and development around futurism, but they could also choose roles and they had to come together as a team in this performative way, with an audience, a live audience. And I think that builds some really great design skills and some great self-awareness that, again, a lot of typical projects don’t, so that was really memorable. I could keep going.

Maddie: Yeah, this is great. I’m really interested in this exhibition idea. That’s something that we’ve talked about – exhibitions in general – or something that we’ve talked about on this podcast before in terms of a public product at the end of a PBL unit, but it sounds like this is a very unique take on an exhibition in the sense that it almost seems like it was an experience that students were designing that essentially they were showcasing their learning, but it was something that people walked through and experienced more than just sort of a gallery walk. So could you explain a little bit more what that exhibition actually looked like? I’m really curious.

Ivan Cestero [00:14:00] Yeah, that’s exactly right. The gallery walk is useful in many ways, right? And, and it’s great for the visitors to see a bunch of different projects. And our experience was part of a larger, you could call a gallery walk like a full day gallery walk, and all of the students and teams are presenting their projects throughout that throughout the building. In this case, we separated, we cordoned off the space with doors. We created a sound effect and a prerecording where a student and the teacher were telling people when to line up and basically they were entering the future. And so it was decided through putting all of these different pieces together how that experience could work. So you went into this boarding space and there were these weird sound effects and colored led lights that really kind of disoriented folks.

And then you emerge on the other side. And some of us were wearing wigs and acting like robots. And other students were acting in scenes, many scenes in different rooms, which showed – not told – how things could turn out in the future. Some of it was dystopian, some of it was utopian. And these reflected the very conversations that we had, and the students were super into it. They wrote their scripts, they practiced them, they critiqued each other’s scripts. For a bunch of high school students, this was like, I’d say nine to 11 grade, what they came up with was pretty incredible. And the other great thing about that is that every student, it was a group of probably 15 to 20, everyone had their moment to shine. Everyone had that great line that they came up with or ad-libbed, or people really kicked in on the operations in sourcing materials.

We went out into this into shops to buy some of these materials together, and so they went through the whole process. The sense of accomplishment at the end, I think was, was really tangible. It was really palpable. We had a wall of post-its at the very end where people could leave their reactions, some pens hanging around, and the reactions were positive and immediate. So it was very validating for the work they did.

I think the learning there is unquestionable and the application of what you learned as well, but it doesn’t necessarily line up with what a traditional academic standard might be. Right. If you want, if you were to ask like, well, how much did these kids learn about what the future is going to be like? And how do we measure that? You know, there are other social, emotional, and, and experiential benefits from what they did in that play that go well beyond the strict content knowledge and the sense of what’s happening in the future.

Maddie: Yeah. Wow. That’s this sounds really amazing. It sounds like there’s an element to that required a lot of self-awareness from students as well, and self-management of being able to find different roles. And it also sounds like if you were somebody attending this exhibition, that you might have a different experience than somebody else who attended. It reminds me very much of Sleep No More in that way. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to that, where everybody that enters ends up leaving with a slightly different experience, though everyone still sort of has this mutual understanding of what happened there.

Ivan Cestero: It’s uncanny that you mentioned that because that was one of our trips. We went to Sleep No More. We ultimately were not allowed, they were not allowed to attend because they were under 18. So we took them on a behind the scenes tour of Sleep No More in the middle of the day with several of their actors.

Maddie: That’s funny. Well, yeah, I mean, you guys nailed it. ‘Cause that’s what it sounded like to me. Listeners, in case you aren’t familiar with Sleep No More, I’ll have some links to it in the show notes in case you want to check it out. It’s a really neat take on theater if you’re at all interested in theater.

I’m also interested in your background in social entrepreneurship. I know you talked about this social innovation elective. I know you also talked about, you had like a brief stint where you did a lot of work in industry. So could you talk about how you’ve incorporated social entrepreneurship into your teaching, and also into your educational consulting, and what you’ve done since being in the classroom?

Ivan Cestero[00:18:30] Sure. I guess the headline is that we’re slowly waking up to the value of social entrepreneurship or social innovation as an approach to project based learning as teachers. Social entrepreneurship is much more popular now than it was five years ago already. A lot of that stuff lived in after-school clubs or summer camps, and now it’s slowly seeping its way into the actual curriculum of schools. I think the reason is because it allows you to teach real world cases. Real-world examples of failure, real-world examples of audacious vision. The storytelling is incredible. So it’s galvanizing for kids because the storytelling behind it is meaningful and the practicality behind it is indisputable, right? This generation is going to face more challenges and complex sticky challenges, systems, level challenges than any preceding generation. The windows closing before there were some irreversible effects of climate change.

You could look at socioeconomic disparity, migration, these are massive topics that gen Z is going to inherit whether they like it or not. Students need to become complex problem solvers. How they apply those skills is up to them, but there will be a need for that skill set. And so social enterprise, as opposed to business brings a lot of those approaches and tools, but keeps that social impact element in the forefront, right. Which is really important because you can argue that traditional business and traditional market economics, while they’ve helped us achieve so much as a society, particularly in the West, they’ve also… that progress has come at a great with a great deal of feedback and a great deal of problems as well that we’re just beginning to understand.

The social piece kind of helps focus that it’s not just about profit, it’s about the impact on communities on individuals, on our lifestyle, on the planet. So a triple line approach essentially. Doing some workshops in corporate to the second part of your question, and doing the workshop with European Forum Alpbach where they were learning to… they were working on activating these really amazing students who come from all over the world, but activating them in a more project oriented way, rather than just attending lectures from professors and then mingling with people, professionals who are coming for their own conferences, having them develop solutions to some of these problems that they were learning about was, was a really great piece. And so he just uses social entrepreneurship and design thinking framework as the backbone for that, right. It’s topic neutral. The tools are very clear. It’s very clear how they manifest in the world and how they’re being used in the business world and by founders and by all these other folks. So it’s kind of an easy sell, right? So what you need to do is create the time to go through those workshops. And it’s been fascinating to see how folks outside of schools school do that.

Maddie: Hmm. Yeah, I’m definitely not noticing this thread. It sounds like. And I think you did frame the episode with this in some way, but this common thread in your career path of looking for ways to help educate people, to understand how interconnected the world is, the interdisciplinary nature of education, figuring out ways to brainstorm solutions to real-world problems. I think that that’s something that is very clear when you think about MYX and what you are doing with MYX. Those two main things I think are really what sets MYX apart from a lot of other existing programs. And so I don’t want to cut this conversation too short, but I do want to spend the majority of our conversation today talking about MYX because I think it’s really innovative. I think it’s really cool. So could you talk about MYX and a little bit about your role as head of experience design?

Ivan Cestero [00:23:00] Sure. MYX is a co-living and learning community for young people to develop confidence and life readiness through hybrid learning. So we’re building a sort of new kind of hybrid approach with the goal of delivering a really holistic, full human approach to learning that begins with self discovery. We have elements like one-on-one life coaching and a culture that is built into the work we do that will help students down this pathway. The hybrid piece is because students are coming with online classes, so they have to sign up for credentialed online classes, whether it’s through an external provider, like their university or a bootcamp, or we can curate your online for you with WorkMYX’s and ExploreMYX’s. So students might go through university, they might go around university and try to stack their credentials in a way that would help them get a particular kind of job, or they might just be exploring what the heck they want to do with their lives.

And MYX is a great way to do that because we can structure an experience such that your online learning is brought alive in a way and the experience. Of course, all of that stuff informs each other, right? So it’s, it’s the experiential piece where students are doing projects with teachers who live onsite and you get this amazing, well, we hope you get this amazing balance between what you’re doing in the community with your place-based learning, what you’re learning online with your courses and this incredible connective tissue of a strong, positive culture inside the house where you have a hundred, 150 young people living together, focused on this living and learning experience. It’s a small group. It’s small enough for everyone to know each other, right, and big enough for there to be disparity between what people are learning, what projects they’re working on, what focuses they have and how they engage the environment around them.

So we think that people will be discussing MYX in terms of a hybrid education offer. But there’s a higher purpose. There is to help nudge higher education towards next steps, and thinking about how we can create self-confident life ready, young people who make really good decisions about their careers. And who’ve seen the world, who’ve gotten feedback and failed on projects in a safe space to do that, who’ve met folks from around the world. And we think that the time is right for this kind of model as well, with the unbundling of higher education, that has been accelerated by COVID now. We think it’s the right time for a hybrid approach.

Maddie [00:26:00] Yeah, I am so excited by pretty much everything you just said, specifically this idea of having children fail – or having students, excuse me, I’m so used to K-5 kids – having students fail safely. I think that that’s something that is really important for this next generation of students. When we look at the K-12 school system, there are obviously lots of teachers who are giving their students opportunities to fail safely. And there’s also a lot of students who have maybe never really experienced failure for the first time, and then suddenly they’re at college and they get that first C or D or F on a math midterm, for example. That’s something that happened to me. And it becomes really difficult for kids to, or for students to deal with. So I liked this idea of you guys providing an environment for students to fail safely, where there is this element of things.

It is a very real world experience. They have place-based learning, but there’s also still this community in which they can fail safely within. So I think that that’s one thing that I think is really interesting about what you just said. Also hybrid learning is something that is very everybody’s talking about right now, but it sounds like you guys are talking about a very different type of hybrid learning than what teachers right now are thinking of when they think of as hybrid learning. So a question that I have is… you said that people can come to MYX and they can take classes online through their university. They also take place-based classes as well. Right. They have projects that they’re doing with the teachers who are physically located in the same place as them. So are students ever taking the same classes online as each other? So for example, if I’m taking a class online through my university, would there possibly be somebody else down the hall who’s also taking the same coursework? What does that sort of online coursework look like?

Ivan Cestero[00:28:00] The answer is yes, they could be because we hope students from the same university will buddy up and decide to take a semester off of campus while still doing their classwork, but doing it from our residences in Medellín, Costa Rica, and Miami to start… we’ll be growing each year with new locations… but yeah, so we hope that there might be three or five students that decide to. With the many universities that will continue to offer online versions of their curriculum. We hope that they’ll decide to take a semester or multiple semesters off campus, and come with us. And in that case, they’re, they’re still paying their college tuition. They’re taking those classes online, but they’re paying, instead of paying room and board to their college, they’re paying it to us. And it’s essentially a very similar fee, in terms of the tuition for MYX.

But what you get with us is not just room and board, but you get this entire experiential program and this integrated approach to learning that takes advantage of the physical place you’re in for as long as you’re there. The other two online options, just to be very clear about it, you can take courses from other universities, not just one that if you’re not enrolled in one particular one right now, or other universities that will accept the courses you are taking, right. And we help curate those. We have a number of them online right now. We’ll be growing more of them. So that is also for university credit. And then there are other courses where it’s just about, you’re doing a bootcamp and that’s what you bring in. So you might be taking the Google or Facebook credential because you want to work there.

You want to be a coder. And instead of doing it in mom’s basement at home, you are going to spend a little bit more and do it from MYX and have this entirely separate, additional experience that enhances everything you’re doing, right. We suppose some of those people have an incredible experience, accelerate their learning, and then go become coders. But some won’t, some will actually have an amazing experience and change their minds because these are 18 to 22 year olds, right? So they might say, I came in thinking I would do this. And then I was on this project or met this person and boom epiphany. Right. We think that the experience we’re designing is almost engineered for those kinds of epiphanies and aha moments that happen importantly at that age, right. We want to leverage that. We want to put people in dynamic situations.

We want to give them a chance to explore, to discover everything the world has to offer. And that’s one of the biggest advantages of the explosion of online, to be honest, like online isn’t just about online, online is about the advantages it provides for you while doing online, and reaction to online learning itself has been kind of all over the board. But I think it’s clear that one thing it’s lacking is that experience that I’m talking about. So we’re trying to come in and support the growth in online learning with this incredible experience that rounds it out.

Maddie: Yeah. I mean, it also sounds like you guys are developing very well-designed online learning. I think a lot of the critique, at least right now in the space that I occupy in education, the critique of online learning is that it was people were, it was sort of thrust upon people without the sort of the skills necessary in order to be able to teach or learn online. Whereas it sounds like you all are developing a really high quality online learning experience that also integrates real-world learning as well.

Ivan Cestero [00:31:30] Well, I think some of the great online courses that we’re curating and that we’re offering as part of our themed packages, our Explore MYX’s and our Work MYX’s are just online. And that’s a limitation, but we are providing an opportunity for students to take those skills and apply them with the experiential component. And that’s why the learning leaders are on campus. They’re there to give weekly classes to our cohorts, so students will come with their online schedule and then they’ll have two hours of class a week in a cohort of about 15 or 20 with a learning leader who is introducing something that a skill that you might need to activate your interests in a project format. So for example, in the early stages of projects, and I think for many kids, this will be much of the semester is exploration and identifying who is out there in the city or in the town, what are the stories worth uncovering?

What are the insights? What are the tensions? What am I interested, right? And this is the power of place-based learning. And so if I’m taking anthropology, well, anthropology is too easy because it’s obvious, but let’s say I’m taking something math oriented online, right. And I’m doing my math, I’m doing my work. I might look for a role on a team that deals with quant or that deals with data analysis, right. Or that deals with projections. And then I can feel comfortable in that role, whether or not I’m super excited about the topic. Hopefully I am excited about the topic, but I can say, well, this is a clear connection between what I’m doing online and what I’m doing in person. And I’m going to be able to tell the story later about how these two things go together and therefore it, it improved my learning, right?

And it’s very measurable. You can see that other students might do their online work, be excited about that topic and just notice something or hear something in the community in Miami. That’s really cool to them also, and doesn’t have a clear connection. We want their learning online, or at least an obvious connection, but they’re going to do it anyway because they’re excited about that project. And we think that’s great as well, because they are going to find connections between tools. They use mindsets, they employ approaches to learning, and our learning leaders are going to help them. And our whole, our whole house staff is going to help them make those connections so that they feel like this is a really powerful, integrated learning experience.

Maddie [00:34:00] So what’s the difference between the learning leaders and the life coaches?

Ivan Cestero: So each house, the staff, each house has five adults, right? There’s a house dean, who’s kind of like the administrative leader and the inspiration and the public face of the house to the community. There are two learning leaders and two culture leads. So the learning leaders are these performing, these teaching and project oversight, tasks, and the culture leads are running the programming, the events, and helping to reinforce this culture. I was talking about that can be wellness. Yoga can be trips within the city. It can be opportunities with artists, speakers, et cetera. And then the coaching is one-on-one from distance. So they’ll have bi-weekly meetings with coaches who are assigned to them for the whole semester. That’s really the space where students can process their entire experience from a purely personal me perspective, right.

And the coaches are there to hear about their plans, their reactions, their next steps. We’re super excited about that because it seems like something that all young people in all humans could benefit from. I started being coached myself just last week. And it’s a really great experience. It’s a little different from therapy, right, but it performs a similar need, I think for us to think about our lives and process and get objective feedback. I think in the future, we’ll have a lot of the best models will have some element of coaching intertwined in them. For sure.

Maddie: Yeah. Definitely. I think that’s such a unique idea to incorporate life coaching into education. I mean, of course there are things like counselors and, I think I had like a career services advisor or something when I was an undergrad, but you’re when I think about being 18 to 22 years old, and maybe this is sounds cliche to you because you’re so in this space, but when I think about being that age, I don’t feel like I was at all well equipped to make these big life decisions that were going to set me up for the rest of my career. And obviously careers are changing to where now people aren’t just having one job for their whole life, but they’re having multiple careers for their whole life. But this idea of having a life coach or someone who can help you wrestle with the things that you’re interested in, the things that you’re not interested in, the things you’re discovering about industry, I think is really important.

I also noticed when I was looking at your website, you guys had some information about different career paths that people might be interested in and what types of courses and things that might complement that. And one thing that I noticed was that you guys had salary information on your website. So I noticed that if you’re interested in doing XYZ industry, you guys are very transparent about what the average salary of a person makes. And that’s something that I wish I would have been told when I was going through school. I didn’t really think about how much money I might be making after graduation. And so that’s another thing I know you didn’t mention that, but I noticed on your website that I think is something that’s really neat that you guys are doing and might be sort of related to this life coaching program as well.

Ivan Cestero: Totally. I appreciate that insight. Yeah, you said it well. Coaches might be considered the new guidance counselors, right? We all remember that old school guidance counselor in schools. And I think they helped some students more than others. And it was mostly geared towards college admissions. And I think the coaching model, the coaching perspective here is, is that learning is an integrated experience, combining academic elements, social, emotional elements, experiential elements, you know, inward looking self-discovery outward-looking questions of how can I make things happen? How do I do things in the real world? Right. And the coach kind of hovers in the middle of that and is able to take whichever pieces are speaking most of the student and help. Sometimes you hold up the mirror sometimes it’s that simple, but you need someone there to do that.

And other times you might provide deep insight to help students overcome obstacles. Right. But I think it’s absolutely integral. Too often students and young people are left asking their parents these questions or their friends, and they might get good advice. They might not, but it’s hard to get advice as truly objective. So I think there’s going to be a great future for coaching and that industry, and we’ve seen it already, right. We’ve seen an explosion of it across, across sectors. And it shouldn’t just be rich and privileged folks who have coaches and in future hybrid school models, one thing we’ll probably see is that these formerly extracurricular club providers might be brought in for part of the school day through remote remote connection, right? So you might spend an hour and your day every two weeks with a coach who is employed by the schools through an organization, but doesn’t live and work at the school. And we can imagine that happening for a lot of different elements now that this great unbundling is happening in higher ed. We’ll see all these new, interesting opportunities pop up, I think for educational providers who are not institutionalized schools, but do great work. We’ll see a lot of opportunities for them to maybe finally infiltrate the walls of the school and get into the school day somehow.

Maddie: Oh, definitely. I mean, I’m all about figuring out how we can bring more of the real world into the classroom. Bringing down the walls of the classroom is something that I’m really interested in. And even starting really young with that. I know that we are coming at this from very two very different age levels in which we teach, but that’s something that I’m even thinking about with kindergarteners. Obviously it starts with… I think in a lot of ways probably starts with higher education

Ivan Cestero[00:40:30] I think about all the time with what you said, because it’s, it’s so right on, right. My conception of this as a high school and higher ed educators that we’re teaching teenagers when they’re finally capable of complex thinking to do real world stuff. And I’ll never forget making visits in the early Avenues days down to the lower school, which could be as simple as a mental health break, but it’s often inspirational and these kids are recreating towns. They went out and they were recreating the cityscape or a block in detail with cardboard and paint and they build up with a block, looks like, and explain the functionality. That is the same thing that we would assign teenagers to do, to go out and complete a sort of know your block or know your street, know your neighborhood assignment, using elements of design and documentation, observation reporting back. That’s an introduction to systems thinking.

Maddie: I love systems thinking. It’s like one of my favorite things to teach

Ivan Cestero [00:41:30] Well, and very much a part of, I think a lot of great pedagogy and work at the K five level. I saw it myself at Avenues. I kind of had this misconception of like pulling these social innovation skills down to the K-5 level. And actually I realized, Oh, like grade five. And by the way, that was when Abby was head of the lower school at the time, our founder, Abby. Lower school is doing the Invention Convention. They’re like inventing products and services that solve problems. And they build these things, they build prototypes. I just want to emphasize that you are right on and that it’s never too early to do. Real-world learning the earlier the better, real world learning should really be the focus, not the exception. And the fulcrum around which a lot of other learning happens. Because then students never have to ask why we’re doing this, you know, and that’s, if you can answer that for a student, you you’ve won half the battle as a teacher. I think.

Maddie: I completely agree. On a recent episode, someone talked about this idea that kids are always asking, Why, why, why, why, why? And I don’t know if you’ve read this, there’s this book called Lifelong Kindergarten. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of it or read it. It’s by Mitch Resnick. He’s the guy behind Scratch programming language. And the idea of this book is that the world is, the K12 school system, and higher education even… kindergarten is becoming more and more like that. When in reality, the rest of the world, the rest of life, higher education, high school should become more and more like kindergarten. And I think that this is sort of this idea that we’re talking about. So if you’re looking for a book recommendation, I’d really recommend you check out that book, Lifelong Kindergarten. For listeners, I’ll have that linked in the show notes for you guys.

Ivan Cestero: I will. I think it’s really all about play. And, another thing that hasn’t come up yet, which is surprising knowing me is fun, right? I mean, the idea of learning as fun and that the ways from a design perspective that we can create lifelong learners by making sure that the learning process is fun. We talk about failing forward and all of that that’s really important as well, but also just creating a fun environment to test things out, to enjoy learning for its own sake, to lean into the human need to just discover and explore the world. Right. I think, again, a lot of institutional education has gotten away from that. And it’s a shame because it’s a natural human desire to harness that should be, that should be involved from the very start.

Maddie: Mm, well, it sounds like MYX students are certainly going to be having a lot of fun, when you think about the type of exploration that they’re going to be getting to do every single day. Could you walk us through a day in the life of a MYX student… or a possible day in the life?

Ivan Cestero [00:44:30] Yeah, unfortunately it’s hypothetical. We’re opening in late August and those three locations. But we did have our first admit and we had begun hiring staff. So this is beginning to feel more and more real.

Maddie:That’s amazing. Congrats on your first admit. That’s so exciting.

Ivan Cestero:Thanks. We’re super pumped. A lot more to go, but it’s it’s happening. We call our two test students, Hoda and Mona. Hoda and Mona come from different journeys, from different perspectives. Hoda is interested in teaching. Mona’s an artist, and in our minds, these two student testers are having this exploration and semi flirtatious experience at MYX. Let’s say they wake up at eight. Maybe they’ve had a rough night from doing teenage things the night before, and they’re having trouble being clearheaded, and they’re waiting online for granola and yogurt, and they’re commiserating on how they feel. They’re talking about what their days look like. One of them will say that they have their online classes for the next couple of hours. Then they’re going to hit a yoga class that is scheduled for the rooftop.

After that, they’re going to have lunch with some friends at a nearby restaurant, they discovered, and then they’re going to do their project work. They have class with their learning leader for two hours. And then they’re going to get their assignment for the week and they’ll spend their free time for the rest of the week doing that assignment either in the field or in the house on their laptop preparing. So that might be Hoda, right? And, and they’ll agree to meet up later that day for dinner right there. They’re on their own for dinner. The meal plan is about using the city as a classroom and as a cafeteria. They’re going to go out and find their thing, or maybe they’re cooking in the kitchen and they’re working on developing a local soup and someone in the house might be sponsoring an informal cooking class, right.

And they might be doing it together, some co cooking, there’s going to be a lot of co everything at MYX. Mona for her part is focused on art. And so she’s taking mostly art classes online through distance. And she’s also gone out into the community and found a really cool studio. She’s just kind of informally meeting people and figuring things out there. She’s trying to figure out a way… this is maybe week three, let’s say week three or week four… trying to figure out a way to bring that into our project. Right? So she doesn’t know yet how the studio, she discovered connects exactly with her work, but she’s thinking about it. And she wants it to live in a project. She has already met some other artsy creative types who want to do something, documenting the people of Miami, let’s say, in an artistic way to bring out their humanity. Let’s call it humans of New York, but from Miami. So partly artistic, partly anthropological. They’re not sure what it is yet. And when they’re in class, their learning leader is encouraging them. And he’s giving them frameworks with questions to answer so that they can think about how do we take this idea and go from concept to project and what kind of output and impact that project might have. So that’s kind of like a, I don’t know, hypothetical sense of how it could work for Hoda and Mona around week three week four.

Maddie [00:48:30] I love that you have so clearly thought about the individual’s specific student experience. I mean, even the fact that you have these two names for these potential students really shows the intentionality behind the design of MYX. It reminds me almost of like having a customer avatar where you feel like you know absolutely everything about your specific customer, for example (I’m interested in business. So that’s why that example comes to mind). But again, it’s very clear that there’s so much intentionality behind this design that you’re creating. I mean, even the fact that you mentioned what they might be eating for breakfast, I think really shows that you guys are being so intentional and thoughtful with the design behind your program. I also liked that you had two examples of two different students, because I think it’s great that you can look at examples of how one student’s path might be, but also understanding how that might intersect with another student’s path.

One other thing that I really liked about the examples that you gave was that you were really honest about the fact that college students do have a lot of fun. And I think that that’s something that not a lot of people talk about when they talk about higher education and maybe even the purpose of it. People tend to shy away from conversations about higher ed that aren’t just about the academics, but you are being very open and honest about the fact that these are 18 to 22 year olds who might be having fun.

Ivan Cestero [00:50:00] Thank you. I think that really that Maddie, yeah. I mean as head of experience design, it’s kind of my responsibility to think in those granular terms. I’m overseeing the development, that experiential learning component that we were talking about, the projects and the teaching and delivering of the skills and content, but working very closely with the whole education team and our head of culture and our head of coaching to make sure that we are integrating this in a really thoughtful way. And key to that is not being too prescriptive, right? So leaving room for some of these exciting connections that we think can and will happen. We can’t control their schedules because they’ll be taking classes at different times of the day from their home providers, but we can work with blocks and we can work with cohorts.

And so we’re taking these design elements and these constraints, and really trying to think about how learning mixes with the culture, beyond the classroom, with the coaches, in the culture of classes, they’re taking PR events, they’re inviting people from the community into the house and hosting them for a dinner using the house as a venue, right. It’s a huge advantage to have these incredible properties and to show them off, right. And to use that to build trust with our partners in the community. We are trying to be very granular while respecting the reality that inevitably on the ground, it’s the culture leads and learning leads in the house team that are going to set the tone for the students to pick up and run with this. We’ve developed a global local feedback and reporting mechanism to create that kind of constant exchange and sense of co-creation on what it looks like because Miami could be really different from it. Learning leaders and people of all positions need a common language in a way to speak to each other across campuses. Headquarters needs a way to interpret all of that and feed it back so that we can improve quickly.

Maddie: Yeah. So in what you just said, and in our entire conversation, really, I think you’ve sort of highlighted and pointed out bits and pieces of your philosophy behind higher education, but I’d be curious if you could actually briefly name that and describe what you believe is the purpose behind higher education. I know it’s a huge question.

Ivan Cestero: Yeah, that’s um, that’s a good question. Well, I think for me, the purpose of higher education should very simply be to prepare young people to thrive as adults in the world. And traditionally that has been through the dispensing of academic content and knowledge that they need to thrive in the workplace. But of course, things will look very different right now. And I think the purpose of higher education needs to, should be to really go back to the roots of what an integrated, successful human being looks like. And not just think about how much money they make out of college, and using that as an indicator of success, which most colleges do right now.

I’m a huge fan of university and higher education. I was lucky to go into amazing university myself. So I don’t want to speak ill of it. At the same time, I think the institution needs to adapt more quickly to the people that they are serving and the times it’s serving. So the goal should be integrated success. That is a combination of self understanding and understanding of the ways the worlds are changing with an opportunity to practice those skills in the real world somehow. And it doesn’t mean the university has to become completely practice-based or project-based, but certainly more of it, I would say. And I think less cordoned off from the rest of the community, more integrated to the local community as well. I don’t think I answered the question very well. That felt rambling.

Maddie [00:54:30] No, I, I think you answered the question perfectly. Like I said, it’s been very clear from this conversation that that is sort of your philosophy fee, but I wanted you to sort of name it because universities and colleges should be more integrated and interconnected. I mean, the world we live in is so interconnected, and if we can find ways to make higher education more like the real world, I think the more authentic the learning experience is going to be for students, I think the better prepared they’re going to be for the real world. So thank you. Thank you for naming that.

Ivan Cestero: They are doing it Maddie, by the way. I mean, it should be said there are different programs in different pockets. I mean, it’s not like this is completely anathema to higher education. It’s doable. It requires a lot of important shifts and commitments to be made. I worked with a school called Innsbrook Center for Management in Innsbruck, Austria on a workshop last year and their students are studying social enterprise and non-profit management for their undergrad degrees. These are like eight year olds, 20 year olds. And they’re doing live case studies with organizations in the greater community in Western Austria. And the level of detail and contact with the real world and planning that for purely practical and implementable things blew me away. And so I’ve seen it in pockets in many places. And I just want to be clear that it’s not like we’re talking something, but talking about a dream that doesn’t exist in places if the future is here, just unevenly distributed as always.

Maddie: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for naming that as well. Clearly you have so much experience in the higher education space, so it’s neat to hear that you are aware of existing examples where this is happening already. So it’s definitely something that I’m excited to research and learn more about. So thanks for, thanks for naming that as well.

Ivan Cestero: I looked at the problem is I will just to be real. The problem is I also was teaching intro Spanish at NYU a number of years ago. And you have students in that classroom who are only in the class to fulfill a language credit so they can graduate. And it’s just a waste of everyone’s time. And there’s way too much of that. It’s like, they don’t care. They’re not there to learn the language. Everyone’s time is being wasted by doing this. And like, this is an example of your archaic things that we should be able to do away with. You know, it’s like no one wins in that scenario. There’s no reason for it to exist.

Maddie: Yeah. Another, another really great example. That’s so true. There are so many requirements and prerequisites… well, prerequisites might be important, but requirements for graduation that maybe we could do away with. So one final question. We did touch on this one, but I do want to just bring it back to this since the majority of our listeners are K-12 teachers, if you could redesign something about the K-12 school system to better prepare students for higher education, for MYX, what types of changes would you make?

Ivan Cestero: This is this the extra hour question. Gosh, I would say, from an innovation level, the highest, the most obvious thing would be to move past the industrial era and the top-down model to one that is more like an ecosystem and is responsive to local communities. So I’m sure you hear a lot of the moving past the industrial era stuff. We need a diversity of school models and marketplace of different school models for different learners, different families in different physical locations. That would involve moving from a teacher centered practice to a learning centered practice, and an adult centered administration to a student centered administration, which is not the case in the majority of schools. So it would profoundly impact a lot of aspects of schooling, including teacher training, for example.

I think one particular model where all of that comes to play is this sort of community school model. We do have community schools and I think they are great examples of ways that those connections are being made and students’ needs are being served. The question is how you do that at scale. It’s really hard to scale up experiences that involve dynamic things like personalized education based on student, student interests and community partnerships that are constantly in flux and require an infrastructure, a partnership and ecosystem infrastructure, people in the school need to run that, right. So who does that? Right? The biggest I would make with all of that set is to work towards more of a real world learning model in the community school model. I think that’s where we would have the most positive downstream effects. And importantly, I think that is a model in which we’re not just talking about schooling anymore.

We’re talking about schools within communities, we’re talking about community health. And that’s the big change. That’s the big shift is stopped thinking of schools as these silos that exist in every happen to exist in every neighborhood. And instead thinking of it as a part of that neighborhood and what might change and what impacts we could get and what young people could learn from doing this real-world work that has an impact on the greater community, not just themselves. So that community school is a vision. It exists, some schools are doing it well, it’s not crazy talk. But it would be really helpful to all of us to think about how to scale that.

Maddie [01:00:30] Yeah, absolutely. That’s really great. Thank you so much. And thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with me. I really enjoyed our conversation. I mean, it’s so clear that you are really thoughtful about the decisions that you’re making for MYX. You’re really thinking about how we can make learning and education more student centered. I think you guys are doing something really, really innovative, really cool. I’m honestly honored to have you on the show today. And, one last thing, how, and where can listeners find you? How can, how and where can listeners find you online and learn more about mics?

Ivan Cestero: The MYX part is easy. That’s I’m tweeting at Zotero, but not very often. And also at Ivan Cestero on Insta, also not very much of a social media person ’cause I have ADD, and I really need to focus on MYX right now.

Maddie: Perfect. I’ll have everything linked in the show notes, but I’ll have MYX at the top.

Ivan Cestero [01:01:30] Thank you so much, Maddie. It’s been a pleasure and amazing conversation, and I’m thrilled to be able to connect what we’re doing at MYX with the larger world of K-12 and education broadly. I’m a K-12 educator at heart, as is Abby, our founder. So we’re excited that in this hybrid world, they’re going to be a lot more conversations about education for the full human that share threads regardless of age.

Maddie: Awesome. Thanks Ivan.

It probably goes without saying, but I learned so much from my chat with Ivan. He has such a clear and innovative vision for a future of higher education that is student centered. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe to my podcast, write a review, thanks for listening and tuning in, and I’ll see you back here soon. Bye friends!




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