Go and be more innovative

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

When I think about innovation in the use of technology in education, I always first look at the formal dictionary definition of the word innovation, my dictionary, says it is “a new method, idea, product”, however it doesn’t say better or improved, often the assumption is made that innovation does mean better/

If we look at the Thesaurus, it 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.

Again this is all about change, not about improvement.

We often talk about innovation in education and sometimes the context in which it used implies that innovation is required to make things better. However innovation is really about change.

The pandemic demonstrated that organisations can change, we saw a massive change from in-person learning and teaching to remote online learning and teaching.  However change caused by a crisis, is just that change caused by a crisis. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t organised and the change we saw wasn’t necessarily the change we wanted. It also not sustainable, you’re not going to keep your staff in lockdown so that they can continue to deliver their programmes remotely.

Sustaining the change and the innovative change we saw during the pandemic, does mean looking at things differently and in the context of a post-pandemic future. I do recognise that we’re not in that post-pandemic phase at the moment, the risks of Covid infections are still there.

For me in the context of education technology, innovation means taking an existing non-digital educational processes and using technology to improve it. It may mean making the decision to not use technology.

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. Though sometimes this results in a technological solution looking for a problem that may not actually exist.

There are also the untended consequences of innovation. You make a technological led change and it causes changes you weren’t aware of 

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. Much of what we see is often ignored by the rest of the department, the rest of the institution, even ignored by the sector. It may feed into further research in this area, but generally it doesn’t result in wholesale sustainable change.

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.

If you think about the impact of e-mail on the university, this innovation has resulted in change across the institution in the ways that people communicate and collaborate, and as we know this change is not necessarily always positive.

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.

We may think we are innovative, but we’re probably not. Innovation for me means new or different. It doesn’t necessarily mean better or improved. Innovation is all about change, and change is all about culture and leadership. If you want people to go and be more innovative, then you will need to think about the leadership required to deliver that, and the impact you want to achieve.

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