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Posts Tagged ‘innovation

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


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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.

There are two parts of my reflection today.

First, I use word clouds to illustrate what participants thought at the end of an interactive talk I gave yesterday on educational innovation. Then I answer two questions that participants asked in a Google Form.

I asked participants to complete an exit ticket. Among the tasks were two questions:

  1. What is your main takeaway from the talk?
  2. What might you do differently to innovate?

I collected the responses in a Google Form and Spreadsheet, and then used Tagxedo to generate a word cloud.

Here is one for the first question.

tagxedo-takeaway

It is no surprise that “creativity” and “innovation” featured prominently since these were the foci of the talk. But I am glad that some of the key points like unleashing pupils, unboxing them, failing forward, and (not waiting to be fully) prepared stuck with participants.

The actionable items were varied.

tagxedo-actionReading their individual statements in full and in context, the largest words are actually less meaningful because they were necessary fillers about the main topic. The mid-sized concepts like needing to unlearn and relearn, outwitting obstacles, exciting (students), and (leveraging on) emotions are key to teachers unboxing themselves.

I would also like to address two questions teachers asked in the exit form.

The first question was: Since space and time is needed, how do teachers innovate as they need to finish a given syllabus?

The second was: In the context of our education scene where so much time and emphasis is placed on results, where and how do we find time to innovate n let our minds go free?

The questions, while phrased differently, have exactly the same roots. They deal with the issue of time and view the problem of balancing classroom innovation and completing a syllabus or getting good results as a zero-sum game.

The thinking is that something old must give way for something new to move in. I imagine that teachers feel like they are balancing a full glass of acid above their heads and want to know how much is going to be removed before more acid is poured in. Pouring in without taking out is going to burn them.

 
After consulting a few educators at #edsg chat last night, I have concluded that you can play a different zero-sum game or break out of that paradigm altogether.

In lay speak, pour in something that neutralizes the acid or stop playing the acid-balancing game.

1. Zero-sum game 1: Modular curriculum design
In this approach, teachers do not teach every topic over the whole year. They only focus on specific topics that they prepare all materials for: Teaching, learning, practice, assessment, etc. Teachers might work in teams if they have larger cohorts.

The result is that the curriculum race still gets run while teachers get creative with the topic(s) they are assigned and do less (or even no) work for non-assigned topics. Teachers get more time to think of innovative approaches and get to observe and critique their colleagues when they are not teaching.

2. Zero-sum game 2: Integrated or overlapping curriculum design
The main idea of this approach is to identify redundancies or commonalities in subject silos and attempt to teach them at the same time. Volume is both a Math and Science concept, so why teach it twice? There is reading comprehension in complex Math problems and report writing in Science, so why not combine it with Language? The stories and examples in Language can be Math or Science in nature.

An ideal outcome of such an approach is a more holistic and interdisciplinary curriculum. Even if that is not the goal of curricular redesign, more porous silos create better communication and understanding between teachers of different content areas. If such conversations go beyond “What do you teach?” to “How to you teach it?” teachers might discover new ways of doing old things.

3. Play a new game
Compared to changing high-stakes testing, curricular redesign is easy. Exams and tests are not likely to be de-emphasized in our system any time soon even though there is less focus on just getting good grades.

Teachers have to ask themselves which of these they value the most: A) the test of schools, B) the test of life, or C) both.

Most teachers are already in mode A. Progressive teachers and change agents prefer to look beyond the temporary road hump that is the exam and prefer to prepare kids for more important things in life.

A few teachers want both good results and well-adjusted kids. This is a tall order, but not outside their reach. The main strategy is not to hot-house and prepare students for exams hoping that this will teach resilience.

Quite the opposite. Kids should be given opportunities to think creatively and critically first, possibly with the help of curricula that is modular, overlapping, or integrated. It is their capacity to think first instead of regurgitating content that will help them operate outside subject silos and to transfer knowledge and skills from one domain to another.

By the time you read this blog entry, I should be done sharing some ideas on educational innovation.

An ex-colleague invited me to deliver this keynote less than two weeks ago. It was very short notice, but I decided to help. I titled my session Educational innovation: Thinking and acting outside the box.

My modus operandi for talks is to use Google Slides and have a TodaysMeet backchannel and this morning’s session was no exception. I also included an online poll and an exit ticket with the help of Google Forms.

I strung together seemingly disparate items to tell a story on innovation at the classroom level:

  • A Jerry Seinfeld story
  • Time travel and emotional learning
  • Jailbreaking
  • Never being ready and failing forward
  • Informal professional development
  • Setting aside time
  • Unkilling learning zombies
  • Stepping outside yourself

I also featured this video to remind them how innovation (creativity in action) happens.


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The idea was to get teachers to think and operate outside the box they put themselves in. Only time will tell if I have tilted the box enough for them to fall out.
 

 


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The humble cardboard box probably made it easy to hold and transport quite a few Christmas presents. They are so common that we take them for granted.

But these two reinventors have thought of a way for us to make better use of them. Their new cardboard box uses less material, is easier to pack and unpack, and can be reused by flipping it inside out.

Kind of like what good blended and e-learning should be too!


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After I watched this video of how Poynton, a town in the UK, did away with traffic lights, I reflected on at least two things that might transfer to educational technology.

The video featured roads of old being shared by pedestrians, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, trams, and early versions of motorized vehicles we know today (22-40 sec segment). It seems chaotic.

I could not help but see the similarity to educational technology in schools. We have a mixture of tools and strategies like frontal teaching with “smart” boards, mobile learning with slate PCs, flipped classrooms, purely online classes, etc. This can also seem chaotic.

But eventually a dominant model survives. We should do what we can to ensure it is not industrial age training. As orderly as that might seem, it is losing its relevance.

The other transferable principle is knowing when to leverage on human judgement. Traffic lights remove the need to 1) make logical decisions and 2)  establish socially-negotiated norms.

If we are to use technology in education in any meaningful way, we need to put people front and centre. And the most important people are our learners.

It is Friday and it is time to chill after another busy week.


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I found this video from Gizmodo of a developer who has released a proof-of-concept application that uses your computer’s webcam to recognize simple gestures just like the Kinect does.

Ah, innovation. It starts with small steps!


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