The Story of Us: Meet Chris from Bon Education

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Chris Batchelder is a co-founder and president of Bon Education. Since 2009, he has helped the company grow from its first small contract to work with some of the biggest and most influential companies and organizations in the UAE. Chris especially loves the creative design process that goes on behind all of the many projects that Bon Education undertakes. Chris has lived in the UAE for the last seven years, but he previously lived and/or worked in the United States, England, Yemen, Jordan, Germany and Japan.

What is your role at Bon Education?

I often think of myself as Instigator-in-Chief. The start of a project is the best part for me. I love the early stage where anything is possible, and we work with the client to imagine what that could be. Of course, working in such a small company means doing a bit of everything and supporting where I’m needed.

What led you into the field of education?

My wife, Anna. I was working in real estate and had a small real estate company in Brooklyn, New York. Through this company, I ended up in Dubai. Anna started Bon Education and after about a year, I jumped over to help her build the business. That was six years ago.

What’s one of the greatest things you’ve learned while at Bon Education so far?

Trust your creativity. This is something I’ve been learning for a long time, but I only recently discovered the right words for it. I was reading through IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, and there is a section that says if you take away anything from this toolkit, take away this: “trust your creativity.” It’s a tough thing to do. I’m regularly filled with doubts about whether an idea is good or not. I feel like true creativity comes from a place of inner knowing and learning to trust. Does that mean that every idea I have is a pearl of creative wisdom? Of course not! Most of my ideas fail. But it means having the confidence that my creativity is worth exploring and sharing.

What are your interests and hobbies outside of work?

Too many! Most recently, I’ve been interested in video games, especially those with open worlds that you can explore. I feel like the trends toward gamification in education have only gotten half the story. The missing half is about relationships (Chris will write more about this in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned!). I’m also interested in birds and birdwatching, cycling, fitness, board games and my family.

What’s your life philosophy or a motto that inspires you?

I say, “Moderation in everything,” which I attribute to the Buddhist Middle Way. However, Oscar Wilde probably captures the sentiment more accurately when he says, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

If you could take a year off to do anything, what would you do?

I would do a Big Year! That means traveling the world to see how many species of bird you can count in one year. I’m actually not an avid birder, but I would like to be if I had more time to dedicate. Birding is the most relaxing activity that I can think of. You’re out in nature with a purpose, and there’s enough to do so that you’re not pondering life’s big questions. It makes me very present and in the moment.

Which new skills are you interested in learning?

I would like to learn more about systems theory, complexity theory and complex adaptive systems, as well as different ways of prototyping learning experiences or learning spaces. Also, I’d like to improve my marketing and storytelling skills.

What interests you right now in the field of education?

What really interests me now is gamification in education. The general trend I’ve seen is using video games (with gaming elements like rewards, tokens, points, levels, badges, etc.) and data to deliver better automated or semi-automated learning sequences tailored to an individual learner’s specific needs. That’s great, and if it helps make education more effective, then go for it.

However, there is another side of gaming that I think has a lot to offer education, and that is relationships. When we sit down to play a game, we willingly put aside our pre-existing relationship and behavior patterns and adopt the rules of the game. This is true of both video games and board games. The game itself is a program for a certain type of human interaction. I want to look at how games and game elements can be used to restructure relationships in the context of teaching and learning. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some experimental or alternative education programs that look at this question (e.g., 5 Rhythms and The Coaches Training Institute).

Bon Education just started a new initiative – Bon Discovery Studios. Can you explain what this is briefly and the inspiration behind it?

The inspiration for Bon Discovery Studios (Bon DS), is the creative process itself – to prototype and implement the most innovative learning experiences possible. Bon DS is a chance for the Bon Education team to do that with the fewest strings attached because we get to do it for ourselves and not a client. We’re not cutting corners with this program, and we’re trying to do things the right way. That doesn’t necessarily make for good business, but it makes for good learning.

We want to create learning environments that simulate industries and careers but with enough support and structure to let the participants build real skills (instead of being thrown into the deep end). At Bon DS, we slow the learning process down in a really fun way and, by the end, participants put it all together and feel more prepared for an internship, university, work, etc. They know how to be a contributing member to a team, and they gain valuable leadership skills.

What are you most looking forward to this summer during the Photography & Design Intensive, the pilot program for Bon Discovery Studios?

I’m looking forward to the program actually happening! It’s existed in our minds for so many years, so I’m excited to see it begin. We’re currently recruiting participants, and it will be exciting to meet them.

I’m most looking forward to everything leading up to day one. All the preparation and planning that goes into this kind of program is exciting – creating the flow of the program, planning the field trips, finding guest speakers, working with our great instructors and photography experts, locating a venue, hiring a caterer, etc. Then by the first day, I feel like my work is done and other people get to make it happen. So when the program is running, I like to sit back and watch it unfold.

The Bon Discovery Studios: Photography & Design Intensive will run from 9-20 August 2015 in Dubai. The program is open to rising 9th-12th graders who have a strong interest in photography, design and creative industries. To learn more about the program or to register, visit the Bon DS website. Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis! Bon Education has partnered with Gulf Photo Plus for the Photography & Design Intensive.

Christopher is a creative ideator, designer and learning experience curator. He draws from a vast collection of diverse interests to find inspiration for his learning and education designs. He has led creative, multidisciplinary teams in the UAE to develop experiential STEM programs, cyber defense and computer learning workshops, entrepreneurship trainings, hospitality trainings, online virtual learning modules, hands-on leadership and coaching programs and interactive courses for prison inmates, to name a few. Christopher’s favorite questions to ask when designing are, “What if I didn’t know ANYTHING about this topic? Where would I start? What would we create?”

Christopher holds a professional certification in co-active coaching from The Coaches Training Institute. He studied Ancient Greek Classics at Northwestern University. He has worked and lived across the Middle East, Asia and North America and is a dedicated, lifelong multiculturalist.

Sincerely,

Michelle
Editorial and Education Research Project Manager, Bon Education

Image credit: Rawpixel/Shutterstock.com

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3 Responses to “The Story of Us: Meet Chris from Bon Education”

  1. Noha Mahdi June 3, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

    Chris, you’re by far one of the most creative people I know! I love your creative energy and it is such a pleasure working with and learning from you. Thanks for the constant inspiration and crazy ideas.

    Keep trusting your creativity! :-)

  2. muhammad khader June 3, 2015 at 10:43 pm #

    Chris, I would like to thank you and for sure Anna for inspiring me and learn me alot things. And we are here in RAK love what’s you learned us and there are a lot of people lerne from us and thats all from your experiences.
    Actually you make my proud to work with you in RAK, dubai, al ain and fujerah. From you we learn alot thanks.

  3. Anna June 28, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    Muhammad.

    It is always a pleasure to work with you. You are helpful, you solve problems and you create opportunities for the people around you. It has been a pleasure working with you across the UAE on education initiatives of extreme importance. We look forward to our continued collaborations.

    Thanks for reading our blog and Facebook posts!

    Warmly,
    Anna

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