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Posts Tagged ‘innovation

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.


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.

Video source

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!

Video source

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!

mojo ingredients by chotda, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  chotda 

I have lunch with my team leaders every other Monday. Sometimes we talk shop, sometimes we talk about shopping. But whatever we talk about, I learn something new. Last Monday, I learnt that my tech-admin assistant took her own mobile and open initiative.

She had opted to tag our departmental assets with QR codes. [Here’s how I’ve used QR codes in a class.] Scanning these codes with a mobile phone equipped with free software (e.g., i-nigma) would lead you to a password-protected wiki page. Collectively, the wiki pages would be our database of assets.

The system would allow us to track the location an item or its history (when it was purchased, which financial vote it had come from, etc.). Any one of my staff could create the codes, access and update the database, or otherwise use the system.

The system is a simple and effective solution to a common problem in stocktaking. Got the QR code but not the item? Use the code to find it. Got the item and need to get more information about it? Scan the code on the item.

It is, in the words of my tech-admin, created so that you did not need to rely on just one person. It is also a good example of using open and mobile tools.

If you conduct a survey and ask people around you what it would take to innovate, you’d get an assortment of answers. I’ve discovered that there are two key and intertwined ingredients: Innovative people and innovation-open environments.

If you have creative staff but a restrictive workplace, you are unlikely to get innovation. If you create a risk-friendly place but no one wants to take risks, you will get frustrated. But if you simply provide a mission and empower your people to elicit change, you might just get a self-sustaining, self-evaluating system.

Yes, not “ready, aim, fire”. Often, you’ve got to “ready, fire, aim” to innovate.

I got that quote from Kapp’s rant about questions that irritate him on the effectiveness of virtual worlds.

As an academic, Kapp was trying to make a point that waiting for research was at times too slow and inconclusive when you want to innovate or stay ahead of the curve.

I can relate. And I am firmly on his side on the debate.

My critique of educational research is that it does not live up to its ideals or promises. Lots of money gets locked up in niche areas that benefit but a few. It is used ultimately to generate one or more papers that key stakeholders (teachers and students) don’t get to read or even understand. The products of educational research are often not scaled up for various reasons: Inertia, indifference, irresponsibility, too many different contexts, ad nauseum.

I am all for research informing practice. But practice can also inform practice, and if that practice is critically and creatively reflective, it can inform more immediately.

Will there be some misses as a result? Surely. But you can get better with practice.

Video source

This is OK Go‘s latest music video and it features a Rube Goldberg machine that is so elaborate that it outshines the ones by Honda and Guinness.

It’s creativity and hard work in action!

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This tongue-in-cheek video is a look at technology use in the higher ed classroom and done in the style of the US version of The Office. Ah, the disconnect between technology and pedagogy!

I’d classify this as Comedy and “Horror”; it’s funny and “scary” at the same time! But it also offers lots of good takeaways, particularly when the students suggest to the instructor what they might do (from the 4min 39sec mark).

I think that they all had good suggestions, except for one: Making use of BlackBoard. If they want to get more involved by getting into the modes of creating and critiquing, they could use Web 2.0 tools like wikis, VoiceThread, MixedInk, MindMeister, Google Apps, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

When I read the BBC news article Great writers ‘fail’ online test, I was not surprised. Why? Two reasons.

First, one of the writing samples was actually a speech. Writing for a speech is not the same as writing for print. Yes, you are writing a speech, but not for someone to read like a book. The words don’t leap out of the medium the same way when they are delivered by the speaker.

Second, technology cannot (yet) replace complex human judgment, emotion and subjective interpretation. While this might have been a case of pushing the limits of technology, I also thought that this was using technology when it did not fit the situation.

Do educators make the same mistake when pushing the envelope with technology? Sure we do. But the harm is not in trying. The harm is in providing fuel for the naysayers to say “I told you so!”

But to the naysayers I reply:

Those who say it cannot be done shouldn't interrupt the people doing it

Or as James Arthur Baldwin originally put it: Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.

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