Hem Blogg

Chapter 4: Designed action sampling in education


Now we come to the main theme of the book: designed actions sampling. What exactly is this? There are a few different ways to answer that question. The answers are slightly different in length. We will start with the shortest answer:

Designed actions sampling is a new scientific method that works well in education.

What is new is that we have combined several established scientific perspectives, methods and techniques that have probably never been used together before, in education or elsewhere. These include clinical research, action research, experience sampling and coding of qualitative data.

But is a combination of established methods really a new method? Yes, that is what we want to argue here.[1] In addition to the novelty of the combination, we have also had to come up with some new and never before used research approaches.

A scientific method proven to work well in education

So how do we know that the method works well in education? You can never be completely sure. Educational institutions are complex organisations. A method may work well in one place but not so well in another. But over a nine-year period, we have experimented in many places with new ways of working scientifically with teachers, and have made many insights and advances as a result. Educational development projects have been carried out around Sweden, and also abroad.[2] The eleven examples in the book are all taken from these projects. After a number of unsuccessful attempts, we finally ended up with a scientific method that seemed to work better and better in more and more educational institutions. In 2019, it became clear from the feedback of teachers and managers that we had developed a combination method that worked really well. Given the lack of scientific methods that work well in education, this aspect is perhaps the most interesting here: that the method works for teachers.

Some positive effects we have seen

Now this is not a scientific article, so the focus here will not be on proving or convincing you as a reader that the method works well in education. We refer that question to other arenas.[3] Instead, this book is about describing and exemplifying the method in such a detailed form that you as a reader will be able to understand how and why it works for teachers, and be able to apply it in your own organisation. In part three, we will also discuss in more detail the positive effects we have seen and give our view of why we believe that this particular scientific method produces these positive effects.

Nevertheless, it is worth briefly mentioning some of the effects we have seen. These include:

  • Simplified collaboration on teachers’ scientific work – greater clarity and better support for the four key roles that need to work together, see Figure 1.3.
  • Visualisation of effects of different development ideas among students – both positive effects and lack of effects.
  • Strengthened development leadership for managers – now it is finally possible to exercise pedagogical leadership, they say.
  • Strengthened systematic quality work – better data for better analysis.
  • Improving the quality of core educational activities – development ideas are put to work more effectively when all teachers participate concretely through hypothesis testing in their own classrooms.

It is still too early to say exactly how well the method works in different educational settings. The future will tell.

Designed action sampling in three steps

Now we come to a slightly longer answer to the question of what designed action sampling is:

Designed action sampling is a three-step process.

  1. First, the research leaders (teachers, peer learning leaders, managers and/or experts) formulate a number of action-oriented tasks for teachers that hopefully create value for students.
  2. Then many teachers try out the tasks together practically, each teacher in their own classroom with their students, and reflect in writing afterwards and receive feedback from research leaders.
  3. Finally, everyone analyses together the written reflections including feedback, in anonymised form, and revises the tasks so that they might work better next time.

Then it starts all over again.

In Step 1, the research leaders formulate or select some action-oriented tasks that they believe can create value for learners when teachers try to implement them in their teaching. The tasks can either be based on their own experience in the classroom or based on research, expertise and other experience outside their own organisation, or a combination of these. They can indeed be formulated together with the teachers who are intended to try them out.

In Step 2, all participating teachers collectively, yet individually with their students, try out how these tasks work in their particular classroom. After each trial, each teacher documents how each task went – we’ll get into how this can be done in a simple and practical way in a moment. Documentation is done both via text, through deep written reflection, and via numbers, by rating the emotional state on a scale and choosing freely among different impact indicators, here called “tags”. Tags are short phrases that summarise the desired effects and are designed in advance by the research leaders (teachers, peer learning leaders, managers, experts), preferably in collaboration with all participating teachers. Research leaders provide written, personalised, confidential and timely feedback to each teacher on each reflection.

In step 3, all the data collected is analysed. The analysis begins with the research leaders compiling and visualising all the data collected and then presenting it to all participants in a workshop-style analysis meeting. The analysis is then predominantly collective and results in the revision of the tasks. Then the work starts again from step 1.

The three steps are shown in Figure 4.1 and described in more detail below.

Figure 4.1 The three stages of the work process in designed action sampling.

A form that illustrates designed action sampling

Another way of explaining designed action sampling is to start from the form used for all data collection, see Figure 4.2. The word form may bring to mind bureaucratic exercise of authority, with the Swedish Tax Agency as perhaps the most prominent practitioner[4] , and one can certainly question the value of forms in our society. Is it really another form teachers need? Education is already quite competent with forms. Many different everyday issues are solved in education with yet another paper form – after-school care, homework, absence, action programmes, training, leave, etc.

The main benefit of forms is to structure and simplify the collection of data from many people and to guide those who need to contribute data. A well-designed form can also save time and increase the quality of the data collected. Forms are a common research tool, as the core of science is about collecting and analysing data.

More and more forms are now being digitised online or on mobile phones. This saves time for the person filling in the form, and perhaps above all for the person who has to manage all the data collected. One example of time savings is the time saved by Swedish citizens, and perhaps even more so by the Swedish Tax Agency, when filing the annual tax return form in May. Similarly, in education, a well-designed digital learning platform can save time that would otherwise be spent dealing with routine issues, especially when the teacher is the one who has to receive and manage all the data collected.

Explaining designed action sampling by showing a simple paper form is here mainly a pedagogical approach. In the vast majority of cases, scientific data collection in educational institutions will probably rather be done with different digital tools, such as survey tools or more specialised IT support. However, this is not a book about digitalisation, so all explanations in the book will be based on analogue handling of paper forms. For those who want to try designed action sampling in their organisation on a small scale, it is also possible to work with paper and pencil, even if it may not be the most time-efficient way of working in the long term.

Figure 4.2 Example of a form for designed action sampling.

Example 1: Co-operative learning in primary school

Five primary schools with one hundred teachers in three municipalities wanted to strengthen their work on cooperative learning through designed action sampling. Eleven tasks were created by two experts in the field and carried out by the teachers over five months. The tasks involved developing dialogue patterns and cooperation skills among students, introducing student cooperation in routine tasks, and testing new structures for cooperation in the classroom.

The schools had a need for skills development in this area and accepted the opportunity to try designed action sampling as a method. A needs assessment was followed by a full day of on-site skills development with the experts. Then the teachers were given a new assignment every two weeks to carry out and reflect on. Each teacher received individual and confidential feedback from peer learning leaders, school managers and experts. Half of the assignments were linked to theory and literature, and half were about practical actions in the classroom.

Tags were designed by the experts in consultation with methodological researchers. Some common effects captured by the tags were “Students are more involved”, “Students learn better”, “Students help each other more” and “Increased group cohesion”.

After completing the project, the participants were asked how they perceived the work with cooperative learning and the scientific method. The assignments were perceived as relevant, clear and developing. Many thought that reflecting after each completed assignment provided useful self-insight. A few teachers were a little uncomfortable with sharing their inner thoughts.

Receiving feedback enhanced teachers’ learning and also provided extra motivation. However, sometimes feedback was forgotten, which led to some frustration and disappointment among teachers. Analysis meetings where all teachers could discuss outcomes were perceived as very rewarding. School leaders appreciated the systematic approach and everyone’s participation. The initiative had more impact, effects and problems were made visible and the analysis was deepened when all colleagues worked in a coordinated, documenting and collaborative manner. Visible differences in the level of commitment also provided important information for further leadership.

A combination method with 29 components

Now we finally come to the longest and most detailed way to explain what designed action sampling is:

Designed action sampling is a combination method with 29 different components, see Table 4.1 below.

Table 4.1 Overview of designed action sampling as a research method.

Overarching theoretical mindset “LOGIC”Clinical research – We learn by trying to create value for others
Pragmatism – We ask what works for whom, when, how and why.
Critical realism – We look for weak cause-and-effect patterns on a detailed level.
Action-based collective learning – Many people simultaneously try out the same ideas in practice.
Abduction – We move systematically and repeatedly between theory and practice.
Emotionality – We engage in emotional behaviour, we measure emotions.
Working models more strategic “MODEL”Hypotheses – We formulate hypotheses (tasks) about what can help others.
Actions – Teacher do action research on and with each other by selecting/designing assignments.
Experiments – We test in the classroom if and how something works in practice.
Design Principles – The start and end of the entire research journey is based on design research.
Fine-grained – We mix theory and practice fine-grained in everyday life, preferably on a weekly basis.
Protocols – We decide what everyone should test, we set deadlines and we maintain a  protocol of actions taken.
Written – We document all insights and feedback in writing.
Confidential – Confidentiality is maintained by having only a few people read all reflections.
Practical data collection techniques “TACTICS”Collection of experiences – Everyone documents via forms continuously in the ‘here and now’, in the same way.
Linking action-reflection – When collecting data, action and reflection are linked.
Longitudinal data collection – We collect data over a longer period of time and on a weekly basis.
Deep reflection – We reflect in depth after each action carried out.
Mixed method – We collect both reflections and numerical estimates each time.
Emotional assessment – We always make an assessment of emotional state to facilitate analysis
Effect coding – We pre-guess intended effects (tags), everyone then codes all the data.
Feedback – All teachers receive written feedback from a peer learning leader, manager or expert.
Practical data analysis technicians “TACTICS”Formative analysis – Key insights from the ongoing process are documented on an ongoing basis.
Mixed analysis – Numbers guide the search for patterns in collected reflective text
Graphical analysis – Matrices and charts are produced to give a good overview.
Collegial analysis – Research leaders compile, everyone in the organisation analyses together
Anonymous sharing – particularly interesting texts are shared anonymously with all colleagues.
Cause-effect analysis – Seeking deep insight into when, how and why effects occur
Revised design principles – Insights from the analysis become the basis for revisions.

The 29 parts are divided into four categories based on how theoretical or practical they are, based on research on how best to describe a method so that the reader is able to understand and apply it.[5] It is important not only to describe theoretical mindsets, but also to be concrete and describe working models and tactics at a very detailed practical level. Figure 4.3 shows a framework that facilitates the description of methods by indicating three levels that need to be described in detail – logic, model and tactics.

Figure 4.3 Framework with three levels at which a method needs to be described in order for the person trying to apply the method to have the conditions to succeed. Adapted from Mansoori (2018, pp. 49-53).

Logic deals with theoretical thinking at a high level of abstraction and is closely linked to philosophical issues, such as what counts as knowledge (epistemology) and what can be assumed to be real (ontology). Model refers to activities at an overall and thus more strategic level and may consist of step-by-step process or work models that link general, theoretical and abstract ways of thinking with specific, practical and concrete actions. Tactics are tools, techniques and practical methodological approaches that address specific details of the method: how to do things and what effect to try to achieve. Individually, tactics can often seem difficult to relate to each other. It is sometimes only at the level of model and logic that their interrelationship can be understood.

[1] For the theoretically interested reader, combinatorial innovations are the main theme of economist Joseph Schumpeter’s (1934) famous definition of innovation. See also Ogbor (2000).

[2] In addition to Uddevalla, examples of participating municipalities have been Sundsvall, Varberg, Gothenburg, Kungsbacka, Hultsfred, Falkenberg, Åstorp, Skurup, Åtvidaberg, Lerum, Söderhamn, Växjö, Landskrona, Huddinge, Nacka, Skövde and Skara. A number of other organisations have also participated, mainly Skolverket, Chalmers, Me Analytics AB, Region Skåne, Ung Företagsamhet, Ungt Entreprenørskap, Framtidsfrön, Luleå University of Technology, Lund University, University of Huddersfield, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Aarhus University, VIA University College, Rakkestad ungdomsskole, the European Commission (Joint Research Centre), Esenyurt Halk Egitim Mudurlugu, Mustafa Yesil Ortaokulu, Fridaskolorna and Academedia.

[3] Some research articles that go through different aspects of the method more scientifically are Lackéus (2020a), Lackéus (2020b) and Lackéus and Sävetun (2019a).

[4] More than 500 different forms can be downloaded from the Swedish Tax Agency’s website via an A-Z overview, ranging from form 7580 “Change of address for property owners living abroad” to form 2192 “Personal assets – Profit and loss (help form)”.

[5] See Mansoori (2018). See also Anthony (1963).

Chapter 1: Teacher-led science in education


Scientific teachers. Taste the words. What feelings do they evoke? Curiosity? Scepticism? Indifference? It probably varies depending on who you ask. But regardless of what you feel as a teacher, since 2010 there is a law in Sweden requiring teachers to work scientifically. Which seems reasonable, if the alternative is teachers working unscientifically. However, it may still be appropriate to start a methodology book on the subject with a little in-depth study of what science in education is actually good for.

But first a delimitation. This book is not about whether the knowledge content taught is scientifically based or not. The focus is on science as a verb. In other words, it concerns teachers who actively participate in educational science work on pedagogical and didactic issues, as consumers or as co-producers of research.

Why scientific teachers – two approaches

Science in education has two main approaches. One is about what ‘works’ in general, according to university researchers. This approach is usually referred to as the scientific basis, which means that teachers are expected to keep up with the pedagogical development of the profession and try to apply modern educational research findings in their teaching, mainly through professional development. Educational research is extensive and has made many advances in recent decades that can benefit students.[1] The more that teachers participate in various forms of science-based professional development, the better education we hope to see. Government initiatives are common, such as the Reading Lift and the Maths Lift.[2]

The second approach to scientific teachers involves teachers being involved in identifying what ‘works’ for them. This is often referred to as ‘tried and tested experience’, which means that teachers collectively and, at best, systematically, try to find ways of working that help them to improve student achievement in different situations. Some terms that capture this phenomenon are collegial learning, action research, school development and systematic quality work. Tried and tested teacher experience is supposed to lead to increasingly skilled teachers, which in turn means that students learn more, better and deeper. At least that is the hope.

Progress in other sectors of society can also serve as inspiration for educators. Scientific learning in the medical professions through clinical research has led to major advances in human health and longevity for over a hundred years. Doctors learn about what works by trying to help their patients in different ways based on various more or less well-founded hypotheses, and then carefully document their patients’ progress in medical records. It is now hoped that education via scientific basis and proven experience will be strengthened as strongly as in medicine, and that teachers will now be inspired by doctors’ clinical science.[3]

The two approaches are problematic extreme positions

Both approaches to teachers’ scholarship are problematic. There are few general truths in educational science.[4] Teachers can rarely get simple answers from external researchers on how to improve their teaching and their students’ learning. It is also methodologically difficult for teachers to exchange and trial each other’s unique personal experiences. Practices that work well for one teacher in one classroom may not necessarily work as well for another teacher in the next classroom. Unfortunately, there are few examples of successful attempts to work scientifically with teachers’ own unique experiences.[5]

These practical everyday problems for teachers have deep roots in philosophy of science. General objective truths are often sought through numbers and statistics. It can almost be described as an obsession among people to quantify their experiences.[6] PISA surveys and annual student and staff surveys are two telling examples of this numerical exercise. However, no matter how rigorously you go about it, you rarely succeed in producing figures that are practically relevant to teachers in their daily lives.

Instead, subjective truths are often sought through time-consuming methods such as interviews, logbooks and observations. This usually generates large amounts of text and thus excludes those teachers who do not have the time to devote to such data collection and analysis. Yet teachers working in this way rarely meet the minimum scientific standards of reliability and generalisability.[7] Researcher Donald Schön (1995, p. 28) summarises the dilemma for practitioners as follows:

The practitioner is confronted with a choice. Shall he remain on the high ground where he can solve relatively unimportant problems according to his standards of rigor, or shall he descend to the swamp of important problems where he cannot be rigorous in any way he knows how to describe?

The purpose of this book is to try to give teachers access to a new solution to this fundamental and almost timeless methodological problem. If the endeavour succeeds, teachers can be supported in combining rigorous science with relevant problem solving in everyday teaching. The ambition here is thus to describe a solution that is both rigorous and relevant at the same time.

A golden middle ground – critical realism

In this book, we will find a middle ground between the two problematic extreme positions. In between general and personal truths about what “works” in education, there are several promising methodological approaches that can help teachers in their daily work. These approaches will be described and explained in detail in this book. The middle ground is illustrated in Figure 1.1 below.

Figure 1.1 Critical realism is a promising middle ground between rigid general truths and vague personal experiences.

Rather than getting stuck in naïve and rigid objectivism (the search for general laws/truths) or, for that matter, vague and fuzzy subjectivism (that each individual has his or her own unique truth), this book is about how teachers can try to strike a good balance between the two, building on the strengths of both extreme positions. Philosophers of science have called this middle ground critical realism.[8] It is about being critical of the initial impressions of the things being studied, but still trying to find patterns.

Collection of teachers’ situationally dependent collective experience

In part two, we will go into more depth about what critical realism can mean for educators. But first, here is a brief practical introduction. Critical realism is about trying to see the hidden social mechanisms that govern people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours, even when they are not fully aware of them. The focus is on what happens at a detailed level in the intricate and complex interactions between individuals in everyday life. The aim is to increase our understanding of the weak but important cause-and-effect relationships that exist in society. Despite the complexity of education, there are likely to be approaches and ideas that work better than others in different situations.

Critical realism focuses on precisely those situations in teachers’ daily lives where the relationship between cause and effect is most evident to them. In practical terms, this involves collecting and analysing data and reflective text from teachers about such situations. Data collection must therefore take place continuously in everyday life, precisely at those crucial moments when teachers see how a particular idea or method worked in practice for students. Such moments are often fleeting and emotional, either positively or negatively charged or both at the same time.

The middle ground of science is not without challenges. Regularities and cause-and-effect patterns are often weak in social contexts. Therefore, scientific teachers need to collect data from many different situations and from many fellow teachers. Otherwise, even strong patterns will not show up in the analysis. Numbers help the scientific teacher to look for patterns, and reflective text provides a picture of how and why these patterns emerge in different situations.

Education’s need for a scientific methodological middle ground

Why then might education need a scientific middle ground between extreme positions? It has mainly to do with how poorly the two established approaches to scientific teachers have worked so far. Educational researchers struggle to help teachers, and teachers struggle to help themselves through science. What unites the two approaches is their relatively low reputation, especially compared to other sectors of society, such as medical and natural science research.

The basic thesis of this book is that the problem with the two established approaches is a methodological problem. Established scientific methods such as surveys, interviews and observations do not work very well for scientific teachers. These methods are difficult and time consuming to apply. They rarely lead to interesting conclusions for the teachers themselves. The results are also too often uninteresting to a wider audience of colleagues. Perhaps it is too early to call the established methods dead ends for teacher scholarship, but it is not too early to consider alternative routes.

Teachers need access to a scientific method that works well in their daily lives without interfering with their important work. A method that can help them to scientifically develop their own colleagues and the profession as a whole, based on their unique situation in their own school. A method that delivers better education for students often enough. A method that is easy to use.

Choosing a scientific method – an impossible task for teachers?

It is no easy task for scientific teachers to choose a methodological path in the jungle of scientific methodology. Most of the time you end up with surveys, interviews or observations by convenience. But research methodology is more complicated than choosing between three methods of data collection. Figure 1.2 is called the ‘research onion’ and illustrates the complexity of designing a research study. If you also have a full-time job as a teacher, scientific methodology quickly becomes an almost impossible task. The only realistic way forward is for an external methodological researcher to make the choice for teachers. That is exactly what this book tries to provide – a set of methodological choices that work well for teachers.

In part two, we will describe in more detail the main theme of the book, a scientific method we have chosen to call designed action sampling and which this book is basically about. But already here we can see that the method is based on a number of carefully tested choices. These choices are shown in Figure 1.2 in bold italics.

Figure 1.2 The research onion shows the different methodological choices that need to be made in each research study. The methodological choices made in this book are shown in bold italics. Adapted from Saunders et al (2019).

Data collection – the missing link for scientific teachers?

At the heart of the research onion are data collection and data analysis. This is the core of scientific work and cannot be avoided if you want to make any claim to be scientific. Structured data collection is about documenting insights, which takes time. With the already heavy burden of documentation, it is therefore not surprising that many teachers feel sceptical about engaging in scientific work. Do we really have time for more documentation? Yes, we probably have to, if we want to realise the benefits of scientific methodology. But this need not be such a problem if we can find ways of collecting data that are simple and time-efficient, and thus work in teachers’ daily lives. This book describes one such way.

Data is always collected in order to be analysed, and a good analysis is only possible if the data collection has also been done well. The purpose of the analysis is to gain new insights into the mechanisms behind good teaching in different situations. This allows teachers to do more of what works well in each situation and less of what works poorly. Teachers who are aware of which mechanisms work well in which situations are more successful in their job.

Despite the fact that data collection is at the very core of teachers’ scholarship, it is the activity that works most poorly today in school scholarship. In a detailed review of various initiatives around Sweden, the school developer and investigator Lena M. Olsson (2018, pp. 78, 117, 119) bluntly states:

There are no signs that, within the framework of the models [for collaboration between researchers and practitioners], there is a more systematic compilation and analysis of teachers’ documented experiences of how changes in working methods affect students’ learning […] Systematic documentation of teachers’ experiences based on evaluation methods is often lacking in education and in skills development initiatives […] Without documentation as a basis, it is difficult for individual teachers to compare their observations from different occasions and see patterns in how teaching has changed.

Internationally, data collection is also one of the key gaps in educational development. Bryk et al. (2018, pp. 124-125) of the Carnegie Foundation for School Improvement in the United States state that educators need to learn from healthcare:

You cannot improve on a large scale what you cannot measure. […] For both teachers and students, time is a very limited resource. […] Measurements that will provide a basis for improvement work must be woven into the everyday pedagogical work. […] The lack of practical measurement methods is one of the most important differences between school and health care.

It is probably unrealistic to believe that we will have better teaching if we do not also engage in structured measurement of the effects of various initiatives. In order for such measurement to be woven into everyday teaching, each measurement session must be so simple that it takes around three minutes or less.[9] Later in the book we will show how this can be done.

Teachers as scientific leaders for their colleagues

For teacher-led science in education to work well, teachers need to take a great deal of responsibility in leading different aspects of the organisation’s scientific work.[10] Although managers have the formal and ultimate responsibility for an organisation’s pedagogical development leadership, in practice it is not appropriate or even possible for a manager to take on such responsibility alone.[11] Developmental leadership needs to be distributed among teachers and others who wish to exercise informal leadership or are expected to exercise formal leadership over their colleagues in the organisation.

Science also requires the participation of many, or even better, all teachers in an organisation. It is not good enough for a small group of teachers to do science in isolation. Because then patterns and connections become difficult to see, sceptical colleagues do not participate with their critical perspectives, comparisons are difficult to make and results are difficult to transfer to other teachers. Rather, successful educational development is characterised by unpretentious and boundary-crossing developmental cooperation, involving many different professional roles in the organisation and with some teachers exercising leadership over their colleagues within the framework of clearly defined forms of cooperation.[12]

Figure 1.3 shows a common distribution of roles in teacher-led educational science. Peer learning leader is a common title for those staff members in the school who lead other teachers’ scientific pedagogical development as well as have a leadership role in their own classroom.[13] Experts can be researchers at a university or other type of authority in a relevant area of development for the organisation.

Figure 1.3 Four key roles in teacher-led educational science.

Peer learning leader – a difficult role in dire need of a simple scientific methodology

Some synonyms for peer learning leaders are supervisor, team leader, development leader, subject leader, process leader and middle-ground leader.[14] In most cases, peer learning leaders also have the role of teacher at the same time. A special needs teacher or manager can also usefully take on the role of peer learning leader[15] .

There are many demands on the shoulders of peer learning leaders. They must lead and support the development work of many or all colleagues. In practice, this means creating clear structures, getting colleagues to actively participate in teacher-led research and providing them with feedback and encouragement after completing developmental actions. At the same time, they have to do their own job as teachers, often without any reduction in teaching time.

They must also ensure that the teacher-led research is scientific, sustainable and actively supported by managers. They should often also have contact with one or more experts, or be well informed about what different experts have concluded on a particular educational development issue.

Simplicity and clarity in scientific methodology is therefore not only desirable for peer learning leaders. It is rather an absolute necessity and a prerequisite for making teacher-led science work well in an educational institution such as a school, a university or a preschool. This book was written to support all those peer learning leaders who need a proven, simple and clear science methodology to lean on. But the book is also for managers who want to gain deeper insight into the methodological issues of teacher-led science. After all, it cannot be easy to be ultimately responsible for scientific work without also having some insight into scientific methodology.

Simplicity in science also requires a fairly high degree of standardisation. It is not compatible with simplicity and clarity for each teacher or team to be able to choose freely from the research onion in Figure 1.2. The method described in this book is therefore best used by all staff in the organisation. Those teachers who want to do more research can always use other methods in parallel.

[1] For an overview, see Håkansson and Sundberg (2012).

[2] For a recent review, see Kirsten (2020).

[3] For a paper on clinical research teachers, see Carlgren (2010).

[4] See Biesta (2007), Pring (2010) and Olson (2004).

[5] This is described in detail by Olsson (2018).

[6] Read more in Barrett (1979) and in Porter (1996). See also Bornemark (2018).

[7] Read more about challenges with research involving teachers in Carlgren (2010). For criticism of teachers’ scholarship, see Pring (2010, s. 136-140).

[8] A pioneer of critical realism is Roy Bhaskar. For an accessible overview, see Sayer (2010).

[9] According to Bryk et al. (2018, s. 130)who describe their experience in designing a practical measurement method.

[10] See e.g. Scherp (2013), Rönnerman et al. (2018) and Kroksmark (2019).

[11] Read more about this in Forssten Seiser (2019).

[12] See Jarl et al. (2017, s. 69-93).

[13] See Scherp (2013, s. 95).

[14] See Rönnerman et al. (2018, s. 23-29).

[15] Read more about their role in school development in Bengtsson and Kempe Olsson (2019, s. 183-187).

An introduction


It has been said that in 1899, the head of the US Patent Office, Charles H. Duell, submitted his resignation on the grounds:[1]

Everything that can be invented has now been invented, so we might as well shut down the patent office.

Looking back, we can laugh at the idea that the world would have been fully developed over 120 years ago. We can also reflect on the staggering social developments that the next 120 years are likely to bring. The world is most likely no more finished in its development today than it was in 1899. Yet there are many people who seem to think that education is fully developed or, at least, that educational development is not so important. Perhaps because they think they have already found good enough ways to work. Or perhaps because, for various reasons, they do not feel they have the time or energy to develop more in their professional role right now.

But what if there are new ways to educate that are waiting to be discovered and that make more students, pupils and children learn more in universities, schools and pre-schools? New ways that deepen learning to the extent that whole classes of young people are thrown into a multi-year, self-regulated and meaningful learning of both factual knowledge and softer skills? And what if new ways of educating can also be more engaging for children, students and teachers alike? Without compromising on knowledge. Ways that can also make children and students less likely to start fights? So that the time many teachers currently spend on conflict management and subsequent dialogue with guardians can instead be spent on quality time with children and students?

For those of you who think such an idea is over-optimistic, even unrealistic: you can stop reading this book now. I am sorry, but the book you are holding is not written for you. Rather, it is written for those of you who believe that education in 120 years’ time may work much better than it does today, and that teachers’ ingenuity and experimentation with new ideas are important and as yet untapped sources of scientific educational development.

Science is fundamentally about looking for new phenomena, ways of thinking and methods that work better than the ones we use today. This is exactly how we humans made crucial progress in areas such as electricity, X-rays, antibiotics, sustainability, gender equality, norm criticism, design, cognitive therapy and more. In its almost exactly 400-year history[2] , science has proven to be the most powerful methodology humanity has used in its endeavour to develop our world.

It is therefore a pity that some people question why teachers should spend time working more scientifically.[3] In this book, we choose to interpret it as being due to methodological confusion. That sceptical teachers simply do not know what to do, in practical terms in everyday life, to work more scientifically. And that they therefore criticise the whole idea of scientific educational development.

What could be better than a book that describes in detail a concrete way for universities, schools and pre-schools to work scientifically? And that this particular way has proved to work extremely well, or “gôr-bra”, as we say in Gothenburg. We who have developed this method have chosen to call it designed action sampling. It is based on three simple steps:

  1. Design. Teachers or other research leaders in the school/pre-school select a theme for the development work and formulate a set of action-oriented tasks they believe can create value for children/pupils.
  2. Action. Many teachers try the tasks with their students/children/pupils and then reflect in-depth in writing and individually via free text and multiple choice questions on the outcomes they have seen. Teachers receive written feedback from the research leader.
  3. Sampling. The research manager compiles an analysis material which is then co-analysed by all teachers. The tasks are revised and the process starts again.

We believe that this could be one of the first scientific methods that works well in practice and for all staff in universities, schools and kindergartens. Maybe we even go from zero to one method that allows all teachers to be involved in science? So that we have more research in education, not just research about education.

However, whether or not it is the first method that works for everyone is not an important issue. As with patents, the main thing is not who came up with something useful, how new it was, or when it happened, but rather that this something comes to the attention of the public and is widely used. That is why patent offices exist. And just as a patent is primarily a written record of a clever idea for others to understand and use, a potentially new and useful method needs to be written down. That is why this book was written. The aim is simply to describe and disseminate a new scientific combination method, based on both established and new pieces of the method puzzle, which we believe can contribute to better education.

Organisation of the book

The book contains three parts which will now be briefly introduced. The parts do not necessarily have to be read in the order in which they are written. Just remember that they build on each other. Both Part Two and Part Three use several words and concepts that may be difficult to understand without the explanation given in the previous sections.

The first part (Chapters 1-3) is about establishing the concepts of scholarship and value creation in relation to education. The concepts are then linked to the balance between own learning and value creation for others. What does it really mean to work scientifically in universities, schools and pre-schools? And what is meant by value-creating children, pupils, students and teachers in universities, schools and pre-schools? Who creates value for whom, now and in the future, and what kinds of value are there to choose from? How can children, pupils, students and teachers achieve a better balance between their own learning and creating value for others in universities, schools and pre-schools, and why is this important?

Some years ago, an educational researcher listened briefly to the story of our work on value creation in education and then reflected as follows:

If you think that value creation belongs in education, you have not understood anything about what education is about.

We do not agree, of course, but still see this quote as worth remembering, as it illustrates an important pedagogical challenge that this book needs to address. If a well-known and experienced professor of education in a related field initially misunderstands perhaps the most important concept in our work in this way, there may well be many more out there who do not understand what we mean by value creation, especially in the sense of creating value for others. Therefore, the first part contains a fairly detailed explanation of some different perspectives on value creation. The concept as such can also become an important piece of the puzzle in the educational institutions of the next 120 years. It describes something extremely central to the human experience, which so far has not received much attention in education:

Doing something worthwhile for another person.

The second part (Chapters 4-8) deals with the scientific method we have chosen to call designed action sampling. The method is first described briefly and concisely, then in detail. Perhaps even a little long-winded. But we believe it is important to be specific, careful and clear about what we mean. It is not easy to understand, appreciate or start applying a new scientific method unless there is a detailed description of the underlying thinking, overall work processes and practical techniques for everyday science in universities, schools and pre-schools.

The third part (Chapters 9-13) contains an almost equally detailed review of the different reasons for working with designed action sampling. If you are already involved in practical work with the method and have seen its value and impact, this part is perhaps the least interesting. If, on the other hand, you are completely new in your interest, the review can certainly provide many new thoughts and good reasons to deepen this interest. Part three can also be useful for those who want to involve colleagues in the work of designed action sampling. Sixteen arguments are given for why universities, schools and pre-schools can benefit from the method, sorted according to when different effects are likely to occur.

This book is not complete. The three parts do not contain everything that can be said about designed action sampling. As the book is a first attempt to introduce and establish a new concept, the emphasis is on describing what it is, how it works in practice and why it might be a good idea. We have also included eleven concrete examples. However, we have had to wait with critical perspectives on various problems and difficulties that the method may entail. We would like to return to this issue.

The contents of the book can be applied at all levels of the education system and by many professions. The examples illustrate this. However, to make it easier to read, the language has been slightly restricted. Therefore, when you encounter the word school, we ask you to consider that it can also mean preschool, folk high school, upper secondary school, college, vocational school, university, adult education, study centre or training company. And when you encounter the words teacher and student, we ask you to consider that it can also mean preschool teacher, mentor, child, student or participant. There are certainly differences between these different types of schools, but we have seen that there are far more similarities in scientific work.

This brings us to the starting point of the book. Let’s get started!

[1] The quote is a factoid based on an 1899 joke and is widely used by innovation advocates to elicit a laugh, see Sass (1989). (1989).

[2] The starting point of modern science is often considered to be the Novum organum by Bacon (1620/1878).

[3] See review of teachers’ attitudes towards science by Kroksmark (2010). See also the follow-up of the Education Committee (2016, s. 72) which shows that some senior lecturers find it difficult to get a hearing for science among their colleagues.

The journey behind the book


This book contains insights generated during a nine-year learning journey, from 2012 to 2020. The work has involved thousands of people – teachers, school leaders, school developers, students and other participants in preschools and schools mainly in Uddevalla, Åstorp, Varberg, Skurup, Skara, Sundsvall, Kungsbacka, Gothenburg, Falkenberg, Vänersborg and Hultsfred. The work has been financed mainly by Uddevalla municipality through a unique research collaboration with Chalmers University of Technology and the research company Me Analytics AB. The Swedish National Agency for Education and other participating municipalities have also been involved in financing certain parts.

The author wishes to express his deepest gratitude to all of you who have been involved in this long journey of making designed action sampling visible and practicable in schools and preschools. Special thanks go to Uddevalla municipality and to Carin Sävetun, Christer Westlund, Karen Williams Middleton, Mats Lundqvist, Malin Heimer, Ragnar Åsbrink, Patrik Bäckström, Viktoria Struxsjö, John Steinberg, Helén Viebke, Hans-Lennart Schylberg, Staffan Lindroos, Marika Delvret, Leif Lundgren, Björn Wärnberg and Susanne Lundholm. Thanks also to all of you who provided feedback on a draft of this book[1] .

Although this book has only one author, formally speaking, the we form will be used throughout the book. This is because the author sees himself as the spokesperson for two other people who have been involved in the entire journey of developing the scientific method we have chosen to call value-creating science. These two are Carin Sävetun and Christer Westlund. The journey is interesting in itself and may help you as a reader to understand more about the origins of the book. Here is therefore a brief summary.

The journey started in 2012 at Chalmers University of Technology. A researcher, Martin, wanted to collect data remotely from his own entrepreneurship students for a research study and outlined a digital survey for the fourteen participants. The resulting survey was launched later that year and had two simple questions: “How do you feel?” and “Why do you feel that way?”. The questionnaire was completed 556 times by the thirteen participants over a period of eighteen months. The data collected was later used to write a research paper.[2]

What was interesting about the methodology was that the two simple questions allowed the researcher to look ‘straight into the minds’ of the students. The students’ responses were emotionally charged and deeply reflective, and the researcher gained a unique insight into their thoughts and insights. A methodological discovery had been made by focusing on emotional learning events.

In mid-2013, researcher Martin was contacted by organisation leader Carin. She wanted to use the new method in an impact study of the organisation Framtidsfrön’s work with entrepreneurial learning in primary schools. The study was carried out during the winter. At the end of the same year, the researcher met a school developer called Christer. Martin showed reflections from studies of students’ and pupils’ emotional learning events to Christer, who then said:

We need to do this properly, this can really help a lot of teachers!

Three travellers had now found their travel companions and began a long journey together with the method. Many projects were carried out with school principals around Sweden and also abroad. Large amounts of data were collected digitally. The method was refined more and more each year and in each completed project. More and more elements were added based on identified needs. In 2014, something described in this book as ‘tags’ was added. The idea was that this would make it easier for participants to reflect on emotional experiences.

After a while, it was clear that asking participants to reflect when they experienced something emotional was not really enough. The method needed something more concrete. So in 2015, early trials were made with an task logic. The change was successful. The tasks clarified the context of participants’ reflections, guided participants’ actions in more detail and made it easier to involve all participants. The analysis was also strengthened, as the change allowed for a more powerful analysis of cause-and-effect relationships.

Today, we see that the methodological journey set us on the path of trying to fundamentally change education. The power of designed action sampling has made it possible to drive innovation in three main areas:

  • Action-based education – mainly vocational education and training, work-based learning, apprenticeships, practicums and entrepreneurial pedagogy.
  • School development – mainly action research, collaboration between researchers and practitioners, in-service training, systematic quality work, peer learning and scientific schools/preschools.
  • Educational research – mainly entrepreneurial pedagogy, language development approaches, language didactics, programming education and pedagogical documentation.

The journey has been long and winding. There have been several unusual, even unorthodox approaches. We have sometimes been criticised. There have also been many failures. At times it has been so difficult that we have been surprised that we did not give up the journey. But what has united us and kept us together all these years has been a deep personal commitment to education and a shared desire to give children, pupils and students the best possible education. All three of us are convinced that education can be made better. This book summarises our approach to how this can be done.

Gothenburg, October 2020

Martin Lackéus

[1] Many thanks for feedback on the book’s content go to Björn Wärnberg, Carin Sävetun, Christer Westlund, Elin Ericsson, Eva-Lotta Hultén, Hans-Lennart Schylberg, Jan Blomgren, Jennie Wilson, Jessica Eriksen, John Steinberg, Karin Hermansson, Leif Lundgren, Malin Heimer, Maria Kempe Olsson, Marie-Helene Ahnborg, Marika Andersson, Marlene Klit Welin, Mats Lundqvist, Niclas Fohlin, Pelle Holmén, Per Lundgren, Peter Westergård, Staffan Lindroos, Susanne Lundholm, Viktoria Struxsjö and Åsa Sundelin.

[2] See Lackéus (2014).

Retrofit reflection – a new way to capture on-the-job learning


It first seemed like a failure to guide my students’ actions. But unexpectedly me and my students had stumbled upon a new and innovative way to study on-the-job learning. We spotted a new methodology to visualize cause-effect patterns around action learning, and with a previously unattainable level of detail.

I constantly try to involve my students in my research. It’s both fun and powerful. Many good research insights have emerged through collaboration with them, such as the significance of creating value for others, the power of learning from failure and the importance of various emotionally charged learning events. This week it happened again. An insight that I think may be quite significant emerged from a co-creation session with my students. I had involved them as co-researchers for half a day, or actually, for eight months. We collected a massive amount of data together – around 90.000 words of reflections they’d sent to me and self-coded based on the European Commission’s framework for entrepreneurial competencies (Bacigalupo et al., 2016).

Pushing students outside their comfort zone is good for them

Last Friday we spent half a day analysing this data together. I showed them my current research questions around how to make people more entrepreneurial, handed out visualisations of the data, and then they helped me generate answers based on their own insights and based on the data we had collected together. They went back to their own reflections, discussed what they had learned and why, and then reflected again. Some of their reflections baffled me. I now realize that we’ve stumbled upon a novel and useful way to study learning, with implications well beyond entrepreneurship education, and also beyond education in general. What if we can visualise how people learn on-the-job, without having to disturb them almost at all in their busy work schedules? Here is one such visualisation we analyzed together that shows how learning outcomes differ between easy and hard activities. It shows that self-confidence, perseverance, uncertainty management and ability to acquire resources can be learned, especially if students are being pushed outside their comfort zone.

A video that shows how learning outcomes differed between easy and hard challenges. To watch it, press play.

Making entrepreneurial learning visible

Learning is difficult to visualize. Teachers often use exams to “see” what knowledge students learned. But it is a hopelessly flawed method, especially when it comes to more complex learning, such as entrepreneurial competencies. All human learning relies on not only the cognitive head, but also on the psychomotor body and the affective heart. Competent humans not only think, but they also act and feel. To capture this fundamental fact, many learning theorists rely on the three-fold concept of KSA – Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes. Knowledge is quite easy to assess. But how to develop and assess those skills and attitudes needed to create a better future for society? A fundamental job for entrepreneurial people. A decade ago, faced with this assessment problem at our entrepreneurship programme, we started to experiment with assessing those emotional activities that our students learned the most from. We asked ourselves: “‘What emotion-laden activities do our students need to do in order to learn the competencies we want them to learn?” (Lackéus & Williams Middleton, 2018, p.40).

A master thesis that made me blush

To find out good answers, we involved a student at our programme. He went out and asked his classmates what activities they learned the most from at our programme. He then compared it to what their teachers assessed them upon. It was a revealing exercise that made me blush. It turned out that many of the emotionally charged events that they learned the most from were activities that we didn’t even take into consideration in our assessment set-up. Powerful learning came from activities that we had not previously assessed, such as customer meetings, investor presentations, major decisions in the team, and managing other people (Kjernald, 2014, p.21). I often come back to Kjernald’s decade-old master thesis. It has made a lasting impression on me. I’ve been working on fixing these flaws for a decade now.

A decade-long development of a new assessment strategy

Ever since then, we have experimented with various action-reflection tasks that we expect our students to first do and then reflect upon. This developed over the years into an emotional-activity-based assessment strategy that we wrote about in a book chapter (Lackéus & Williams Middleton, 2018). This strategy is described in the figure below (taken from p.39). We label it a dual assessment strategy, because first we give our students a collection of emotion-laden activities that they must do in order to pass the examination, and then they get to prove to us that they did this by reflecting upon it in a micro-reflection format. One reflection for each emotion-laden activity.

Three major versions of action-reflection tasks

The first version was a Word template where the students were asked to document at least five cold-calls and five customer meetings, and reflect upon what they learned from each of them. I used it for a couple of years. The second major version took many more types of emotion-laden activities into account, and was administered through a digital reflection tool, see here:


We worked with the second version for five years, me and my colleagues. It had its strengths and weaknesses. Some reflections became really powerful, especially “Reflect upon a critical / emotional event”, “Have a group discussion seminar around sales” and “Illustrate my entrepreneurial self”. Others were reflected upon by many students just to please the teachers. Two years ago, we therefore decided to pivot a bit, and designed a completely new setup. The collection of reflective tasks had become too unfocused and too theoretical. We wanted to return to the core of what can really make people more entrepreneurial – taking action in interpersonal interactions that result in powerful feedback (Lackéus, 2020).

A collection of thirty S-person interaction challenges

The third major version of action-reflection tasks introduced an element of choice. Together with five students who volunteered to help me, I designed a collection of thirty challenges to choose from, of which ten were more difficult. Over a period of six months, each student had to complete and reflect upon at least ten of the thirty challenges – six easy and four difficult ones. Each challenge involved interaction with an “S-person”, defined as a “Significant Stakeholder relevant to your project but NOT part of your project or emotional owner to your project (i.e. NOT your idea partner, other close partner, funder, sponsor, internal coach, corporate coach, teammate, etc)”. I needed to come up with a new term – “S-persons” – that captured more frightening interactions resulting in more powerful learning than talking to people close to you. These thirty challenges can be found in full here:


They were organised according to our diamond model of what it means to be entrepreneurial (Lackéus et al., 2020):

Collaborative research on the third major collection of action-reflection tasks

Last week, time had come to sum up two years of this new way of assessing entrepreneurial learning together with my students. My main research question that I invited them to reflect upon was this: What do people learn from being given action-reflection challenges to interact externally? I also asked them to reflect upon the following sub-questions: What is the unique contribution (if any) of these action-reflection challenges, in terms of unique difference this format makes for learning? What is the unique contribution (if any) of the written reflections followed by feedback / discussion? What do students learn from more difficult such challenges? What more action-reflection challenges can we come up with? What is the role of emotions in the development of entrepreneurial competencies? I gave them a pretty substantial deck of slides visualizing their data and helping them get into the mind-set of being co-researchers with me, see all slides here:

Slides summarizing all data collected over eight months

Over the weekend, I read and contemplated their resulting 87 reflections (16,000 words). There was so much insight here! Let me briefly summarize some of it.

Many students applied and appreciated a retrospective reflection strategy

Even though I had presented all 30 challenges to them back in August, now in May many students’ actions had not been impacted by them directly. Instead, faced with a deadline, they searched for suitable challenges that they could reflect upon afterwards. Although not all challenges were suitable to their project, some were suitable enough to provide a retrospective reflection. Two students wrote:

“The thing with these [action-reflection] tasks is that you sort of accidentally have them happen rather than actually pursue them. No one has done more than to retrofit naturally caused events into the [action-reflection] tasks they thought could fit at least fairly well.“

“I didn’t look at the task and thought ‘Oh I should try and do this’, but instead I did the things that I thought needed to be done for the sake of the project and when the time came to reflect, (…) I saw which tasks I had accomplished and filled them out.”

This allowed for an investigation of the unique value of reflection. Many students valued this highly. It helped them stop for a moment, think over and get perspective on their entrepreneurial journey that they would not have had otherwise. It also helped them link practical experiences to literature they had read through our programme. Two students wrote:

“It it easy sometimes to go too fast and forget to reflect upon what you are doing, which can lead to more mistakes and slower personal growth. (…) [The reflective assignment] has made me pause for a second and reflect upon what we have done, why it was important, what the thinking was at the time, and what knowledge I acquired from the interaction.”

“This was a great addition that allowed you to link thoughts with literature you yourself found relevant, as well as inspire to read research that could give clarity to processes that you have done intuitively but did not know there was theory behind.”

Retrofit reflection: A new way to study on-the-job learning

I was surprised to find that so many students didn’t pay attention to the challenges until the deadline approached. At first, this seemed to me like a failure. My intention had been to impact their actions, not only assess them afterwards. But I soon realized that there is an interesting methodological opportunity here. Retrofit reflection represents a novel way to study on-the-job learning. Many practitioners would not accept to be assigned ready-made actions for them to carry out. This could be seen as unsolicited advice, which is highly unpopular among many people. But these same people could probably accept to do a retrofit reflection afterwards, if there were enough challenges to choose from that were relevant to their recent practice. This represents a new way to study informal learning on-the-job. With enough participants, we get cause-effect data on which actions that lead to which outcomes in which situations. I know of no other methodology that produces fine-grained data of this kind. Together with my students, I stumbled upon a methodological innovation. Its potential is of course unknown in this early stage, but it’s still exciting!

Some students were or wanted to be more goal-oriented

There were nevertheless some students who paid careful attention back in August. Their excitement was triggered by some of the challenges, and they put up as a goal to complete some of them at some point. Two students wrote:

“Initially I saw these tasks as goals for the year, and I need to admit, I was quite tempted to reach these ‘goals’. Talking to 100 externals? Hell yes, sounds like a great goal for me to achieve during the year. It felt like it would be fun to conduct these tasks and also learn from external persons.”

“I really liked the talk to 100 people, because we set our sights on that one early and it makes me happy that we achieved that!”

Other students pointed out that with minor adjustments, the 30 challenges could have impacted their actions more profoundly. Two students wrote:

“They could become more useful by being structured more as goals and reflections instead of only reflections. (…) If the challenges instead were to push me more in new directions and set goals for how i acted during the year, i believe that i would have grown more. Now, they did not guide my action, instead they let me understand them more.”

“It also helped to compare with other students. For example, hearing that someone had completed the 100 S-person task early on, motivated me to go out and talk to more people.”

For next year I consider making some changes. I could ask my students to articulate perhaps three difficult challenges that they will try to achieve during the year. Then I might try to incentivize them to achieve this goal, to make it pay off if they reach it. I might also come up with a way for them to exchange ideas on what goals they put up for themselves, and which ones they manage to fulfil, so that they can inspire each other. But all of that said, our programme is already quite action-oriented, demanding and emotional. Maybe we need to be careful not to push our students too hard? Maybe retrofit reflection is good enough here? What do you think? Let me know.


Bacigalupo, M., Kampylis, P., Punie, Y., & Van den Brande, G. (2016). EntreComp: The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework.

Kjernald, C. (2014). Activities as a proxy for assessing development of entrepreneurial competencies Chalmers University of Technology]. Gothenburg.

Lackéus, M. (2020). Comparing the impact of three different experiential approaches to entrepreneurship in education. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 26(5), 937-971.

Lackéus, M., Lundqvist, M., Williams Middleton, K., & Inden, J. (2020). The entrepreneurial employee in the public and private sector – What, Why, How (M. Bacigalupo Ed.).

Lackéus, M., & Williams Middleton, K. (2018). Assessing experiential entrepreneurship education: Key insights from five methods in use at a venture creation program. In D. Hyams-Ssekasi & E. Caldwell (Eds.), Experiential Learning for Entrepreneurship – Theoretical and Practical Perspectives on Enterprise Education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Chapter 10. Value creation pedagogy as integration


Value creation pedagogy can be an important piece of the integration puzzle. Some of the schools we followed in our research are located in socio-economically vulnerable areas. There, we have been able to follow how the approach strengthens integration for many years. I can honestly say that this was an unexpected effect, but on reflection it is not particularly remarkable. After all, integration is about achieving inclusion, the opposite of exclusion. To be involved, to be taken seriously and to experience the warmth of a wider community. All of this is enabled when students get to create value for others.

One headteacher who has seen the positive effects with his own eyes is Johan Karlsson in Sundsvall. He has worked for twenty years at Bredsands School, a school in a vulnerable area. From 2015 onwards, under Johan’s leadership, all staff participated in our research on value creation pedagogy. I met Johan’s staff myself several times and also got to read their reflections. Johan’s conclusion today, six years later, is that value creation pedagogy may be the best approach available for a school with challenges around integration.

The relational power of value creation builds bridges between schools and society at the individual level, between students at school and adults in the community. This enables many students to lift their gaze and break out of exclusion themselves. They build up a network of contacts both inside and outside their own neighbourhoods, they meet new role models and chart completely new paths in life. When students see what is possible for them, far beyond the suburban exclusion, they start asking school staff new questions: now I know, here is something I want in life, I want to become this, how do I do it?

According to Johan, more traditional approaches don’t really work for many young people living in exclusion. Johan’s frustration that not everyone seems to see the importance of allowing students to work in a value-creating way in vulnerable areas is clear:

“It is almost an error of omission not to understand how important and obvious this approach is for schools in deprived areas.”

Reversing the trend through community engagement

Another headteacher of a school in a vulnerable area is Marika Andersson at Lövgärdesskolan in Angered. Marika has become known in the national media as one of few principals who have managed to turn around a school in a deprived area. Under Marika’s leadership, the percentage of students achieving the upper secondary school objectives has increased from 30 to 70 percent.[1] Allowing students to interact with the surrounding community has been one of Marika’s key strategies. I asked her about value creation pedagogy, and here’s what she wrote to me:

“I truly believe that this is an approach that promotes integration. It gives students the opportunity to feel that they are doing something meaningful, that they matter to others. What they do becomes important. We already work like this to some extent in our school. However, I have never thought of it as value creation pedagogy before. When we put a name to what we do, it becomes clearer.”

In other schools in deprived areas, teachers and principals have told us about another somewhat unexpected effect. In deprived areas, the value-creation work of students attracts a whole new level of parent involvement and interest in school. When parents see that the school allows students to take initiative, connect with the surrounding world and work entrepreneurially, they recognise themselves. After all, escaping from a war-torn homeland and making it all the way to Sweden requires a good deal of initiative, networking and creativity. However, upon arrival they often end up in a segregated residential area where it is difficult for both them and their children to find equal pathways into Swedish society. That is where I share Johan’s frustration. It doesn’t feel fair that so many are stuck in exclusion. I think it is therefore important to spread Johan’s fundamentally positive message.

Some (in)justice perspectives on integration

It is difficult to write about social inequalities and integration without slipping into politics. Some believe that in Sweden we have a relatively fair distribution of income, a kind of “fair inequality” where those who make more effort also earn more.[2] According to the think tank Ratio, our compensatory education system has led to a high level of social mobility, which has ensured that almost everyone can succeed.

The young men who burn cars in segregated suburbs probably disagree. Rather, there is a deep anger and frustration at an abusive world that treats them as second-class citizens.[3] Nor can it be said to be fair that every third student in Sweden’s socially deprived areas does not finish primary school with a qualification for secondary school.[4] In many places we now have a “school for all”, except for one third, who are instead labelled as failures by society and denied the opportunity to continue their lives in regular upper secondary school. The situation is due to structural inequalities that have been allowed to grow for decades – the trend since the Second World War of increasingly equal distribution of society’s resources has long since been broken.[5] No wonder some youths burn cars. A kind of ongoing value-destroying learning, based on the lesson that you are worth nothing as a human being.[6]

What we can agree on is that we face major societal challenges. Whether we call segregation a disaster[7] , a ticking bomb[8] or a colossal challenge[9] , it is urgent to find ways to promote integration. But what is it about the value creation pedagogy approach that makes it seem like it could be part of the solution?

A gathering campfire for freezing students

Teachers can use the relational warmth and primal power of value creation to thaw the frozen hearts of segregated students. Students can feel the warmth of community for a moment by experiencing what it feels like to be a valued part of our community. If we give them the tools and the ability to change their environment for the better, they will also become more involved in the democratic development of society. The interpersonal relationships that are then created with the outside world become like glowing logs in a campfire that everyone can gather around and be warmed by. Not just the students, but all those they come into contact with.

Unlike assimilation, integration is a reciprocal process. If integration is to take place, the natives must also be involved and gain new perspectives. In Sweden, many of us need to be awakened from our slumbering filter bubbles and experience the value of other perspectives, knowledge and cultures. This is where students’ initiative and active action can make a big difference.

At Marika Andersson’s school in Angered, students got to exchange letters with a school class in a wealthy area of Jönköping. There was mutual surprise when they realised that in one class there were those living seven people together in a small one-room apartment, while in the other class one student was an only child in a seven-room apartment. This strengthened both writing skills and understanding across class boundaries.

At Johan Karlsson’s school in Bredsand, students were asked to write a book with an author and then present it at Sweden’s biggest book fair in Gothenburg. Johan’s students have also collaborated with a construction company, the municipality of Sundsvall, the regional science centre Technichus and a friend school in Huddinge in various value creation activities. In addition to strengthening their knowledge, the students also gained motivation for school work, resulting in higher achievement among students. More students succeeding in school also strengthens integration, says Johan.

An instrument of power to break out of exclusion

Feelings of powerlessness can be strong for students living in segregation. A term often used in sociology is alienation – a perceived sense of powerlessness, meaninglessness and social isolation.[10] For some students in disadvantaged areas, school may feel both meaningless and unrealistic.[11] Life in the suburbs and their classrooms is isolated from the rest of society and its norms. Moreover, when parents in affluent homes, even in deprived areas, choose to drive their students to schools in other areas every day, school ceases to be a meeting place between different social worlds.

Here, value creation pedagogy can be a possible countermeasure. The methods and tools in this book become, in the hands of segregated students, an instrument of power to break alienation. That knowledge is power is well known. This book makes it clear that knowledge of and the ability to create value for others is a power tool that young people can use to break free from involuntary isolation. When they take their rightful place in society by helping others through value creation pedagogy, we are thus getting a modern version of what Paulo Freire (1970) called the pedagogy of the oppressed.

However, getting students to successfully break away usually requires more extensive projects. Value creation within the classroom or within school can be engaging and beneficial to school work, but does not break an exclusion. Students need to be able to build relationships and create value for beneficiaries outside the deprived area in which they themselves live and work. Teachers in deprived areas therefore need to be a little braver than other teachers if they are to succeed in helping their students to experience that warming sense of involvement with the world outside where they live. If value creation pedagogy is to become a way of strengthening inclusion, there needs to be more cross-disciplinary projects over longer periods of time.

An integration bridge between school and work

The workplace can be the strongest integration tool we have in society. Professor Jonas Olofsson has written about how practical vocational training can counter both alienation and powerlessness among young people.[12] However, according to Olofsson, it is not enough to give them hard-cut routine tasks without context, personal development or fair remuneration. Vocational training needs to be characterised by participation, empowerment and fair conditions. As Juul has pointed out (see Chapter 1), students need to be seen as full citizens if the bridge to integration is to work. Industrialist Carl Bennet says:[13]

“For me, it goes without saying that an apprentice who does a job should be paid […] It’s time to see young people’s will and skills as a resource […] It’s very important to get a salary, it gives the job status. It’s important that employers invest in young people, it sends a message to those in charge.”

I myself have experienced with my five senses the integrative power of workplace value creation. As an entrepreneur, I was able to put both newly arrived and disabled people into productive work. Over time, we became good friends, even close friends. We went on holidays and spent time together with our respective families outside work. Mutual respect flowed from the fact that we were all contributing to a common greater purpose. Drawing on our different strengths and skills, together we created value for our clients. In the process, I learned about the tastiest food and drink in the Balkans, about a certain dictator’s best sides, about different aids for the visually impaired, and about what life as an immigrant or disabled person can be like. By sitting on their sofas and seeing life through their eyes for a while, I myself became the subject of a powerful form of integration. Together, we all grew as human beings.

Let students take action from the heart in new ways

Workplaces can also be segregating. What is the integration effect when low-paid jobs are staffed by immigrants and disabled people? Perhaps not non-existent, but at least limited. Every time I take a taxi in my work, I think about how in Sweden we carelessly leave routine value creation to the so-called precariat – individuals forced to accept precarious employment conditions in a gig economy where three of the four corners of the diamond model in Chapter 6 are missing. The everyday life of the precariat is not characterised by empowerment, creativity or personal development. Therefore, I think it is important that value creation pedagogy as integration does not only consist of value creation for others, but also includes the other three corners of the diamond model.

Students in vulnerable situations need to be taught at an early age how to take action from the heart about issues they are passionate about, how to help others in new ways and how to accumulate whole-body learning along the way. Of course, schools cannot take unlimited responsibility for everything and everyone, as often needs to be pointed out. But teaching students how to create new kinds of value for others around something they feel strongly about is certainly a pressing task for schools. Otherwise we risk ending up with Marxism’s dystopian image of an immigrant underclass being heavily exploited by the country’s capitalists. No wonder then that cars keep burning.

In 2016, Sweden’s former Education Minister Gustav Fridolin advocated that schools in deprived areas should employ people with a special task of building bridges between school and working life.[14] I think it’s a good idea, even though there is already a professional role in Sweden that has this mission. More and more school principals have started to appoint school-worklife developers who act as a “spider in the web” when it comes to various value-creating partnerships between schools and the surrounding community. Precisely because through value creation pedagogy we can build so much better bridges than the traditional apprenticeship.

But the best bridge-builders are probably the students themselves. Let them do a lot of the community outreach themselves, they are capable of it. Especially if they are supported by their teachers and others in their work. Let students take on the role of teacher, guidance counsellor, restaurant owner, care worker, journalist, architect or cleaner as a natural part of their core curriculum.

An alternative to the gangster lifestyle

What is the meaning of life? Throughout this book I have tried to give a picture of the ultrasocial human who sees community, social interaction and co-creation with and for others as important sources of meaning and joy in life. But what happens when young people are denied a place at society’s warming campfires? What fills the void in the lives of the one third who were not allowed to participate, who were assessed by their teachers at school as unfit? Just because they couldn’t do the maths or had difficulty learning the language of their new home country.[15] Unfortunately, the answer is probably that crime often takes the place in young people’s hearts that society has failed to fill with democratic and humanist ideals. At least among boys. And then it can take horrible forms. There is much in what Hjalmar Söderberg (1905) wrote in his novel about the lonely and isolated priest-killer Dr. Glas:

“One wants to be loved, or else admired, or else feared, or else detested and despised. You want to instill some kind of feeling in people. The soul shudders at the emptiness and wants contact at any price.”

Hand on heart dear readers. If you yourself were unaccounted for, lonely, loved by no one, despised by many (racist people) and seemingly without a future. And if at the same time you had a few good friends down in the square who occasionally asked you to help them move some small package here and there. Would you yourself have been able to resist the temptation to take a seat by the warm campfire of the gangsters? Here, schools can use value creation pedagogy as an alternative campfire, while inviting the community outside the suburbs to join them for a moment of fellowship.

Fire air instead of luxury car

Commercial ideals probably also play an important role here. Olofsson (2018, s. 32) writes about how many young people’s “horizons of action and vision are limited to commercially created images of success and meaning in life instead of a social community based on empowerment and responsibility for working and living conditions”. Olofsson’s quote puts an image in my head of a successful gangster with glittering gold jewellery and a expensive watch, sitting in his brand new black Mercedes with hip-hop on full blast. How will schools ever be able to provide an alternative vision of life for young men in vulnerable areas?

I think it’s possible. Creating value for others can be a drug stronger than the drugs that are peddled in the marketplace. Or, in the words of Machiavelli, a weapon bolder than a Kalashnikov. An alternative lifestyle that doesn’t consist of gang wars, fast cash, luxury cars and vicious life-and-death fraternisation. We have seen many times in our research how young people build a strong identity around seeing themselves as a person who loves to create value for others around issues they are passionate about. And it is the almost magical motivational substance of value creation, the fire-breath of learning oxygen, that does it. The strong feedback and deep affirmation from exciting people (socialising oxygen), the inherent joy and meaningfulness of collective creation (handiness oxygen) and, not least, the feeling of doing something urgent and completely new with others that would not otherwise have happened (creativity oxygen) are all highly addictive. There are certainly side-effects, such as lack of time and the risk of fatigue syndrome with prolonged use. But rarely is anyone drawn into crime or gets shot.

[1] See interview with Marika Andersson in Göteborgs-Posten (Petterson 2020).

[2] See Ratio (2020).

[3] See Kamali (2006, s. 93).

[4] See The Global Village Foundation (2019).

[5] See Olofsson (2018).

[6] See Wingborg and Svensson (2019, s. 31).

[7] See Wingborg (2019).

[8] See Lindquist (2020).

[9] See Olofsson (2018).

[10] Seaman (1959).

[11] See Hugo (2012).

[12] See Olofsson (2018).

[13] See interview in SVT, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/halland/industrimannen-som-vill-andra-larlingssystemet and on the website https://gymnasielarling.se/for-foretag/arbetsgivare/carl-bennet/

[14] See Green Party (u.å.).

[15] See Wingborg and Svensson (2019, s. 23).

Reflective assessment in entrepreneurial education – some challenges and a stairway model


Last week I was in France to meet research colleagues in entrepreneurial education from around Europe at the yearly 3E conference. One of the hot topics was assessing students through reflections. Of the 52 research papers presented, 39 touched upon reflection or assessment one way or another. Naturally, I spent the week reflecting much around how to assess students summatively or formatively through reflective assignments. What better way to end this week than to write down some of my reflections here on my blog?

I will first share some aspects of what was presented at the conference. Then I will give some of my own reflections based on a decade of working with reflective assessment with my own students and with apprenticeship educators around Sweden. These reflections are structured around a ‘stairway model’ of progression in how to assess students in value creation pedagogy.

What did scholars bring up in their papers?

Let’s first briefly summarize some key things written in the papers presented at 3E. I won’t share all the 52 papers here, but if any of the phrases below triggers your curiosity, send me an email and I will share that paper with you. I’ve not read them all, but I did a quick PDF search around reflection and assessment. Some illustrative phrases were:

  • “…combining experiential, vicarious and reflective learning” (Aadland et al.)
  • “…writing reflective essays” (Farrokhnia et al.)
  • “In reflective coaching, the coach aims to trigger inner development” (Gabrielsson et al.)
  • “Reflection setting: Weekly reflection logs” (Gössel)
  • “…requires students to become reflective, critically aware” (Higgins et al)
  • “…through reflective practice [students] can increase their understanding of their own weaknesses” (Lynch et al)
  • “…encouraging reflective learning through a learning-by-doing approach (Martina et al)
  • “…four interconnected stages:  active experimentation, concrete experience, reflective observation, and abstract conceptualization” (Politis et al.)
  • “The reflective educator must be prepared to re-design their teaching” (Robinson & Shumar)
  • “…we ask students to write reflective journals” (Solbreux et al.)
  • “Reflective Essays on what learning students gained” (Somià)

Reflection is a job for students, it seems. Only one paper treated the teachers’ own reflections. Some papers see reflection as something that happens implicitly as an effect of learning-by-doing, wheras others explicitly ask students to write weekly logs/journals or post-action reflective essays.

The session with Prof. Britta M. Gössel at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development

The paper with the strongest focus on student reflections was written by Britta Gössel, a well-known and much appreciated scholar in our field. Naturally, I had to attend that one. And it was packed! Britta had planned to include an interactive workshop. But that was now impossible! So she first presented her paper that treats the follwing question: How can the development of key competencies in sustainability and entrepreneurship become visible through reflection logs? Then we discussed this for half an hour in plenary.

The engagement from people was substantial. It was obvious how much the topic engaged people. How to assess students through written reflections? What tools and methods can be used? What theories can underpin it all? How to make student reflections interesting and deep, instead of boring and annoying for both students and teachers? How can teachers make time for giving students feedback? And how to analyze the textual data?

In her article, Britta wrote about how she had used the university’s learning platform to collect student reflections. Students were asked to reflect weekly for around 15 weeks, and then to do a meta-reflection in the end of the semester. Afterwards, Britta had made word-clouds in an attempt to grasp the text and analyze which competencies students had developed. Here is a word cloud around entrepreneurial attitudes:

An a-ha moment for me – the value of apprenticeship education for entrepreneurial education

From the discussion it was apparent that most participants struggled with getting reflective assessment to work well in practice. How to vary the questions students reflect upon? How to collect the reflections? How to give good feedback? How to treat the textual data in terms of analysis? Some participants shared their experiences. Britta listened attentively. This was really a hot topic for the 3E community. Some of my closer colleagues remarked to the audience that I might be able to give some answers to Britta, since they know that I’ve worked extensively with digital student reflection.

There and then I realized something. My research on apprenticeship education could actually be quite useful for the 3E community. In parallell to my work with entrepreneurial education, I have spent the last 8 years working intensively with apprenticeship educators in Sweden. We have developed a digital tool for reflective assessment that is widely used by around 20.000 people in Sweden. I think we now have some 3.000 teachers and 17.000 students on secondary education level working with us specifically with reflective assessment. Last year, I summarized the learnings around assessment into a stairway model that I’ve written about in Swedish here and here. I mentioned the model in the plenary, and it triggered a lot of interest. So I thought I’d share a translated version of it here.

The stairway model of how to assess value creation pedagogy

I do a lot of research on ‘value creation pedagogy’ – letting students learn through creating value for others. The most extreme form of value creation pedagogy is apprenticeship education, where students spend 50% of their time at a workplace. Their teachers face some extraordinary demands on their assessment regimes. Therefore, they need to have a rather different assessment strategy. The teacher’s need for structure and control over the learning process needs to be combined with a large space for students to improvise and be creative in value creation. I therefore liken it all to jazz. If there is any phenomenon where many people together succeed in combining structure with creative improvisation, it is jazz. Value creation pedagogy in its most advanced form is like big band jazz, where teachers take the role of jazz orchestrator and distribute the initiative to students based on different pre-determined themes and “chords”.

Having successfully helped many apprenticeship educators around Sweden to manage their assessment in digital ways, we developed the stairway model to explain what we’ve seen. The stairway contains six steps, illustrating progression in assessment work through an increasing level of sophistication for each level up in the stairway. I will briefly go through the six levels below. To the right in the figure below, I relate to the jazz metaphor.

Level 1: Reflection

The most basic assessment strategy is to let students reflect in a digital logbook. It can be compared to loose jazz phrases by occasional jazz musicians. Free reflection gives a lot of room for improvisation but is not very structured or coordinated. Such an assessment strategy is easy to get started with but does not support the assessment of more sophisticated learning journeys. It also takes a lot of time for teachers to interpret large amounts of unstructured text when it is time to grade.

Level 2: Portfolio thinking

Assessing students’ competence by examining their creations has a long tradition in aesthetic-practical subjects and is called portfolio assessment. The creations are often linked to experiences and abilities through reflection, so-called portfolio thinking. This makes students active co-creators of formative assessment rather than passive recipients of grades. Combinations of text, image and video provide good opportunities for such assessment in digital form. We can see this strategy as a kind of pre-recorded solo jazz that is sent to the teacher. It allows for a great breadth in performance and also a clear structure for teachers. However, it does not provide as good support in what students need to do in order to learn how to create different works.

Level 3: Activity-based assessment

At the third level, the learning journey is more clearly described through series of action-oriented assignments. Here we begin to see the benefits of structure in combination with improvisation. With a set of different assignments, relatively sophisticated learning journeys can be textually described in action form. This is the first step where we see greater time savings in the assessment work. Here, the teacher follows students as a kind of jazz conductor with a pre-planned arrangement for the whole class. Each action-oriented assignment is a kind of chord the student can improvise to in the outside world and then reflect upon with a combination of text, tags, image and video. The chords are put together in arrangements (content packages) that students are expected to improvise upon during longer time periods, often a course, a semester or an entire year.

Level 4: Three-party collaboration

In the fourth step, a key person is added outside the school and becomes part of the digital assessment work. This step is common in vocational training with supervisors in the workplace who also read students’ reflections. Just like in jazz, the audience here gets an active role to play by giving inspiring feedback, what I here call assessment for motivation (AfM). Achieving a time-efficient tripartite collaboration in everyday life has proven to be almost impossible without digital support tailored to the purpose.

Level 5: Community of practice

In the fifth step, the teachers begin to exchange content packages with each other. This facilitates the dissemination and testing of more sophisticated learning journeys. It is more difficult to compose a unique learning journey yourself than to orchestrate a class based on an existing learning journey that someone else has composed. Therefore, the teachers benefit greatly from being able to share activity-based content with each other. Together with vocational teachers, we have been working with content packages since 2019, a way of working that has quickly become widespread. Today, there are about eighty different content packages developed for all national vocational programs. I guess that within a few years we could hope to see a spread of different content packages also for entrepreneurial education.

Level 6: The scientific teacher

The most sophisticated approach we have seen is when teachers not only exchange content packages with each other, but also analyze all students’ reflections and recordings collected with the digital reflection tool with scientific analysis. The purpose is to see which different activities give which effects on students’ learning. I’ve written an entire book about this approach, but it is in Swedish. It’s called ‘The Scientific Teacher’.

What next for the entrepreneurial education community?

I’ve experimented with digital reflective assessment for a decade now, both in my own teaching and with apprenticeship educators. But it has been a challenge to get entrepreneurial education scholars to join this intriguing work. A few early pioneers have joined – Mats Westerberg in Luleå, Sarah Robinson in Århus, Philip Clegg in the UK and of course my colleagues at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship. But the large majority has not yet formed a “collective entrepreneurial intelligence” around this topic. Maybe the 3E conference in France can be a new starting point here?

Let me know if you want to work with me on action-reflective challenges!

If you email me, I can share with you some intriguing results from my latest cohort of entrepreneurship students. To trigger your curiosity, have a look at the figure below! It summarizes the quantitative self-coding of 350 reflections from my students having conducted 30 different action-reflection challenges centered around interaction with something I call “S-persons”. An S-person is defined as:

“A significant stakeholder relevant to your project but NOT part of your project or emotional owner to your project (i.e. NOT your idea partner, other close partner, funder, sponsor, internal coach, corporate coach, teammate, etc)”

These 30 challenges can be found in a content package I’ve made available here. You can easily try them out at your own program/course, and afterwards we can compare the data sets in a scientific way. The statistics shown in the figure below are rather intriguing, I think. But as interesting as statistics can be, it is in the qualitative reflections that the most interesting stuff resides. This year, over a period of 8 months, I received around 90.000 words of emotionally strong reflections. It’s around one book. So if you read one book a year or more, you will have time to read your students’ reflections too. And the students loved to reflect in this way! One student wrote to me:

“The module was a perfect way of thinking in new and more innovative approaches to reaching S-persons. The way it has been designed is almost like a video game where you are challenged to complete a specific set of tasks. Unfortunately, what we unlock by completing these tasks is not food, money, or tangible assets but rather invaluable knowledge and experience that might be taken for granted or overlooked.

That heartwarming quote tells me that we might be onto something important here.

Chapter 9: Value creation pedagogy for sustainable development


[This is an English translation of Chapter 9 found in my new book in Swedish about value creation pedagogy, see link here. Thanks to Google and to Hugh Mason for help with this translation]

There are many good examples of students who learn through creating value that contributes to a more sustainable world (see part two).[1] Value creation pedagogy is an effective way for students to learn more about sustainable development. Teachers gain access to concrete tools and methods that help students develop their ability to act on sustainability issues. Students get to try out an important future skillset in practice — sustainability development — a role that will soon become a necessary part of most professions. The chance that they choose a life path that contributes to a sustainable future then increases dramatically. We have seen in our research that identity development requires learning-by-doing. More specifically, doing that is specifically directed toward creating value for other people, animals, nature and for the planet at large.

Chalmers has a long tradition of fostering sustainable development. It has been a core value for as long as I can remember and, for decades, every single report students write has been required to relate to sustainable development. Over the years, we have also trained many social entrepreneurs at our School of Entrepreneurship. They have since gone on to dedicate their lives to create value through cancer medicines, algae production, underwater power plants, medical devices, water purification products, educational apps, biochar methods and much more. I myself have also run a social enterprise for almost eight years with a focus on UN global sustainability goal four — good education for all. Before that, I ran a company in environmental innovation that helped truck drivers to save fuel. So I have been immersed in questions about sustainable development throughout my adult life.

Nevertheless, this was by far the most difficult chapter for me to write.

Two halfwit middle-aged engineer types

As a white man in middle-age, I find my thinking limited when I consider sustainable development. Perhaps, as a square engineer, I’m morally sluggish. Or maybe it’s because, as an entrepreneur, I have always allowed pragmatism to prevail – “If the customer pays, I’m doing the right thing”. What is right or wrong is always contingent and debateable, surely? Well, that’s what I saw in a cartoon long ago, showing a satisfied entrepreneur with a briefcase.

However, sustainable development is different. It is difficult to negotiate with biodiversity that has disappeared, or with dictators who use refugees as political weapons. Today, growth, satisfied customers and profitability alone cannot dictate what is “good”. Increasingly, the issue is what kind of world we want to pass on to our grandchildren, and so how our actions today contribute to a socially, ecologically and economically sustainable future. I have had to reassess and learn anew.

A friend of mine, Göran Christiansson, has also become my teacher here. We joined Chalmers at the same time, but only got to know each other last year, through a book writing circle in which we both participated. His book is about both the footprint we each leave behind and the handprint we may leave on others’ backs as we nudge them towards living in more socially and ecologically sustainable ways too.

Yet I must say that, like me, Göran also seems a bit of a halfwit. It was only at age 45 years that he realized that the problem of sustainability was himself. In his book, he writes about leaving a well-paid engineering management job at roller bearing corporation SKF to become an organic farmer in the Dutch walnut tree industry. Determined to reduce more than his own footprint, he also wrote a book that inspires others to do the same. Every middle-aged engineer who is as much of a halfwit as me should read Göran’s book when it’s finished, then share it with their friends.

Two twins growing up in different places

Working with your footprint and handprint creates value for many different others: for humans, society, animals and nature. “Value creation pedagogy” and “learning for sustainable development” then seem very similar. Semantics may hold me back in making a distinction between them, for, when I asked a teacher how value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development can be combined, I got an interesting counter-question back:

“How do you not work with learning for sustainable development when you work with value creation pedagogy?”

It’s a good question – the similarities are striking. Maybe learning for sustainable development is an identical twin to value creation pedagogy, separated at birth and growing up in two different families in two different places? If so, it’s understandable that they developed a little differently, because nurture matters as much as nature. Figure 9.1 shows how I try  to sort these two twins apart.

When I read literature about learning for sustainable development, I recognize a lot from my own field of research. In both fields, authors write that it is possible to teach “about” and “through” respectively:[2] to lecture about the phenomenon itself, or to let students learn through action by being allowed to act. Why not strike a balance between both? For some reason, the emphasis is usually on learning “about” sustainable development and learning “about” being entrepreneurial. This leads to an unbalanced curriculum.

Figure 9.1 Comparison of value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development.

Similarities: Priority, assessment, pedagogy, emotions, activism

There are many similarities in the ways both value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development are treated in schools. Both phenomena have problems with low priority despite support in formal curricula.[3] Both present challenges in practical pedagogy and assessment.[4] Both raise strong feelings: in value creation, interaction with unpredictable outsiders can easily become an emotional roller coaster,[5] while sustainable development raises anxiety about climate and social injustice in young people that triggers some to become angry activists like Greta Thunberg. Also, many technologies, such as genetically modified crops, stem cells, irradiated food and nuclear power, start to appear unpalatable.[6]

Both value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development imply questioning the status quo and trying to find new tools and working methods that are better for humans, animals, nature and the planet. Thus, both share the difficult challenge of simultaneously applying action, social activism and a critical approach in order to overcome society’s managerial mentality — the widespread preference for the status quo. As early as the 16th century, Machiavelli wrote:[7]

“…nothing is harder to organize, more likely to fail, or more dangerous to see through, than the introduction of a new system of government. The person bringing in the changes will make enemies of everyone who was doing well under the old system, while the people who stand to gain from the new arrangements will not offer wholehearted support, partly because they are afraid of their opponents, who still have the laws on their side, and partly because people are naturally sceptical: no one really believes in change until they’ve had solid experience of it. So as soon as the opponents of the new system see a chance, they’ll go on the offensive with the determination of an embattled faction, while its supporters will offer only half-hearted resistance, something that will put the new ruler’s position at risk too.”

I think the length of the quote is justified by our context. I could even have made it longer by including words from the following page in Machiavelli’s book: “the visionary who has armed force on his side has always won through, while unarmed even your visionary is always a loser.” So, a school must not hesitate to arm its students with the tools and methods they need to succeed in making our world more sustainable. Value creation pedagogy offers a strong arsenal of weapons that I perceive its twin sister lacks, so I must also highlight some differences.

Differences: Methodology, values, philosophy, identity

The most obvious difference between value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development probably lies in methods of action. I have searched the literature on learning for sustainable development in vain for advice to teachers that is both concrete and theoretically well-founded about how students should develop their action competence.[8] Maybe such advice is out there but, if so, it is well hidden. This is then a strength of value creation pedagogy that can be offered to teachers working with sustainable development. It offers a tried-and-tested toolbox with an easily explained purpose — to create something of value for others — which develops students’ action competence.

Another difference concerns values. Value creation pedagogy has its roots in entrepreneurship, which is classically associated with individualism.[9] In contrast, learning for sustainable development has a focus on poverty reduction, climate activism and reduction of injustice, and so is inherently rooted in collectivism. Thus the two phenomena may be pictured as addressing a shared challenge from opposite directions, meeting in the narrow middle ground in today’s polarized society. During my last two years as a doctoral student I made a significant transition towards collectivism, recognising that students might be empowered by creating value for others. The addition of the two words “for others” left some of my research colleagues with individual-focused perspectives on classical entrepreneurship behind, but opened many new friendships in schools.

A third difference is philosophical. Value creation pedagogy is built on the philosophical platform of pragmatism: if something is useful, it’s good (and vice versa). I wrote about value creation as pragmatism in my first book, so I will not repeat myself here.[10] Turning now to the twin sister, I am just getting acquainted with her philosophical basis. I sense that sustainable development rests on the same moral-philosophical ethics as Kant’s writing on idealism and world citizenship.[11] Sustainable development seems more to be about the ideal world we want in a distant future, than the world we have today and what is pragmatically possible for an individual to do here and now. Therefore, learning for sustainable development presents political challenges for schools that adopt it. Such schools become politicized from the corner of collectivism rather than individualism.[12]

A fourth difference I perceive arises from the first — powerful identity development. When tools and methods for value creation pedagogy and its assessment are used by teachers, we witness young people undergoing a profound change in their self-image. They assume a new role in society, seeing themselves more as value-creators for others. This new identity guides their future choices. No doubt many climate and social justice activists undergo similar identity changes, but rarely as a direct effect of an educational initiative. Yet, if we encourage our two twins to move in together, the education system might deliver new Greta Thunbergs and Malalas like an assembly line, ready to take action on environmental and social development issues … just as teacher Maria Wiman predicted (see chapter 4).

Complementary strengths in learning for sustainable development

While this book aims to share the joy of value creation pedagogy, she does not offer all the answers. Her sustainable twin sister’s parents put tremendous effort into exploring what is valuable beyond money. The UN’s seventeen global sustainability goals may represent the most sophisticated value model the world has seen, divided it into 169 sub-goals. What a gift for the value-creating teacher: one hundred and sixty-nine possible starting points for students’ value creation!

Sustainable development requires systemic innovation on a scale that individual entrepreneurial people and groups can seldom implement alone, as well as calls for action in political and collective dimensions that entrepreneurial methods rarely cover.[13] For example, an interesting method called backcasting starts with a vision of the future that is desired, and then works back in time back to the present, along the way identifying leverage points where effort now can most effectively bridge the gap to to the desired future.[14] Highlighting what is absolutely crucial for the future in this way can then guide students’ experimentation in the present.

Another advantage of learning for sustainable development is its solid base in both the natural sciences and social sciences. An inherently interdisciplinary phenomenon tears down classroom walls and connects subject silos to reveal a more meaningful whole. Value creation based on the global sustainability goals facilitates co-planning, co-assessment and subject interdisciplinarity, linking seventeen compulsory curriculum subjects to seventeen ethically mandatory sustainability goals to offer a giant matrix with 289 boxes within which teachers and students can grow. Matrices are popular in school. Or, in any case, common.

On an emotional level, learning for sustainable development can also contribute a lot, since it is all about the world that youths will soon take over. Students’ concerns about sustainability are well documented. Eight out of ten young people are anxious about the future, and four out of ten to such an extent that they are hesitant about having children of their own.[15] Teachers now get an opportunity to turn that anxiety into something positive and meaningful, making education a platform for sociopolitical activism that simultaneously strengthens students’ motivation to study, their democratic values ​​and their knowledge across all the sciences. This bridges between traditional and progressive pedagogy, creating a better balance between two of schools’ most central missions: the democracy mission and the knowledge mission.[16] The two twins may be the missing superheroes we need to make this happen. Teacher Sara Nelson (2021) captures this succinctly in her thesis on education for sustainable development:

“value creation pedagogy offers a sustainability didactic approach that can be both playful and hopeful at the same time as it is meaningful and creates value for someone else – and is for real.”

Two complementary perspectives

One way of looking at the difference between value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development is to frame it as an analog for two classic contradictions: individual-versus-collective, and process-versus-outcome. I see value creation pedagogy as more focused on individuals and processes, offering many specific tools and methods to help individuals navigate processes of uncertainty, emotionality and innovation. Sustainable development, on the other hand, seems to me more focused on collective society, its ideal state and the enormous transformations of social systems that need to take place for us to realise the future we all desire, so serving as a “north star” for a school that seeks to educate citizens for the future.

Making these two distinct phenomena seem similar is then perhaps unnecessary. Their fundamental differences are what make them complementary. Being entrepreneurial without some form of ethical compass or vision can be dangerous. Consider pirates, careless technology entrepreneurs, criminal syndicates and unfettered financial speculation.[17] Discussing major challenges around a sustainable future without offering the means for individuals to take action seeds alarmism and unnecessary anxiety. These twin sisters really seem to need each other.

Making a difference: directly and indirectly

My study of sustainable development made me realize that actions can have either a direct, or indirect, impact on a sustainable future.[18] For example, a direct impact might result from choosing to cycle instead of driving a car, to sort your own waste, or to clean a beach together with friends. An indirect impact might arise from debating sustainable development in the media, influencing organizations to take a more sustainable direction for the future, demonstrating about sustainable development in streets and squares, calling for a boycott of unsustainable products, or encouraging others to sort their waste.[19] Much like my friend Göran’s difference between footprint and handprint, but in other words.

Direct impact is easy for students to achieve and politically unproblematic for teachers. However, it risks overlooking root causes and structural societal problems in which governments, companies, public actors and the non-profit sector play important roles. Indirect impact often requires more knowledge and offers greater risks for teachers to support, such as potential criticism from parents, colleagues, managers, politicians and others. Researcher Derek Hodson (2013, p.328) likens it to riding a tiger:

“Those teachers who promote political involvement and develop action skills are riding a tiger, but it is a tiger that has to be ridden if we really mean what we say about education for civic participation. It is an exhilarating ride for both teachers and students.”

Concepts in learning for sustainable development

Finally I would like to mention some organizations which have developed ready-made templates for teachers who want to work with sustainable development. The pitfalls of such templates are covered in Chapter 4, primarily the risk that students may feel low motivation if they do not participate in the design of activities. Many templates for sustainable development lack the waist of the spider diagram (see Chapter 6) — the opportunity for students to interact with and create value for outsiders. This may be a temporary problem if our two twins are allowed to hang out regularly. But beware.

Even so, templates can certainly be an easy way for time-stressed teachers to get started. An excellent and current overview of different templates for learning for sustainable development in Sweden is offered by Remvall (2021, pp.99-102), citing organizations including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the World Wildlife Fund, the Global School, Brevvännerna, Keep Sweden Clean, Ashoka, the UN and the Swedish Consumer Agency. Materials for teachers are offered on all these organizations’ websites.


Almers, E. (2009). Action competence for sustainable development: Three stories about the way there. University of Learning and Communication,

Baumol, WJ (1990). Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive. Journal of Political Economy, 98(5 Part 1), 893-921.

Björneloo, I. (2012). Action competence on the schedule. In K. Rönnerman (Ed.), Action research in practice – preschool and school on a scientific basis Lund: Studentlitteratur. pp. 141-153.

Bursjöö, I. (2014a). Education for sustainable development – abilities beyond the curriculum. Research on teaching and learning, 12, 61-77.

Bursjöö, I. (2014b). Education for sustainable development from a teacher horizon: context, competencies and collaboration.

Fohlin, N., & Wilson, J. (2021). Meaningful learning – democracy and conversation in school. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, ER, Mayall, EE, Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3918955 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3918955.

Hodson, D. (2010). Science education as a call to action. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 10(3), 197-206.

Hodson, D. (2013). Do not be nervous, do not be flustered, do not be scared. Be prepared. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 13(4), 313-331.

Hodson, D. (2014). Becoming part of the solution: Learning about activism, learning through activism, learning from activism. In Activist science and technology education: Springer. pp. 67-98.

Hodson, D. (2020). Going beyond STS education: Building a curriculum for sociopolitical activism. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 20(4), 592-622.

Holmberg, J. (2019). Unsealed water? – then expeditions are needed! In J. Algehed, E. Eneqvist, C. Jensen, & J. Lööf (Eds.), Innovation and Urban Development – A research anthology on organizational challenges for the city and municipality of Borås: Stema. pp. 65-76.

Holmberg, J., & Holmén, J. (2020). Co-creative adaptation work – Backcasting expeditions for Agenda 2030. Stockholm: Sveriges Kommuner

och Regioner Holmberg, J., & Robèrt, K.-H. (2000). Backcasting — A framework for strategic planning. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 7(4), 291-308.

Jensen, BB (2002). Knowledge, action and pro-environmental behavior. Environmental education research, 8(3), 325-334.

Johnson, C. (1988). Enterprise education and training. British Journal of Education and Work, 2(1), 61-65.

Kemp, P. (2010). Citizen of the world: The cosmopolitan ideal for the twenty-first century.

Lackéus, M. (2021). The science teacher – a handbook for research in school and preschool. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Lans, T., Blok, V., & Wesselink, R. (2014). Learning apart and together: towards an integrated competence framework for sustainable entrepreneurship in higher education. Journal of Cleaner Production, 62, 37-47.

Machiavelli, N. (2009/1532). The prince. Penguin books, UK.

Mogensen, F., & Schnack, K. (2010). The action competence approach and the ‘new’discourses of education for sustainable development, competence and quality criteria. Environmental education research, 16(1), 59-74.

The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. (2014). Sustainable development in school – please stay tuned. Stockholm: Naturskyddsföreningen

Nelson, S. (2021). Education for sustainable development – An exploratory study of “sustainability didactic approaches” for subject teachers and teacher students Master thesis, Lund university, Lund.

Remvall, I. (2021). Method book for change heroes – sustainable and value creation pedagogy in the future-oriented school. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Schindehutte, M., Morris, M., & Allen, J. (2006). Beyond achievement: Entrepreneurship as extreme experience. Small Business Economics, 27(4-5), 349-368.

Spahn, A. (2018). “The first generation to end poverty and the last to save the planet?” – Western individualism, human rights and the value of nature in the ethics of global sustainable development. Sustainability, 10(6), 1853.

Stagell, U., Almers, E., Askerlund, P., & Apelqvist, M. (2014). What kind of actions are appropriate? Eco-school teachers ‘and instructors’ ranking of sustainability-promoting actions as content in education for sustainable development (ESD). International Electronic Journal of Environmental Education, 4(2), 97-113.

Tiessen, JH (1997). Individualism, collectivism, and entrepreneurship: A framework for international comparative research. Journal of Business Venturing, 12(5), 367-384.

Örtenblad, A. (2020). Against Entrepreneurship (3030479374) Springer


[1] See also book by Remvall (2021).

[2] See Hodson (2013, p.324) in Learning for Sustainable Development and Johnson (1988, p.62) in Entrepreneurship Education.

[3] See, for example, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (2014).

[4] See Bursjöö (2014a).

[5] See Schindehutte, Morris and Allen (2006).

[6] See Hodson (2014, 2020).

[7] See Machiavelli (2009/1532, p.23).

[8] Some examples of central writings are Almers (2009), Mogensen and Schnack (2010), Stagell et al. (2014) and Lans, Blok and Wesselink (2014). See also Björneloo (2012).

[9] See Tiessen (1997).

[10] See Lackéus (2021, pp.84-96).

[11] For a moral-philosophical review of learning for sustainable development, see Bursjöö (2014b, p.45-48). See also Spahn (2018) and Kemp (2010).

[12] Hodson (2010, p.204-205) writes about politicization of education.

[13] See Holmberg (2019).

[14] See Holmberg and Holmén (2020) and Holmberg and Robèrt (2000).

[15] See Hickman et al. (2021).

[16] Read more about the school’s democracy mission in Fohlin and Wilson (2021).

[17] See Baumol (1990) and Örtenblad (2020).

[18] See Jensen (2002).

[19] The difference is well described in Hodson (2013, p.328).

Chapter 8. Assessment of value creation pedagogy


In this chapter, I will give my current view of what we have learned about assessment – an important but difficult issue for the value-creating teacher. In our research, we are often drawn into various attempts to further develop teachers’ assessment strategies. Every year we learn more in this complex area, so this may be a bit of a flogiston chapter. The more sophisticated tools and methods described here are, in all honesty, a little difficult to explain in text form. I beg your indulgence if it is sometimes difficult to keep up. Then, just skip ahead to the chapter on value creation pedagogy for sustainable development.

Figure 8.1 shows an overview progression model of how assessment is influenced by value creation pedagogy. In the short term, teachers’ assessment work is not particularly affected by value creation pedagogy. Once the teaching has been slightly adjusted, assessment work can continue much as usual. However, the more extensive the value creation activities become, the greater the demands on teachers to further develop their assessment strategies. More and more focus needs to be put on formative assessment in order to monitor and manage the learning process and to reinforce each student’s learning along the way. IT support of various kinds may need to be used in order to reduce the time spent, so as to not become unmanageable. In the most advanced forms of value creation pedagogy, entirely new and sophisticated tools and methods are needed to ensure that the situation is not perceived as unsustainable for teachers. Thus, a crucial insight we made on our journey is that sophisticated learning journeys require new and sophisticated tools and methods of assessment. The three steps in Figure 8.1 will now be described one by one.

Figure 8.1. Three different levels of complexity in the value-creating learning journey and various associated tools and methods in the assessment work.

The simple learning journey

We start with the simple case when the teaching has grumbled to a little granna. A drop or two of value creation has landed in the ordinary teaching.

As usual but a little better

When value creation pedagogy is applied on a small scale, the impact on assessment work is minimal. On the one hand, the change is so small that no new assessment strategies are needed. This is because value creation is not a learning objective to be assessed, but a means to better achieve the learning objective. Teacher Maria Wiman writes:[1]

I think there is a danger in problematizing the assessment of value creation pedagogy too much. Then you make it more difficult than it should be. […] After all, it is the knowledge and skills in the curriculum that should be assessed, nothing else. In the course of value creation project work, a lot of evidence for assessment will be created.

The strategies already used for assessment can thus continue to be used. One change, however, is that teachers will have a more varied and more comprehensive evidence base on which to assess, as students who work in a value-creation way produce both more and better creations and presentations that can be assessed in the usual way. Teacher Madeléne Polfors writes:[2]

My fears about not reaching the knowledge requirements and not having enough assessment material were not realised. In all the classes I had full responsibility for [… ] I had the easiest time seeing how students achieved the learning outcomes in this class where we worked exclusively with value creation pedagogy. Similarly with assessment materials, I have never had so much assessment material and been so familiar with what each individual student has shown in terms of knowledge and skills.

The increased variety and quantity of assessment evidence can in turn lead to fairer assessment and more students achieving higher grades. Maria Wiman explains:[3]

Above all, everyone has been approved now who wasn’t before. […] I’m sure it’s because they’re motivated […] I feel like I’m judging more fairly now, because everyone gets to show what they know. […] I think I’ve given everyone a chance and it’s paid off, the assessment has gone up.

However, assessment work can be made more difficult if students’ projects are allowed to wander too far beyond the focus of the learning outcomes. In her second book on value creation pedagogy, Maria Wiman writes (2022, s. 158) about how she has sometimes gotten off track when students have enthusiastically wandered off and learned a lot about making video effects for their films on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but less about the CRC itself. But as long as the teaching is balanced between facts and engagement, assessment is made easier. Maria Wiman also advises to include checkpoints along the way. If students are working on making films about the UN CRC, include a test or text submission somewhere in the middle of the process on the same theme.

Assessment for Motivation (AfM)

A new type of assessment that is added to value creation pedagogy is the assessment that outsiders make of learners when they give them feedback on their attempts to create value for them. This is not an assessment of students’ learning, but of their ability to create value. Such assessment contributes indirectly to students’ learning because it acts as a rocket fuel for their motivation. I think it is a kind of Assessment for Motivation (AfM), with the aim of enhancing students’ motivation. This can be compared to formative assessment or Assessment for Learning (AfL), in order to reinforce learning, and summative assessment, or Assessment of Learning (AoL).

The more advanced learning journey

We will now look at how assessment is affected by more advanced forms of value creation pedagogy.

Technology as the teacher’s extended arm

The more extensive value-creation activities are carried out, the more important various alternative assessment strategies become, see Box 1 below. We have seen more frequent monitoring of different parallel learning processes, more frequent feedback from teachers, students reflecting in writing through so-called exit tickets (written reflection at the end of the lesson), logbooks and various forms of peer assessment.[4] When students feel that school work is really important, peer feedback becomes more spontaneous in the classroom.[5] Much like colleagues in a workplace environment spontaneously seek feedback from each other on tasks that feel important in real life.

Value creation can also be given a clearer structure by having students write down what they intend to do in a plan or working template (Wiman 2019, p. 29). Questions that need to be included in such a plan include what is to be done, how it is to be done, why, resources needed, timetable and who does what. One plan per group is appropriate. The teacher monitors progress against the plan on an ongoing basis.

A challenge with formative assessment is the increased time commitment it usually involves for the teacher.[6] Therefore, various time-saving digital tools become an important element of more advanced forms of value creation pedagogy. Digital tools mentioned in addition to traditional learning platforms are: [7]

  • apps that speed up feedback between teacher and student, in both directions
  • apps that allow students to record audio files during meetings and phone calls
  • apps where documents can be shared between students and teachers and commented on in real time
  • apps that facilitate grouping
  • apps that enable video calls in various forms
  • apps that facilitate group collaboration and communication
  • apps for visualising students’ ideas and thoughts during brainstorming
  • apps for recording different types of video material.

Digital information generated in such tools not only saves time in communication, but in some cases it can also serve as a basis for assessment. An encounter between a group of learners and an external recipient of value can be documented for review by the teacher at a later date for assessment purposes. Since the teacher “can’t be everywhere”, digital technology becomes a kind of “extended arm” (Wiman 2019, p. 54–55).

Now, this is not a book about how teachers can work with digital tools in the classroom, so the above list is far from complete. But the pattern is clear. Many of the challenges that come with more advanced value creation pedagogy can be solved by teachers seeking out and trying different digital tools in school that save time while generating assessment data.

More advanced assessment and IT as inseparable friends

Value-creation teachers who use digital technology to successfully monitor and assess students’ more complex learning journeys makes me think of Célestin Freinet. As early as the 1930s, he needed to use technology such as printing presses, tape recorders, film cameras and hectographs to develop his value creation pedagogy.[8] I am therefore far from the first to conclude that technology is needed in more advanced forms of education. I have increasingly come to see IT and assessment as inseparable friends in value creation pedagogy.

In my research, I have therefore placed great emphasis on the digital dimension. By collaborating with systems scientists and programmers, we have made many breakthroughs in our work that would never have been possible without technology. In the light of what we now know, I hardly understand how it is even possible to research more advanced assessment without everyday access to such expertise.

Philosophy is also crucial. Without a philosophy of learning that guides the search for new insights, the risk is that technological solutions will not help teachers. My household gods are therefore both John Dewey and Célestin Freinet. Equal parts philosophy and technology. The ambition has long been to search for new ways to measure and assess what we value the most – deep learning, student motivation and emotionally powerful learning experiences. What we can make visible through measurement and assessment, we can also get more of.

Box 1: Assessing action-based learning

Value creation pedagogy is essentially a kind of action-based learning. There is much written in the literature about how such learning can be assessed. The methods below can be said to be variants of formative assessment, an umbrella term for assessment carried out primarily to enhance student learning (AfL).

Performance assessment is about having students perform authentic actions and assessing how well they succeed.[9] Teachers give students an assignment that allows them to demonstrate knowledge and skills in practice. Both the process and the “product” that students may create can contribute to the teacher’s assessment. This approach is common in aesthetic subjects and practical vocational training. Challenges include time constraints and subjective judgements.

Reflective assessment is about allowing students to reflect on their learning in writing or orally, individually or in groups.[10] The focus is often on what happened, how the student thought and felt, what was positive and negative, lessons learned and what could have been done differently.[11] It is easy to get started and the focus becomes on metacognition – awareness of one’s own abilities. Challenges are time commitment and deep reflection.

Peer assessment is about allowing students to assess each other for the purpose of learning and development.[12] It is a student-centred approach that reinforces responsibility for one’s own learning and that of others. Challenges include a lack of reliability and the need for students to practice their assessment skills.

E-assessment is about using digital support in the assessment process.[13] It is a broad category that includes everything from simple self-administered quizzes to advanced multimedia, simulations and e-portfolio systems. E-portfolio is a common application where students can upload their work for the outside world to see, much like a digital CV. [14]

Constructive alignment deals with linking three key aspects of learning – activities, learning outcomes and assessment.[15] Teachers are encouraged to focus assessment on the specific activities students need to do to achieve the learning outcomes, and to express these activities in verb form. One question teachers might ask is: What do students need to do in order to learn what we want them to know?

Assessment based on emotional activities

One assessment strategy I have worked with a lot in my research is to focus the assessment on the activities that generate strong emotions among students. If it is the case that we learn deeply from emotionally powerful events, then it is important to use assessment to ensure that all students are doing exactly what they need to do in order to learn deeply. The strategy is thus based on the principles of constructive alignment, and also on the different emotional learning events in Table 2.1 in Chapter 2.[16]

This is how I usually work with activity-based assessment in practice. Have students do a written reflection after an emotionally powerful event of some kind. For example, the assignment for the student could be written like this:

Conduct a dialogue/pitch/meeting with someone outside the classroom/school, and then reflect in writing on how it went, what feedback you received, what you learned and what you will do differently next time.

Make an attempt to create value for someone outside the classroom/school. How did it feel? What feedback did you get? What did you learn? What will you do differently next time?

When you have experienced something really emotionally strong related to your project, write down what happened and reflect on it. What did you learn? How was your project affected? What will you do differently next time?

Apply some of the core content practically in your project. How did it go? What was the impact of the project? What did you learn?

The texts above may need to be age-adjusted and formulated more specifically according to the value-creating task the students are doing. Each reflection should be individual and written, even if the task is carried out orally and in groups. Deep written reflection is always individual. Two people can never have experienced a situation in exactly the same way and learned exactly the same things. By putting the experiences into words, students also deepen their learning.[17]

Other emotional tasks can be given around activities that take place in the team, such as:

Develop a value proposition as a group and write it down in a canvas template. Then reflect on what you learned.

Make an important decision as a group. Then reflect in writing on how you felt afterwards and what you learned.

Written reflection on emotional activities is a good way to make visible learning events that are otherwise not visible with more traditional assessment strategies. It is also a way to gain insight into what is happening in the learning processes in more detail and to ensure that each student has been involved. It is difficult for students to make a credible reflection without having completed the activity in the assignment. If they try to write something down anyway, there is always the risk that the hoax will be exposed in subsequent dialogue with the teacher.

Tasks of the above kind consist of both acting and reflecting, embedded in the same task text. This is theoretically based on the so-called experiential learning cycle by Kolb (1984), see Figure 8.2. The planning and feeling stages of Kolb’s learning cycle can be included in the mission statement. Just make sure that the whole cycle is included in some form in the assignment text describing what students are expected to do.

Figure 8.2 Designing emotional activities for students supported by the Kolb learning cycle.

A crash into the formative assessment wall

In my own teaching I have experimented a lot with formative and activity-based assessment. Once it got out of hand. In an eight-week course at Chalmers quite a few years ago, I had nine different forms of oral and written assessment, both formative and summative. There were mini-exams, pitches, video submissions, coaching, compulsory workshops, student interaction with an external person, peer assessments via a Facebook group and written reflections via a sadly poor learning platform at Chalmers. Without thinking twice, I had given myself 1,543 assessments to do or follow over the next eight weeks.

There and then I crashed into the formative assessment wall. Never work like this again, I thought. It was hard to realise that a fundamentally positive form of assessment could do so much harm to me as a teacher. Later, I read that other teachers have had this problem as well.[18] To try to understand the situation better, I sat down and did the math. It turned out that formative assessment is relatively simple mathematics. The workload grows linearly with the number of students and the number of assessments per student, see Figure 8.3. Elementary.

But now I am also an IT geek. So I realised that the quality of the IT support available to teachers determines how many assessments they can do in an eight-week period without crashing. My own limit there and then, with the substandard digital tools we had at the time, was a few hundred assessments. With our 37 students, that meant a maximum limit of between five and eight assessments per student in a course. And that included compulsory attendance as a kind of assessment. Sadly summative if you ask me. So in March 2016, an idea was born about what we’re getting to now – the teacher as jazz conductor with chords that students can improvise to.[19]

Figure 8.3. Formative assessment mathematics showing that when more than 100 assessments need to be made at a time digital support is needed. When more than 500 assessments need to be made, completely new types of digital support are needed and a new assessment philosophy – the “jazz conductor”.

The sophisticated learning journey

Now we come to the most sophisticated form of assessment for value-based learning that we have worked with in our research.

The teacher as jazz conductor

When value creation pedagogy is at its most extensive form, a rather different assessment strategy is required. The teacher’s need for structure and control over the learning process needs to be combined with ample scope for students to improvise and be creative in their value creation attempts. Let us therefore liken it to jazz. If there is any phenomenon where many people together manage to combine structure with creative improvisation, it is jazz, see box 2 below. Value creation pedagogy in its most advanced form is like big band jazz, where teachers take the role of jazz conductor and distribute the initiative to students based on various predetermined themes and “chords”.

At Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, we have been working as jazz conductors for more than twentyfive years. My students probably think they are leading the process more than they actually do. We have composed and refined a concert arrangement for them so that new virtuosos get to shine with their solos every year. They probably feel that they are performing a unique concert. But we, the composers, hear much the same concert every year. That’s the beauty of being a jazz conductor. When the audience arrives and the concert begins, the jazz conductor’s work is basically done. All we have to do is stand there, a little discreetly, between the audience and the musicians and enjoy. Keeping an eye out for any musician having a problem with a string on the guitar or some mechanical failure on the saxophone or whatever. Or stage fright.

The best jazz conductors in schools are found in vocational education, more specifically in apprenticeship education. Half the time students are apprentices in a workplace creating value, half the time they are at school. All the time the teacher is expected to organise, lead and monitor the learning. I have had the privilege of working with vocational teachers since 2014. They are truly the virtuosos of value creation pedagogy. Everything I am about to tell you about sophisticated assessment strategies I have learned by working closely with these master conductors. I have then tested what we have arrived at in my own teaching at Chalmers. If you want to know more about our research with vocational teachers, read our reports to the Swedish National Agency for Education’s Learning Centre.[20]

New digital support for jazz conductors

Teachers leading sophisticated value creation pedagogy need a type of IT support that was not available anywhere in the world when we started our research journey. We had to spend almost eight years experimenting with a brand new type of digital assessment support tailored for vocational teachers. I had my research tool Loopme to build on. But there were many parts that needed to be redesigned and expanded to support vocational teachers in their assessment work. In the end, I think we succeeded quite well, because today Loopme is used by several thousand vocational teachers around Sweden with nearly 20,000 vocational students. More are being added all the time.

I think this new digital assessment tool for teachers acting as jazz conductors is relevant far beyond vocational education. We have seen here a way of working with assessment of value creation pedagogy that can probably work at all levels of the education system. We just haven’t got so far on our journey yet that the approach has been much disseminated beyond vocational teachers. So let me describe what we came up with in more detail. Perhaps this approach could work for more teachers who want to take on the role of jazz conductor in schools, but who have not yet made it work in practice. First, we need to review some key concepts that emerged from the work.

Fact box 2: Big band jazz

A jazz big band usually consists of ten to twenty musicians, often divided into four sections – saxophone, trumpet, trombone and accompaniment (guitar, piano, bass and drums). The big band is the jazz equivalent of the symphony orchestra.

Music form. Big band jazz is a free form of music based on chords. A chord consists of three or more notes sounded simultaneously, forming a happy (major chord) or more melancholy (minor chord) base for the melody. In jazz, the melody is improvised by the solo musicians as they go along, using different chords in an often predetermined chord progression. This gives the musicians more freedom to decide for themselves how it will sound. This can be compared to the symphony orchestra where the musicians follow detailed notes written down in advance, note by note, second by second.

Pieces of music. A jazz song usually consists of a theme and a chord progression from which the musicians can improvise. The more people in the orchestra, the more structured it needs to be. The musicians are given free rein, but within a framework set by the composer. This is a freedom that requires a lot of preparation and practice. For each song, the musicians have around four to six pages of notes with both chord progressions and detailed melodies, differently distributed depending on the role of the musician in the orchestra. The whole set of notes for all the musicians is called an arrangement or a score.

Leadership. Leading jazz musicians who improvise the music is a kind of inherent leadership paradox. Who actually leads the work? The jazz conductor or the solo musicians? Many jazz orchestras don’t even have a conductor leading the concert. Instead, one of the section leaders steps up from time to time and leads the orchestra through key passages. Other times, especially in larger orchestras, there is a jazz conductor who distributes the initiative to different musicians when it’s time to improvise. In many cases, the conductor has done most of his or her work before the concert begins, through planning, rehearsals and briefings months before the audience comes to listen.

A new semantics for assessing value creation pedagogy

To facilitate the assessment of value creation pedagogy, we have developed a new semantics consisting of five key concepts – tasks, tags, content package, emotional assessment and comment thread. These five concepts are briefly described below.[21] The concepts require a partially digitally supported assessment strategy, otherwise there is probably a high risk of crash.

Task – a description of a concrete action with associated reflection that is intended to lead to learning for the students.

A good learning task is action-oriented and describes simply and concretely what students need to do to learn what they need to know in a particular subject. A task description consists of a title of a maximum of eight words and a short description of a few sentences of what is to be done. The description also needs to show how students are expected to reflect in writing after completing the task, focusing on what was done, how it went, what the student learned and how the completion of the task can be improved next time. Asking the student to link to theory and literature is also useful, if it works with age. Some tasks need to be completed several times for the student to learn the lesson and for the teacher to grade. Although tasks are described, communicated and reflected upon via an IT tool, the completion of the task is completely decoupled from the IT tool. All action takes place “offline”. It is only when it is time to reflect that the work takes place “online” in the IT tool. Tasks are usually compulsory and need to be completed for the student to pass. They are thus an important piece of the puzzle in the teacher’s summative assessment work. A task is like a chord or a sequence of notes for a jazz musician to use as a starting point for creative work.

Tag – short phrase of maximum four to five words that summarises effects, experiences or behaviours of interest in the learning process and that can be displayed on a digital “button”.

A tag allows learners to quickly and easily describe the learning, effects and experiences they are having. However, it requires that what is being referred to can be described succinctly enough to fit each phrase on a small “button” in an IT tool and that learners can easily understand what learning, effects and experiences are being referred to. Each button pressed then means that the learner considers that he/she has learned or experienced what is described on the button. Typically, learners select around two to six tags each time a task has been completed and reflected upon. The teacher decides in advance which tags students can choose from.

Content package – a ready-made set of three to twenty tasks and ten to twenty-five matching tags that teachers can choose from and give to a group of students to carry out over an extended period of time.

The content packages have have become an understandable and useful form for disseminating, discussing, analysing, developing and testing a particular educational design in a wider circle than just in one’s own school or classroom. The packages have been brought together in a digital repository called the Loopme Library, which was designed and technically built in the research process together with professional teachers and the Swedish National Agency for Education’s Apprenticeship Centre. A large number of content packages have then been developed by teachers around Sweden. It has been clear that many teachers are waiting to get started with the new assessment strategy described here until there is a ready-made content package to start from that has been designed by another teacher. So it seems to be easier for teachers to be jazz conductors than jazz composers. A content package is like an arrangement for a whole orchestra (think whole class of students). It can be exchanged between orchestras and played in concert halls all over the country.

Emotional assessment – the student makes a choice from five possible emotional states, from strongly negative to strongly positive, via a simple button press by the student and linked to each written reflection.

This information is displayed to teachers in connection with each reflection from a student. The emotional assessment helps teachers to quickly capture things students do not express in text, mainly around well-being and motivation. The student may not even be aware that well-being has started to decline. The teacher can often see that the emotional state is starting to decline and can then arrange an extra meeting. The reason for the drop in mood usually surfaces in such a meeting. The emotional assessment can be likened to the jazz conductor maintaining constant eye contact with the orchestra during the concert.

Comment thread – a digital formative dialogue that can follow each reflection if the teacher chooses to write a comment on the student’s submitted reflection.

This type of task-linked digital formative dialogue has become an integral part of value-creation teachers’ formative assessment work. Many schools have even begun to define it as teaching time when the teacher sits and digitally comments on student reflections. This work serves an important purpose in affirming, challenging and motivating students in their learning. It also leads to higher quality as the teacher’s control over value creation-based learning is strengthened. It also helps to maintain the frequency of students’ written reflection which in turn enhances learning. A doing becomes a learning only when the student has reflected on it.[22]

Features of a digital assessment tool

Let us now look at some key features of a digital assessment tool for value creation pedagogy that have emerged from our research. The top priority for vocational teachers was speed of communication, simply to save time and get students and tutors on board. Therefore, we drew inspiration from social media. Students were allowed to reflect on their mobiles via a user interface that was extremely easy to use. They were also given the opportunity to attach pictures and videos to each reflection. Teachers were then presented with a social feed of students’ reflections on a web page where they could quickly and easily comment and view images. Similar to Facebook, but with a feed just for teachers and fully tailored to the jazz conductors of learning. This saved a lot of time in assessment work and also facilitated the all-important documentation. Here it was the students themselves who documented their learnings.

For research purposes, we had already built tagging and emotion estimation functions into our IT tool. For vocational teachers this became a way to let students quickly and easily describe what they were feeling and what they had learned. A kind of self-assessment of learning. It gave teachers invaluable information in both formative and summative assessment work, and again saved a lot of time.

It also became clear quite soon that a task, or mission, logic was needed to guide and focus the students’ reflections. Students needed to be allowed to act and reflect on the basis of specific activities and related reflection questions composed for them by the teachers. Just as the jazz musician needs a chord progression to improvise from. The assignments are often quite general and broad (think chords), so that students can improvise based on what each specific situation allows (think improvisation solos).

Six different levels of digital assessment jazz

In our work with vocational teachers, we have seen many different ways of working digitally to assess value-added learners. Figure 8.4 illustrates six typical assessment strategies. Let’s review them briefly here.

Figure 8.4. Six different levels of assessment of value creation pedagogy.

Reflection. The most basic strategy is to allow students to reflect in a digital logbook. This can be compared to loose jazz trudelutes by individual jazz musicians. Free reflection allows a lot of room for improvisation but is not very structured or coordinated. Such an assessment strategy is easy to get started with but does not support the assessment of more sophisticated learning journeys. It also requires a lot of teacher time to interpret large amounts of unstructured text when it is time to set a grade.

Portfolio thinking. To assess students’ competence by examining their creations has a long tradition in aesthetic-practical subjects and is called portfolio assessment. Creations are often linked to experiences and abilities through reflection, so-called portfolio thinking.[23] This makes students active co-creators of formative assessment rather than passive recipients of grades. Combinations of text, images and video provide good opportunities for such assessment in digital form. We can see this approach as a kind of pre-recorded solo jazz sent to the teacher. It allows for a wide range of performances and also enables a clear structure for teachers. However, it does not provide very good support in what students need to do in order to learn how to create different works.

Activity-based assessment. At the third level, the learning journey is more clearly described through series of action-oriented tasks. Here we begin to see the benefits of structure combined with improvisation. With a set of different tasks, relatively sophisticated learning journeys can be described in action form. This is the first step where we see greater time savings in assessment work. Here the teacher becomes a kind of jazz conductor with a pre-planned arrangement the whole class follows. Each action-oriented task is a kind of chord the student can improvise from and then reflect upon with a combination of text, tags, images and video. The chords are put together in arrangements (content packages) that the student is expected to improvise from over slightly longer periods of time, often a course, a semester or a whole year.

Three-party collaboration. In the fourth step, a key person from outside the school is added and becomes part of the digital assessment work. This step is common in vocational education and training with supervisors at the workplace who also read the students’ reflections. However, I believe that also many other teachers and even pedagogical concept designers who want to invest in value creation pedagogy could find people who fill this third role in a good way. Perhaps by defining supporting roles for outside partners for whom learners create value. As in jazz, the audience has an active role to play here by providing inspiring feedback, what I call here assessment for motivation (AfM). Achieving time-efficient three-party collaboration in everyday life has proven to be almost impossible without digital support tailored for the purpose.[24]

Community of Practice. In the fifth step, teachers start exchanging content packages with each other. This facilitates the dissemination and testing of more sophisticated learning journeys. It is more difficult to compose a unique learning journey yourself than to be a conductor based on an existing learning journey that someone else has composed. Therefore, teachers benefit greatly from being able to share activity-based content with each other.

We have been working with content packages together with vocational teachers since 2019, an approach that has quickly gained wide acceptance. Today, there are around 80 different content packages developed for all 12 national vocational programmes in Sweden. My guess is that in a few years we could see a wide spread of different content packages for value creation pedagogy as well. Perhaps based on some of the many examples of value creation pedagogy in this book? Anyone is free to create such a content package.

Scientific teachers. The most sophisticated approach we have seen is when teachers not only exchange content packages with each other, but also analyse all students’ reflections and tags from the digital tool using scientific analysis methodology. The aim is to gain insight into which different activities have which effects on student learning. My earlier book – The Scientific Teacher – is about this very approach.[25] You are welcome to read the details in that book. But based on our focus here, this approach is about teachers working together scientifically to build up locally produced evidence about the effects of different kinds of value-creating activities. I write more about this in the epilogue at the end of the book.

Some final advice for aspiring jazz conductors

After quite a few years of working with activity-based assessment, we have accumulated some tips for conductors of value creation pedagogy. Try to have a pace of reflection that is comfortable for both teachers and learners. Some vocational teachers have students reflecting every day when they are on placement. Others work more on a weekly basis. Personally, I have moved towards more infrequent than that, as I work part-time as a teacher. Right now, my students reflect once or twice a month. But they also have reflection assignments for their other teachers, so for them the pace is about three to four reflections a month. Whatever pace you choose, try to keep the pace. Time as a pace-setter creates security.

Also the scale can be experimented with. In recent years, I have started to have more and more extensive Kolbian learning cycles in each task. It can be quite a lot of work for my students before it’s time to write a reflection to me. It also makes the reading more interesting for me. Every time I receive a reflection from a student, I can be sure that something interesting has been done.

In addition to the paced reflections, I also often have assignments that are not time dependent, beyond the end of the semester. Indeed, some activities cannot be predicted when they can be completed. For example, being involved in an emotional event, taking an initiative, successfully creating value for an outsider, taking an important decision or acting on an unexpected opportunity. Then it becomes a kind of retrofit reflective assessment. Students are left to judge for themselves when the opportunity to carry out the task arises. Towards the end of a term, I have a conversation with those who have not yet managed to find a good opportunity. It’s a structured way of assessing things that otherwise don’t get assessed so easily.

Another variant of backward assessment is to look at students’ chosen tags at the individual level. If teachers allow students to choose from tags that represent important learning outcomes and skills to practice, at the end of a term the teacher can go in and analyse which of the students have learned them, according to themselves. I usually have a conversation with those who have not yet chosen to use a particular tag. Maybe I have an alternative assessment strategy that can capture that particular learning for that particular student. Or maybe something is missing and needs to be added to the learning process.

A summary of jazz as an assessment strategy

Figure 8.5 provides a visual summary of the jazz conductor’s activity-basede assessment strategy.

In step one, students complete various action-oriented tasks. Teachers summatively assess each assignment, but without setting a grade. The important thing is that each student tries to complete the activity, not how it goes. It is the attempt that counts. The digital support shows an activity matrix of which students have attempted which tasks.

In step two, students are formatively assessed by teachers (BfL) and possibly also by tutors (BfL + BfM). Student reflection, tagging and emotional state are read and commented by the teacher and sometimes also by the tutor. This forms a digital tripartite dialogue in a comment thread.

In step three, the teacher translates the first two steps into course or curriculum logic, which facilitates grading (In parallel to the three steps, the value created by the students is assessed by the potential recipients of value (BfM).

Figure 8.5. Three steps in emotional activity-based assessment for learning, grades and motivation.

Taken together, this makes for an assessment strategy that represents a fine-grained mix of formative and summative assessment. This is contrary to what some researchers recommend,[26] but I have come to be convinced that such blending is absolutely crucial for the value-creation teacher. There are also other researchers who advocate such blending.[27]

A few final words on the assessment society

We live in a measurement society. Everything must be monitored, measured, documented and evaluated. What we can measure, we get more of, precisely because then it becomes visible. Conversely, if we find it difficult to measure something, we will get less of it. The effect will be that we value mainly what is easy to assess, rather than trying to assess what we value highly.[28] This is a challenge for value creation-based learning, as many of the student outcomes are difficult to monitor and assess via traditional exams. In this chapter, I have therefore outlined some alternative ways forward for teachers who want to assess and make visible the effects of value creation on student learning.

Teachers’ assessment strategies guide students’ focus in school work. The effect is called backwash – students adjusting effort and focus to what is on the exam.[29] The effect is so powerful that it’s hardly even worth fighting. Instead, researcher John Biggs recommends that teachers focus assessment on what students need to do in order to learn what we want them to learn, known as constructive alignment. I see this as a small step away from the usual focus on knowledge requirements and learning outcomes. More focus is then put on the concrete doing required of students. Could this be a better way to manage students’ value-creation based learning? Assessing them also on the things they need to do in order to learn? Not just assessing them on what they need to know according to the curriculum documents? I think so. But it requires well-tested assessment methods, digital support tools and teachers who don’t bow down to the New Public Management movement.

[1] The quote is from a comment by Maria Wiman on a post I made on 14/6-2016 in the Facebook group “Value creation pedagogy in theory and practice”.

[2] See Polfors (2020, p. 27).

[3] Quotes from impact study for the Swedish National Agency for Education by Lackéus and Sävetun (2016, p. 40–41).

[4] See for example Wiman (2019) and Jenssen et al. (2020).

[5] An example of this is given by Wiman (2019, p. 61).

[6] See Lundahl et al. (2011).

[7] Which apps are good and popular at any given time changes quickly, but some apps that have been mentioned are Google Classroom, Google Docs, Garageband, Menti, Socrative, Padlet, Showbie, Toolie, Whatsapp, Facebook.

[8] Read more about this in Freinet (2018).

[9] See Isaacs et al. (2013).

[10] See Bond, Evans and Ellis (2011).

[11] See Gibbs (1988).

[12] See Dochy, Segers and Sluijsmans (1999).

[13] See Supporting mountains (2012).

[14] See Ferns and Comfort (2014).

[15] See Biggs and Tang (2011).

[16] Read more about this assessment strategy in Lackéus and Williams Middleton (2018).

[17] See Moon (2004).

[18] See Jonsson, Lundahl and Holmgren (2015).

[19] The idea was first described in a video I made about summative qualitative formative assessment. Search on Youtube for “Social learning media Lackéus” and you will find it.

[20] See Lackéus and Sävetun (2019b, 2021).

[21] They are also described in more detail in Lackéus and Sävetun (2021).

[22] This is often described in the literature on experiential learning, see for example Aprea and Cattaneo (2019, p. 378), Roberts (2012) or Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985).

[23] See Impedovo, Ligorio and McLay (2018, p. 754).

[24] See Lackéus and Sävetun (2021).

[25] See Lackeus (2021).

[26] See Lundahl (2011, p. 157).

[27] See Brookhart (2010).

[28] See Biesta (2009).

[29] See Biggs and Tang (2011) and Panadero and Jönsson (2020).

Chapter 7: Challenges of value creation pedagogy


This chapter looks at the different challenges teachers may face in working with value creation pedagogy. The content is based on reflections I received from teachers in my research. Succeeding at something really great often requires a lot of hard work. If value-creation for students at school had been easy, it would probably have been done already. We have seen challenges in five areas, see Figure 7.1.

Practical challenges

Taking the first step in value creation pedagogy is often about overcoming challenges of a fairly practical nature. These can range from a good reason to try something new to various how-to questions around time, support, assessment and targets.

Why should I try this new?

The very first step in a change or a new way of working is often the most difficult. The power of habit keeps us humans in a tight grip. We want so much to believe that the current situation is the best, even when it is not.[1] A successful attempt to try something new is therefore quite demanding. Three conditions need to be met and together overcome our inherent resistance to change:[2]

  1. that we are dissatisfied with the current situation
  2. that we have a clear idea or vision of what we want to achieve
  3. that we are clear about the simple practical steps we can take here and now.

These three points are always valid and may be worth considering carefully in any educational change. Therefore, the first part of the book was about painting a vision of what is now possible. The second part was about practical steps teachers can take here and now. However, teachers’ possible dissatisfaction with the current situation is not covered by this book. Let me explain why.

I see a big difference in how quickly different teachers get started with value creation pedagogy. The ones who get started the fastest are those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to invest in the approach themselves. Those who have the most difficulty are those who have been called to a compulsory in-service training day where an external researcher from Chalmers comes and tells them how to do their job. What does Chalmers even know about pedagogy? In my previous book – The Scientific Teacher – I wrote about the evils of giving unsolicited advice to teachers and what can be done about it.[3] There are certainly respectful ways to deal with this, but they are beyond our focus here.

A common reason for teachers not getting started is that they do not see the connection between things they are unhappy with in their professional lives and the solution value creation pedagogy can provide. Teacher Roberth Nordin (2017) jokingly describes a typical study day:

The lecturer offers a great solution to a problem you don’t have. You get something you never asked for or ever lacked. You usually end up with at least a couple of newfound tasks to squeeze into your schedule.

If you recognise yourself here, in relation to value creation pedagogy, I can’t offer a clear solution. Each teacher has to find his or her own personal reasons, based on links between his or her own perceived professional challenges and value creation pedagogy as a possible solution. All those teachers who have the health and who find strong enough personal will to work with value creation pedagogy have been able to overcome all the challenges in this chapter. We have seen this time and again.

If you are one of the teachers who have been ordered here, to Chapter 7, my best advice is to still give value creation pedagogy a chance with your students, at least a couple of times in a school year and on a small scale. As secondary school teacher Madeléne Polfors wrote (2020, p. 40) in her thesis on value creation pedagogy in law teaching recently:

My strongest belief is that once teachers have tried it once, they will try it again because you can’t ignore the positive effects of value-added learning.

Value creation pedagogy, as mentioned, is quite difficult to describe in words. It needs to be experienced emotionally together with the students themselves. The effects tend to be surprisingly strong.

No time for me as a teacher

The most common objection I hear from teachers is that they lack the time to work with value creation pedagogy. I have great respect for the fact that teaching can be a stressful profession. But I still think of what I myself was always told by my boss when I complained about a lack of time in my job as a stressed-out sales manager in IT:

You have just as much time as everyone else. It’s how you choose to use it. This is just a question of your priorities.

Physicist and author Bodil Jönsson calls the perceived lack of time a life lie that is remedied by new choices about priorities.[4] Teachers who say they don’t have time for value creation pedagogy may need to decide how important this new work is, in relation to other necessary work, and then re-prioritise accordingly. It is not a question of one or the other, but of finding a good balance between different, apparently conflicting priorities, for example between duty and pleasure for students. Time to engage in value creation pedagogy is not something teachers have, it is something they need to create for themselves if it is felt to be sufficiently urgent. Ask a colleague to help with the priorities, it is often easier for someone else to find things you can prioritise down.

I also believe that this book can help to reduce the time spent for teachers who want to work with value creation pedagogy. After all, I have now spent twelve years of my life trying to understand this phenomenon, time that no teacher can ever prioritise in their calendar. With a clearer picture of what it is all about, more examples of what teachers can do, and more concrete proven tools that provide clarity and structure, teachers will save time getting started. A particularly important area for time savings is assessment work, read more about this in Chapter 8. There are also teachers who have said that they save time when they allow students to do value-added work. One teacher stated bluntly:

The students are motivated by themselves, and then I as a teacher can work less, because then they work more.

The main challenge related to time is perhaps the time it takes to get up and running with a new way of working. The fact that the start-up takes extra time applies to all new working methods, including this one. A facilitating factor then is if teachers support each other and have a school management that sets aside time for teachers to plan for and get into value creation pedagogy.

No time for students

Students also need time to get into the value-creation approach. It takes months for students to get to the point where tangible value is created for outsiders. Calendar time is at least as important here as lesson time, perhaps even more so. Teachers may need to stretch out time perspectives. An eight-week full-time course may be too short for students to get started in earnest.[5] Half or quarter speed may give students a better chance to get into the mindset. Teachers may also need to collaborate with each other. One course or subject can provide students with an introduction that is then built upon in another course or subject. It is not very difficult for students to find time to work on value creation activities if they are already in the mindset and have built up their capacity to create value for others. We also often hear of students working outside of class time on value-creating activities because they find it so engaging. Also, try giving your students action-oriented tasks as homework. I write about how such assignments can be designed in Chapter 8.

How to keep up with content and assessment?

Crowding of content is a common challenge for teachers, and not just when it comes to value creation pedagogy. It’s about both keeping up with all the content and having time to assess each student. Teachers who have faced these challenges and yet applied value creation pedagogy say afterwards that they did get all the content and were able to assess all the students, but often in a different order and in a different way than before.

Some teachers have chosen to involve students in ensuring that all key content is included. Other teachers, particularly in vocational education, have worked with innovative and digital assessment tools, see Chapter 8. Still others have relied on their long experience as teachers and have felt confident that by the end of the learning process they will have sufficient material to assess each student on each piece of core content. We also see many starting value creation pedagogy small-scale so that the established structure of teaching does not disintegrate. Overall, we see here how something that may initially feel like a detour unexpectedly becomes a shortcut. Teachers here need to try to trust the process and try it out for themselves at a scale appropriate to them, to see if they too can turn the detour into a shortcut.

It is therefore a question of taking courage, daring to venture into the unknown, daring to trust in one’s own abilities as a teacher and daring to try out a new way of achieving the same goals as before, but with much more motivated students, and in this way reaching further in the work with the core content.

How to find real-world recipients of value?

One challenge many teachers highlight is the difficulty in finding real recipients of value. Many lack good contacts in workplaces. They also often lack the time it takes to contact new people in workplaces. This is a challenge for which we must have great respect. At the same time, I hope to contribute some new perspectives. Students can be invited to both look for and make contact with potential recipients outside school. Teachers may of course need to support them here. But if twenty-five students each contact someone, it will almost certainly lead to at least one valuable contact that everyone in the class can work on together. I have seen many examples of this, even in primary schools. Students can also make use of their own networks of contacts – not least among guardians, relatives and their contacts in turn.

Making new contacts with the outside world is basically a kind of salesmanship. This is an area of expertise where practical practice quickly yields good results. There is also a lot of literature to read.[6] The sales pitch describes the value students believe they are trying to create for outsiders. And as in all sales work, it is the number of contacts that determines success. Ten taps a thanks, again. Many outsiders will say no, just like in all sales work. Learning to handle a no without losing heart is an important lesson here about what it means to be persistent. But suddenly the magic happens that someone says yes. Then students can have an analogue ship’s bell in the classroom that they ring to celebrate the wonderful thing. Imagine if, as a sales manager, I had access to a sales force as large as an entire class of students. Then our sales bell would be ringing a lot more often.

Building a sales culture in the classroom might seem a bit odd in school. But it’s always a challenge to connect what someone can offer with what someone wants help with. Not all people want to be helped either. A sales culture among students therefore helps in making contacts. Here, too, salesmanship is done with the laudable aim of enhancing students’ learning.

How to support students’ value creation?

Teacher leadership in the classroom is a hot topic in many schools. How should teachers actually lead students in the classroom? Many books have been written about this. But the question comes into a partly new light when students work on value creation. I can’t say that I have all the answers. But I think it’s very much about a variation on formative assessment, or rather what we often choose to call formative dialogue – confidential dialogues between teacher and student around emotionally powerful events, with the aim of supporting student learning.

In our work with vocational teachers we have seen that formative dialogue is best conducted in the digital space. It allows for more familiarity where not everyone hears everything, and is also time-saving for teachers. Digital dialogue is also better suited to value-creation processes where a lot of the learning takes place outside the classroom and at times when the teacher and student are not even in the same room. We will return to formative digital dialogue in the chapter on assessment.

What to do in my subject?

Apart from a few examples from different subject teachers here and there in the book, I have chosen not to have specific descriptions for each subject in my book. I see it as a bit of an impossible task for me as a generalist to give didactical tips in mathematics, social studies, physics, biology or any other subject. Nevertheless, many teachers can probably transfer the ideas described here to their own subject. Teachers can also help each other. Use your established channels and venues for subject didactic exchange, and this challenge will probably be handled well.

Books have also begun to appear in Sweden in which teachers give tips on how to work more concretely in the classroom. The two most concrete examples I have seen are Jennie Bengtsson’s book Real Recipients, about value-creating language teaching, and Maria Wiman’s second book on value creation pedagogy – Handbook of Value creation pedagogy. I think these two books can help many teachers to get started, and should probably be translated into more languages. It is also a book format that can inspire more teachers who might be thinking of writing about their experiences.

There is also a lot written in Swedish about value creation pedagogy from a subject didactic and special education perspective, for example in mathematics (Falkstål 2018; Sjödén 2021), law (Polfors 2020), technology (Hih 2021), sustainable development (Nelson 2021), economy (Christoffersson & Fredriksson 2021), leisure education (Johansson 2018), vocational training (Littke 2020) and special education (Grenander 2018). Subject didactics and different pedagogical orientations are important focus areas for further research on value creation pedagogy.

It seems complicated and vague

Progressive pedagogy has for centuries faced challenges of complexity and vagueness. There are very different demands on teachers working with cross-curricular projects and authentic problems based on students’ own interests. No two situations are the same, constant adaptation is required, each student’s learning needs to be uniquely assessed and the curriculum many learning objectives need to be ticked off in a kind of non-linear backward process. Smith and Ragan (1999, s. 295) conclude:

Although a few talented teachers have done well, the talent and energy required is extremely rare. The failure of progressive pedagogy can be attributed to the impossible demands that successful implementation placed on teachers, especially given the tools available in the early and mid-20th century.

The stark message ends on a cautiously positive note. Could the future bring tools and methods that make it possible to realise the progressive pedagogy dream of meaningful learning? A perfectly reasonable answer to that question is probably value creation pedagogy. Here comes a long-awaited simplification and clarification of the purpose, objectives and working process. Now teachers can finally be supported in how traditional and progressive pedagogy can be combined in everyday life.[7] The various tools and methods described in part two of the book provide teachers with concrete guidance and simplification. Assessment can also be facilitated through digital ways of working, see Chapter 8.

Let me draw a parallel to Freinet’s work at the beginning of the 20th century. I like both his focus on various technological solutions that facilitate teachers and his basic idea of pedagogy of work. But his thirty constants are, for me as an engineer and IT geek, a bit too fluffy.[8] Among other things, Freinet writes: away with caretakers and authorities, away with teachers’ explanations and lectures, away with control and grades. No wonder the Freinet movement is marginal.

I think we need to move from thirty to three constants – value creation, interaction and fine-grained mixing – as I wrote about in the introduction to the book. Teachers need fewer principles, not more, to work from. The whole philosophical playing field of education also needs to be included, see Chapter 2. Schools still need janitors, lectures and grades.

Perhaps we see here the the greatest mistake of progressive education over the centuries – to make things immensely more complicated and at the same time throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It doesn’t suit all my students

Not all people are equally ultra-social. Some prefer to keep to themselves, or dislike making contact with strangers. Others have difficulty with social interaction and empathy, or are simply shy. Still others are so used to clear structures and traditional, predictable teaching that they are not at all comfortable with a way of working that makes new, emotionally challenging and unpredictable demands on them. These students may protest and criticise their teacher.

Over the years, I have received many reflections from teachers who have tried value creation pedagogy and discovered exactly this, that it does not work equally well for everyone. And it would be strange if we had found a pedagogical idea that suited everyone. I don’t think there is such an idea. Just as some students find traditional pedagogy as meaningless and unmotivating, there are students who find value creation pedagogy problematic. This gives us yet another reason to pursue educational philosophy balance in schools. Some lessons suit some students, other lessons suit other students. Overall, pedagogical variety makes us hopefully reach all students.

It is often said that traditional teaching is not always fun for students, but that it is good for them and that they need to learn a lot of things by heart. I totally agree. But the same is true for value creation pedagogy. We all live in a relational society. All students therefore need to practice social interaction, relationship building, initiative taking, uncertainty management, perseverance and self-awareness. A modern approach to education also includes exploring how we relate to others.[9] Objections from students who do not like value creation do not therefore mean that they should be allowed to get away with it. However, teachers may need to give some students a little extra support. It is also possible, through teamwork, to distribute tasks across the group so that those who find it most difficult to make new social contacts do not have to do so quite as often. Indeed, value creation is at its most powerful when students draw on each other’s complementary strengths.

When it comes to students with different disabilities or diagnoses such as adhd and autism, it is difficult to generalise. Some teachers say value creation pedagogy works poorly for this group, others say they have finally found something that works really well. Diagnoses are over-represented among entrepreneurs and can provide a superpower that others don’t have.[10] A high level of activity, a desire to go their own way and a penchant for digging into a narrow issue can be very beneficial in value creation processes. Sometimes, however, schools may find it difficult to turn a disability into an opportunity. This is where I believe value creation pedagogy can help. But it would need more research. A good starting point could be Lina Grenander’s (2018) well-written study of entrepreneurial competences in secondary special schools. Another starting point could be the only research article that ever made me cry, written by Roth and Lee (2007). It is about a boy named Davie with an ADHD diagnosis and severe concentration difficulties in mathematics.

When Davie got involved in trying to save a stream near the school, he became the obvious focal point of the class and taught important skills to his classmates. His symptoms disappeared and he began to perform well above average, even in maths. I think Davie probably had a low tolerance for meaninglessness and that value creation pedagogy solved that problem for him. Perhaps one aspect of adhd is that you simply don’t take on meaningless tasks as credulously as others? Perhaps adhd is a diagnosis that should be equally given to schools – an inability to capture via meaningful activities the attention (AD) and activity (HD) of certain students?

Psychological challenges

Some of the challenges of value creation pedagogy are more psychological. The idea makes sense but feels a bit heavy in the stomach. Not daring, not wanting or not being able to try something new and unknown is quite human and can probably be found in just about every profession. For many people, it’s scary to dare to try something they’ve never done before.

How dare, how will, how can we work like this?

How do we actually become braver? Perhaps the three conditions for change at the beginning of this chapter can help teachers to dare to try? Instead of focusing on the psychologically heavy resistance, the focus shifts to one’s own dissatisfaction with the current situation, the vision of how things can be better, and the simple steps to take here and now. Then we circumvent our troublesome gut feelings.

Then again, someone may have decided that they simply don’t want to work with their students in a value-creating way. As a researcher, I have to respect that. But what do you do as a teacher if it’s one of your closest colleagues who just doesn’t want to? In a workplace, we are often dependent on each other. Here I think that teachers’ professional ethics can be invoked, written down by the teachers’ unions.[11] Teachers need to develop their pedagogical work and their skills on the basis of current research and proven experience. Teachers also need to support each other and protect the team. Thus, all teachers need to give a new approach a chance from time to time and try it out in practice at least once or twice, especially if colleagues so wish.

But sometimes you just can’t. Maybe you’re on the verge of stress exhaustion or depressed for other reasons. Maybe it’s hard in your personal life. There can be many reasons why you don’t have the energy to tackle a new issue right now. But maybe next semester you can? Perhaps the school principal or a close colleague can provide support in the work? Maybe you can try something small?

I am new to the profession

Some teachers feel insecure for the simple reason that they are new to the profession. It can be particularly difficult to try out yet another new idea. After all, everything is new. Here too, I think peer support and starting small is a way forward. Some teachers stress the importance of being confident in their subject and profession in order to be able to work in a value-creating way. I can understand that, but I think it should still be possible on a small scale.

What will colleagues, managers, carers say?

Even in the workplace, we humans are ultra-social. What will others say if we single-handedly start doing something very different from how our colleagues do? This is where the available research can provide reassurance. If there are questions from colleagues, managers or carers, there are many different publications to refer to. We at Chalmers have written a number of research articles on the subject. There are also more and more books from teachers describing their experiences and giving tips. Then there are also new theses every year in which prospective teachers write about value creation pedagogy. So, being the only teacher working on value creation pedagogy in a school does not mean that you are alone. Also look for Facebook groups of teachers discussing value creation pedagogy, where you will find like-minded people to share your experiences with.

Daring to let go of control

We have already talked a bit about this, about letting go of control. I think it’s basically a combination of courage, judgement, tools, methods and confidence in the profession. Courage to dare to try something new. Assessment that captures students’ skills in different and complementary ways. Tools and methods you as a teacher can lean on in your work. Confidence that, as a competent teacher, you will be able to put the whole picture together at the end of a project despite the uncertainty of a new approach.

I think that the need for control is a transitory challenge. As both you and your students become more comfortable working in a value-creating way, the sense of control will soon return. I guess it’s a bit like learning to ride a bike. To dare to take that crucial step into the unknown, to dare to step on it and pick up speed, to dare to defy the feeling that you might get hurt. Then you find your balance and a strong “aha” feeling sets in. And you’ve gained a wonderful new way forward.

My students are not mature or knowledgeable enough

A slightly different psychological challenge concerns the student view we inherited from older psychological research on children’s cognitive development. Researcher Kieran Egan (2002) writes in his book Getting it wrong from the beginning that we have inherited an erroneous view of adolescent development from child psychologist Jean Piaget. Egan’s criticisms are wide-ranging and multifaceted, so I thought I would highlight only one of his objections here.

According to Piaget, young people develop cognitively in distinct stages that can be defined relatively well in terms of both scope and age. Therefore, teachers should choose material and activities for which students are mature, based on their mental and age levels. However, Egan argues that cognitive development is not at all as linear and predictable as Piaget has claimed. Piaget’s theories are often wrongly used by teachers to judge what students should not be allowed to do or learn at a certain age. A stage-based view of children’s cognitive development has led many teachers to underestimate and limit their students.

I sometimes meet teachers with a Piaget-inspired view of students in relation to value creation pedagogy. Their students are probably too immature, they say. Or maybe the students need to acquire a little more knowledge first. Then they can create value for others. This is a psychological misconception that Egan helps us trace to Piaget. I hope more teachers give their students the chance to reject Piaget’s theories. Perhaps one of Piaget’s foremost critics can then be put to use – the scientist Lev Vygotsky.[12] He argued that students learn knowledge best when they are put into action with others.[13] He also emphasised the importance of giving students access to different tools to work and think with. I think Vygotsky would have loved the entrepreneurial toolkit I write about in Chapter 6. Perhaps Vygotsky would also be a professor of entrepreneurial education if he were alive today?

Organisational challenges

In many schools, the organisational conditions for value creation pedagogy are initially lacking. Teacher Katrine Nyqvist’s story on page _ about changing jobs to a workplace where the management does not actively work with value creation pedagogy is probably quite typical. There are ways forward, but it may take time.

How to get colleagues and school management on board?

I think Tomas Lindh in Växjö has a good point when it comes to how we get colleagues and managers involved in a new way of working, see interview on page _. The discussion can be based on the challenges and needs of your school. Few schools have no challenges in terms of motivation to study, desire to learn, student achievement, student conflict, classroom safety, values or, indeed, teacher recruitment. In all these challenges, value creation pedagogy can be a small or major part of the solution. Try to get your colleagues and school management to try this particular approach to the challenges facing your school. Use different texts and videos from researchers, teachers and others. Then, hopefully, a decision will be made to develop the work and value creation pedagogy will become a natural part of the next academic year’s professional development of the whole team or school. Many or all teachers will then be able to try it out for themselves, and the effects will surprise many in a positive way.

The schedule limits us

Scheduling issues can constrain an approach such as value creation pedagogy, which does not always fit into strict time and subject divisions. However, if more and more teachers start to recognise the powerful effects, it may over time be possible to discuss possible changes to the timetable to facilitate cross-curricular collaboration and pedagogical co-planning, see examples of arrangements in the interview with principal Josefin Nilsson on page _.

One way to get colleagues on board with schedule changes can be to lead the way and work in a value-creating way with your own students. As secondary school teacher Madeléne Polfors writes (2020, s. 28) about it:

It was also nice that other teachers came to me and told me that they had heard about my “little project” (which I had to explain is the students’ project). The teachers were curious about the approach because the students had asked if they could do similar things in their subjects as well.

But it is not a given that other teachers react with curiosity. As one teacher who works with her students in a value-creation way told us (Lackéus & Sävetun 2016, s. 43):

Then there’s the challenge of being a freak at school, you do some weird stuff.

Semantic challenges

Any attempt to broaden our horizons with new concepts is likely to be met with resistance from those who take issue with the existing conceptual apparatus. Don’t we have enough words already? What is the difference? These are natural and important questions we are now coming to.

Another concept – what does value mean?

Do we really need another concept in school? I have spent many years pondering this question and have come to the conclusion that this is indeed the case here. No other concept focuses on the knowledge-based creation of value for another person. Then the very element that causes the strongest effects we have seen on student learning and motivation risks being lost in a stressful school life.

That’s why I think the term value creation is both fully justified, uniquely contributing and absolutely essential. Without that very term, the impact on student learning risks being weakened or absent. But introducing a new concept obliges. It needs to be defined, delineated, explained, clarified, exemplified, contextualised. I myself fell into the trap of not even writing anything in my thesis about what the little word value means. Even creation needs to be defined carefully. I hope that my book can clear up some of these questions. I have also written a whole research article on the word value in relation to education, see Lackéus (2018). It’s a bit nerdy, but it’s available.

Of course we already work like this

I often hear from teachers that they are already working with value creation. But when they explain what they are doing, I often find that relatively few of the eight legs of the spider diagram in Chapter 6 are present. Usually the all-important waist of the spider is also relatively narrow. The value created is perhaps modest or vague. The interaction with outsiders may be missing altogether. Then the strong effects go missing. This is probably one reason why the form in Chapter 6 is so popular. Teachers are keen to develop their teaching, and the form clearly supports this.

There are definitely many teachers who are already working in a value-creating way with students. Especially in the aesthetic subjects, as pointed out earlier. But in the vast majority of cases, so much more can be done, and with relatively minor means. That’s why I can’t stop talking about value creation pedagogy when I hear teachers saying that they already do this. Usually they get many new ideas relatively quickly on how to go further with what they are already doing.

Some think value creation pedagogy is a set of self-evident principles for good teaching. I disagree. The vast majority of teachers I have studied in my research do not yet work on a day-to-day basis from the three basic principles in the introduction, or from the dimensions of the spider diagram and diamond model in Chapter 6.

What’s really new here?

Value creation pedagogy is a kind of action-based learning. Students learning-by-doing. There are many different such learning traditions. A few years ago, I was asked to write a paper on what is new about entrepreneurial and value creation pedagogy compared to more established options. The text was published in a digital encyclopedia of educational innovation, see Lackéus (2020b) and is also available on my research blog.[14] I won’t go into the details here, but in the article I asked the surprisingly rarely asked question learning-by-doing what? I went through the action-based learning traditions that are usually discussed, see table 7.1 below. The table is my way of illustrating that none of the established learning traditions have the same focus as value creation pedagogy.

The question of what is new about value creation pedagogy engages many teachers. So let’s also review some commonly used concepts and examine them based on the centre of the spider diagram in Chapter 6 – creating value for others and interacting with outsiders.

Is it possible to work thematically, interdisciplinary and with projects without students ever having to try to create value for others or interact with outsiders? Yes, it is possible and it happens all the time. The word value creation makes a unique contribution here.

Is it possible to work problem-, change- or challenge-based with authentic content without creating value for or interacting with outsiders? Yes, it is possible. Here again, the value-creation term helps.

Is it possible to work with authentic or real beneficiaries in real projects or real cases without creating value for or interacting personally with the beneficiaries? Unfortunately, I think so. There is a risk that the very element of students creating something concrete of value for recipients is lost when the phrase “… of value” is not explicitly stated. There is also a risk that the word real is misinterpreted as something other than that the students should create real value for and interact relationally with the recipients. Perhaps that the recipient is real, flesh and blood. But that is not enough.

Is it possible to work with entrepreneurial learning without creating value for or interacting with others? It depends on what we mean by “entrepreneurial”. By definition, if we define the word according to the diamond model, it shouldn’t be possible. But most of the examples in schools that I have studied myself unfortunately fail to have an external recipient with whom students can interact on a relational level and try to create value for. Not least because many in schools have difficulty with the word entrepreneurial in general. Very few teachers who have received in-service training in entrepreneurial learning act according to the three basic principles of value-creating learning. My conclusion is simple – the semantics need a major upgrade.

Ideological challenges

The last category of challenges is about ideology. No matter how much evidence we produce through scientific studies and good examples, there are still some who are not convinced. The challenges are probably more ideological.

This sounds too good to be true

Sometimes it is said that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As a researcher, it is also part of the job to be critical of most things. Even of oneself and one’s own impressions. There is something called confirmation bias, an unconscious and overly focused search for things that confirm what you believe, want to see and often think about. Like the new parents who suddenly see prams everywhere in town. Or as in filter bubbles where social media algorithms mainly present information that fits with what we believe.

I definitely feel that I am at risk for such bias. Value creation pedagogy has affected me on an existential level before I became a researcher. Everywhere I look now as a researcher, value creation seems to have strong effects on students. But am I living in a self-inflicted filter bubble? Is this too good to be true? Some teachers have written to me that they feel this way. I have also written myself that it feels a little too good in one of my recent research articles.[15] It seems almost unrealistic that a pedagogical idea can have such a strong impact, be so widely applicable, so clearly defined and offer such low thresholds for teachers to get started and spread the idea and approach.

The problem is hard to get around on my own. My approach to this challenge has therefore been to leave it to others to continue the work, to see what they come up with. For example, you can do what in research language is called replication studies. Can our results be replicated elsewhere, by other researchers and with other methods? There is also a lot more to do, test and find out that we have not done in our research.

The work has slowly begun. Researchers in Denmark, Finland, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Pakistan, Australia, Iran, Indonesia, the USA, Mexico, China and certainly some additional researchers I do not know of are currently working on research closely related to value creation pedagogy as a pedagogical idea in various forms.[16] The future will tell what these researchers come up with. Teachers are also increasingly taking over the practical work and writing books about their experiences. [17]

Judging by the interest, there certainly seems to be something magical about the idea of value creation pedagogy. Our research, which in turn builds on the work of many other researchers, has been disseminated, read and applied globally. Exactly how magical value learning is, and in what situations more specifically, remains to be seen. We will simply have to come back later to the question of whether value-added learning is too good to be true or not.

I don’t believe in the progressive school, it’s a hoax

Sometimes value creation pedagogy is dismissed for no other reason than that it represents yet another pernicious version of flunky schooling. This is a dishonest argumentation technique based on guilt by association – that everything about promoting student motivation is fluff. This technique is often used by school debaters who have already decided in advance on a particular view on school issues. In the past, I engaged in polemics, without ever achieving anything. Nowadays, I usually just walk away quietly and avoid being drained of energy. This kind of criticism says a lot about the polarised times we live in, but nothing about value creation pedagogy as a phenomenon.

It is not aligned with current school policy

In terms of school policy, value creation pedagogy is an idea with rather bad timing in Sweden right now. We Swedes live in a consumer society where the individual is in focus. Students are educated at school to act as consumers in a market and to choose the path that creates the most value for themselves. Swedish schools have thus become a kind of institutionalised egoism, which is then patched up and repaired with values-based work. If there is a risk that students’ time is spent helping others, when it could be spent giving them what they themselves are entitled to according to the curriculum, then Sweden’s neo-liberal social system and subconscious thought patterns say stop.

Another political trend that discourages value creation pedagogy is the authoritarian and even fascist winds blowing in politics both in Sweden and internationally, with Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Åkesson, Le Pen and other authoritarian conservative leaders.[18] Authoritarian political winds at the national level then blow into classrooms via conservative school debaters. This makes student participation and the teaching of democracy less interesting to work with, at least from a school policy perspective.

Taken together, these two political trends constitute a liberal conservatism[19] that unfortunately clashes with the ideas of collectivism and democracy on which value creation pedagogy can be said to rest. I won’t politicise the issue much more than that, but I can say that in my twelve years as a researcher I have only met one leading school politician who has shown great interest in our research on value creation pedagogy – Karin Pleijel, a Green Party member and teacher in Gothenburg. Other teachers I have met have reflected that students who create value for others remind them of the political winds that blew in the 1970s, before neoliberalism swept the world.[20] However, the situation may vary internationally. One home language teacher told me that on her street in the Middle East, most people think more in terms of creating value for others than we do in Sweden, which nowadays has one of the world’s most market-oriented school systems.[21]

Control systems require something else from me

Philosopher Jonna Bornemark became almost a celebrity when, in a summer radio talk and via her book The Renaissance of the Unmeasurable (2018) advocated that employees in the relational professions should micro-resist against the over-prescription, measurement hysteria and bureaucratization that has afflicted health care, care for the elderly, social services and not least schools. Bornemark (2018, s. 52) describes paper-isation as “every part of the activity must be documented and put into a general language that can be displayed to those who are not present in the activity”. The aim is to give managers an overview and a sense of control. Also researcher Gert Biesta (2009) has described how an increased focus on the easily measurable crowds out other values in schools. The pursuit of greater efficiency in the public sector through various measurement methods and competition based on performance measures is known as New Public Management, or NPM. In an international comparison, Sweden has a strong NPM focus.[22]

I’ve often heard from teachers myself that they like the idea of value-creating students, but that they worry that control systems will punish them if they spend time on this. The measurement focus often ends up on standardised and therefore partly dumbing down performance measures that do not capture the positive effects of value creation pedagogy on students.[23] Many teachers then think that time spent on value creation pedagogy can be punished when guardians, school leaders and school inspectors then exercise their increasingly strong power of control over teachers.

One way to deal with this attempt to de-professionalise teachers that is going on in schools[24] is to fight against it and not give it too much space. If we see control systems for a moment as a way of taking control of teachers’ professional practice from above, or as ideologically motivated projects of limited value to students, then perhaps we can settle into a slightly more relaxed approach when working on something we believe in. No teacher has ever been fired for a little value creation pedagogy. On the contrary, it is often a pathway to great appreciation from students, school leaders and caregivers alike. It also rests on values such as humanism, empathy, responsibility and democracy. I don’t know how school inspectors relate to value creation pedagogy, but my call is still a bit rebellious: Dare to resist micromanagement from above. Wiggle out of the NPM shackles every now and then. Replace an assessment matrix lesson here and there with an hour of planning value creation pedagogy, without saying anything. Feel good about your pursuit of a balanced school between matrices and motivation. Rest in the fact that it will work out.

What happened to the value of knowledge?

A focus on what is valuable to others in society can be criticised for being overly utilitarian. One critical teacher argued that an excessive focus on the practical utility and “market” value of knowledge can diminish the intrinsic value of knowledge and thus become a kind of antithesis to education.[25] I can understand the logic behind such a criticism, even if it is perhaps a little exaggerated. Value-creating activities will never dominate schools as we know them. We will never land in the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s hedonistic vision of a society where utility, happiness and pleasure are maximised, at the expense of other values.[26] It is also a common misconception that students’ value creation for others is primarily a market-driven act motivated by their selfish self-interest. Just as primitive peoples often give gifts without direct expectation of reciprocation, students can create value for others without it having to be interpreted as a market transaction.[27] Instead, we can see it as the famous anthropologist Marcel Mauss saw it – that selfless giving is a natural way to build loving relationships between people.[28] Students who are able to create value for others then strengthen their capacity for compassion, respect and openness towards other people.

Again, this is the balance I want schools to strive for. A little more value creation for others is probably what students could have use for, as it is often completely lacking. But it shouldn’t crowd out a focus on knowledge. Rather, it should be a relational means that reinforces learning and allows students to learn knowledge and skills for life, not just for the test.

[1] See Jost et al. (2008).

[2] See Gleicher’s change formula described by Cady et al. (2014).

[3] See Lackeus (2021, s. 100–104).

[4] See Jönsson (2002, s. 19).

[5] See for example Polfors (2020).

[6] My personal favourite is an old goodie of a book written by Rackham (1989).

[7] Read more about this in Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016).

[8] A light-hearted presentation of them is given by Temple and Rodero (1995).

[9] See Biesta (2002).

[10] See Wiklund, Patzelt and Dimov (2016) and Wiklund et al. (2017).

[11] See Teachers’ Union and National Union of Teachers (2006).

[12] For an interesting comparison of Piaget and Vygotsky, see Cole and Wertsch (1996).

[13] See Strandberg (2009).

[14] See https://vcplist.com/2019/04/22/entrepreneurial-education-its-unique-and-novel-contribution-to-education/ or search for “entrepreneurial education unique and novel”.

[15] See Lackeus (2020a, s. 957–961).

[16] See mainly Jones, Penaluna and Penaluna (2020), Bell (2020), Neck and Corbett (2018), Brahe-Orlandi (2019), Yousafzai (2019), Stenholm et al. (2021), Bacigalupo et al. (2016), Le Pontois (2020) and Baggen, Lans and Guliker (2021). See also Larsson and Holmberg (2017).

[17] See mainly Wiman (2019, 2022), Bengtsson (2021) and Remvall (2021).

[18] See Albright (2018).

[19] See Apple (2000) who writes about how neoconservatives and neoliberals are forming a kind of unexpected but creative alliance in school policy.

[20] A fascinating text on how neoliberalism took over was written by Peck (2008).

[21] According to Dahlstedt and Fejes (2018, s. 9).

[22] According to Karlsson (2017).

[23] See Lindblad, Pettersson and Popkewitz (2018).

[24] Hultén (2019) describes this well, as do Jeffrey and Woods (1998) and Ball (2013).

[25] See Bruér (2019).

[26] For a good discussion of Bentham, see Heberlein (2014).

[27] See Graeber (2001).

[28] See Graeber (2001, s. 161).