Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘innovation

When I find a juicy quote like this, I do at least three things:

  1. Try to verify that is was actually said and why.
  2. Find out more about the person who said it.
  3. Create an image quote of it.

Edison's electric light did not come about from the continuous improvement of candles. ~ Oren Harari

A quick search revealed Oren Harari to be a business and management professor. The context of the quote seems to be that of encouraging startups to think and act differently.

The quote seems to have made its way into educational circles as thought leaders seek to challenge outdated teaching practices or correct misplaced notions of “innovative” teaching.

I would have liked to have reused the candle bulbs image, but it was not CC-licensed. So I found an alternative.
 

Experts from several fields weighed in on what it means to be “innovative”. According to a news article, this was part of forum organised by the NUS Business School.

I liked the response by Professor Michael Frese. He indicated that whether something was innovative or not needed to be judged in hindsight and that creativity often stems from a poverty of resources.

He also described how leaders were critical in implementing innovation. They had to combine contradictory processes: Open ones like risk-taking and failing, and closed ones like routines and deadlines.

I would be stumped to define innovation succinctly. I was schooled longer than I have educated myself. As a teacher I even helped schooling cement its place until I decided that it was better to be an educator.

I find it easier to describe what innovation in education (not schooling) is NOT than to say what it is.

Show and tell through the ages.

A while ago, I gave a keynote during which I shared how humans have relied on show-and-tell over the ages. Doing the same thing differently is not innovative despite the changes in technology. We can — and we have — conducted show-and-tell on cave walls, blackboards, overhead projectors, white boards, “interactive” white boards, and now, mobile screens.
 

If one is to be truly innovative, then one might focus on the learner and learning, and then consider how not to rely just on show-and-tell. It might be about showing learners where to look without telling them what to see.

Singapore’s mrbrown shared his snapshot of a presentation.

The statement — we cannot allow regulation to catch up with innovation — is not restricted to business or change management. It extends to education as well, but this is not the mindset of most teachers or leaders in this field.

People involved in schooling were themselves schooled to be compliant and are self-selecting because they tend to be cooperative and nurturing. They toe the line and do not question policies and practices even though they might stifle innovation.

So how do schools innovate? They need to let in people who have this mindset: Change is not about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

Change is not about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

Innovation in schooling is almost an oxymoron. It does happen, but very slowly. The catalysts are mavericks and trouble-makers who have good intent.

There is more than one way to innovate. The fastest is not to ask for permission first.

Poll ten people on what “innovation” means and you will likely get ten different answers. You might also see some patterns emerge.

Here are two common responses to what innovation is: 1) doing things differently, and 2) doing the same things differently.

I agree with the first notion, but I think that the second is flawed. If you are doing the same things, how can you call it different?

In a few seminars, I have showcased examples of how people have used the show-and-tell method over time: Cavemen drawing on cave walls, lecturers on blackboards, instructors with overhead projectors, teachers with PowerPoint and “interactive” white boards.

Is doing the same thing differently all that innovative? How can it be when the medium has changed and the method has not?
 

 
Consider another example.

My son’s school has a “no homework on Mondays” policy. There are caveats in this practice, but I shall not waste words on them.

By force of habit, I asked my son on a Monday if he had homework. Before I could take my question back, my son replied that he had. A teacher gave the class homework on Monday and told students that it was due on Wednesday.

Technically a child could wait till Tuesday to do the homework. But even a child knows that Tuesday will bring even more homework that they will have to add to an already full plate.

Doing the same thing (dishing out homework) differently (giving it a different due date) is not innovative. It is a creative response to staying ahead in the curricular race, but it is a selfish one. It does not benefit the child, it does not change practice, and it works against the movement to try something new.

Part of the Twitterverse seems to have fallen in love with the fixed vs growth mindset debate. @gcouros suggests we adopt an innovator’s mindset. I agree. But only if innovation is about doing things differently, not doing the same things differently.

Netflix dropped a happy bomb at the start of 2016. Almost the whole world can now enjoy the golden age of online-streamed television.

Apparently the response in hyperconnected Singapore has been mixed. This should come as no surprise as segments of the press, bloggers, and online forums have long provided how-tos on accessing Netflix US via VPN services*.

People go for the US offering because some shows are not available here. This article provides a comparison.

What are some reminders or lessons from this for school leaders and teachers who are integrating technology?

Technology is rarely the rate determining step. Instead it is what pushes, pulls, and leads. Technology creates possibilities, but not opportunities, because it is held back by policies, regulations, or rights.

With Netflix, each country will have different policies on viewer age ratings, adhere to varying censorship regulations, and have separate access rights to television programming. VPN services provide an access workaround*.

Likewise the context of each school, classroom, or learning environment is different from the one next door. All are drawn to the promises and potential of technology, but only a few individuals within each system will keep pace with the technology and resist being held back by policies, regulations, or rights.

These people find workarounds when there are no clear paths. They forge ahead to problem-seek and problem-solve. These are the rebels, the creatives, and the innovators.

Sadly, most systems ignore and even punish this group of people instead of supporting and rewarding them. This is not entirely the systems fault. Teachers tend to be nurturers who do not wish to promote themselves or what they do. If they do not stand out and share, others cannot be faulted for not recognising them.

So if you are a leader, look beyond the surface for innovation and create conditions for hidden talent to show itself. If you are a teacher, show off not for yourself but for the good of your students and your profession.

Above all, do not let the status quo hold you back. Change happens on the backs of those willing to push forward.

*Update: We will wait and see what develops as Netflix tries to block VPNs.

Netflix has transformed from bit player to a major one. It has challenged the practices of what is means to broadcast. It will now be challenged.

There are not many circumstances in which doing the same thing differently is innovative. This might be one exception.


Video source

Why do I make this exception an example of innovation? The singer is obviously talented in several ways. While he has taken someone else’s song and applied the identities of others on them, he has taken enough creative license to make the mix his own.

Likewise moving from PowerPoint to Google Slides or Prezi is not innovative. But opening the Slides or Prezi for public comment or collaborative construction could be. The innovation is not in the tool or the delivery. It is in the human endeavour.

Ask ten people to define “innovation” and you will likely get ten different definitions. Like creativity, innovation is difficult to define. But you know it when you see it.

I like to define innovation as “creativity in action”, but that does not make the definition any clearer.

Before I gave an interactive talk on educational innovation two days ago, the organizers mentioned how innovation could be defined as “doing different things” or “doing the same things differently”. They preferred the latter stance.

I get what they mean by doing the same things differently if by different they mean better, more efficient, or more effective.

But I wonder if they have considered how doing the same thing, however different, eventually leads back to the same thing.

Take flipped classrooms for example. Most teachers have the impression that flipping their classrooms is different because they must prepare videos (instead of teaching ‘live’) and that their students learn outside class. How exactly is this different?

What if the teachers are still teaching didactically? What if the videos are as long and boring as ‘live’ teaching? What if the videos are worse due to lack of interactivity?

In other words, what if teachers are merely changing the medium, but not the mindset and method?

Kids are already learning outside classrooms when they ask their parents at home, tuition teachers at a centre, or their peers on social media.

Doing things differently is a matter of degree. Just how different is your difference from the status quo? Is it a marginal shift or a paradigm shift? The latter, or doing very different things, are more likely to be attempts at being innovative.
 

 

Imagine a satellite orbiting a planet and how it is kept on its path due to the planet’s gravitational pull. As long as it orbits, it is maintaining its path and the status quo. Updating the satellite, adding new bits to it, or even replacing it are not really changing or innovating. There is no change to its purpose.

But imagine how this craft might break from orbit and be sent to intercept an asteroid or to explore space. It has a very different purpose and must be redesigned on the run, refitted to do this, or ideally be redesigned from the ground up.

It is a lot tougher to do the latter, just as it is a lot tougher to really innovate instead of just making marginal improvements. Innovation is a commitment to do something different, not just to do the same thing differently.


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