We often talk about innovation in education and sometimes the context in which it used implies that innovation is required to make things better.
When I think about innovation in the use of technology in education, I always look at the formal dictionary definition of the word innovation, my dictionary, says it is “a new method, idea, product” whilst the Thesaurus says: change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, reorganization, restructuring, rearrangement, recasting, remodelling, renovation, restyling, variation; new measures, new methods, new devices, novelty, newness, unconventionality, modernization, modernism; a break with tradition, a shift of emphasis, a departure, a change of direction.
This means that innovation for me means new or different. It doesn’t necessarily mean better or improved.
For me in the context of education technology, innovation means taking an existing non-digital educational processes and using technology to improve it.
It can also mean looking at how another innovation (such as a new device or an online service) and using it to improve teaching, learning and assessment.
I don’t actually think much of what is defined as innovative within educational technology is in fact innovative. Too much of it is small scale, poorly defined and low impact.
For me true innovation in educational technology is change which has significant impact across the whole organisation. However this isn’t always exciting and shiny! Too often we focus on the new and the shiny and less on those innovations, that are holistic, organisation-wide and would have a greater impact on the learner experience.
These are for me examples of innovations that had a positive impact.
- Some staff from one college were using the collaborative aspects of Google Docs for assignment creation, with staff providing ongoing meaningful feedback as the assignment was created. There was also a plan to scale up and roll out across the whole college.
- At Gloucestershire College, Sports used video capture devices (originally PSPs with cameras, then tablets with cameras) for body movement analysis.
- Cornwall College used a virtual world (Second Life) to create and display artworks that could not exist physically in the real world.
- MMU redesigning their entire curriculum to allow for the embedding of the use of Moodle into teaching and learning.
Is innovation a meaningful concept in education, or just a buzzword? Too often innovation focuses on tools and technologies, but innovation in processes and practice is often going to have a great impact.
The main barriers to innovation (change) in large organisations vary, but often a lack of understanding of what large scale implementation actually means. The words pilot and project are used interchangeably. Pilots often don’t scale as they haven’t been planned with a future large scale implementation in mind.
There is often a lack of desire to use existing research or results from other pilots and projects, a good example of this was the Sounds Good project from 2012 on audio feedback. The fact even now nine years later, we are still discussing audio feedback shows that innovation can take a long time.
A focus on innovation in relation to specific devices and tools over impact on teaching and learning. It’s then about the technology and not the pedagogy. Though you do need to understand the potential of technology to successfully use technology innovatively to enhance and improve learning and teaching.
The pandemic has demonstrated that organisations can change, but change caused by a crisis, is just that change caused by a crisis. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t organized and the change we saw wasn’t necessarily the change we wanted.