A collection of ideas to position administrators and educators to encourage and embrace innovative uses of instructional and education technologies in their schools.
Last week, at the annual CIO Summit in Connecticut, innovation was one of the key topics for the day. There were a wealth of ideas offered and experiences discussed and I left inspired to share some of these with EmergingEdTech readers. These notions really apply to innovation in all organizations, and if you're looking to get more creative in your school, classroom, business, or any other endeavor, there is plenty here to help turn that light on over your head and prepare you for innovation success!
1. Innovation often comes one step at a time from small changes: People commonly think of innovations as being about “the next big thing”, but that often isn't how it works. Many successful innovations are a matter of combining small improvements and changes to create a new approach to an existing problem. Small innovations, like a change in how content is delivered in a class, how learning outcomes are assessed in one course, or how a repetitive administrative task is organized, can lead to meaningful improvements when scaled up over time. A few small improvements in a process or application can combine to lead to big changes in how, and how much, that process or application is used in your school.
2. Look to unexpected sources: Innovations can come from many angles, and some of the best ones will be inspired by sources outside of your organization. When you're looking for new ideas, talk to students or your kids and see what they think about the problem you're trying to solve or the technology your working on, browse around the Internet and get creative with searches for information and topics related to your work, observe the world around you, and just keep your eyes (and mind) open.
3. Be willing to accept failure: Failure is an inevitable part of innovation, and it shouldn't have the negative connotation it often does. In fact, if you're not failing from time to time, then you're really not trying very hard. Failure is a learning opportunity and must be embraced as such – celebrate failure – it means you've tried, you've learned, and you're that much closer to success. (This is an important lesson for students as well).
4. Innovations won't be adopted unless they solve a problem: No matter how cool and exciting a particular innovation looks, it doesn't mean that users are going to want to use it. Consider the tablet computer – it seemed like a good idea, but it floundered for a decade before Apple combined a great user interface and app platform with a highly functional physical device to create the iPad, and suddenly the tablet was a whole new niche that users love and other tech companies wish they could get in on. In general, if an innovation doesn't solve a problem or fulfill a specific need, it isn't going to be widely adopted (in Apple's case, they achieved a rare thing – creating a product people didn't know they wanted until they realized what it could do – but that's exceptional). Another example that comes to mind is the use of Lecture Capture in my institution – I was a strong advocate of this powerful technology for years, but until there was a specific need (in our case, capturing faculty professional development workshops and trialing a flipped course), busy faculty just didn't move to adopt it.
5. Look at problems in a different way – change the problem you are trying to solve: Sometimes changing your perspective on a problem can change your approach to solving it and lead to innovation breakthroughs. Along the same lines, sometimes people work to solve a problem that is actually a symptom of a deeper underlying issue. Take the time to consider the problems you look to solve with technology from multiple angles and dig down to the root cause. Similarly, there are times when accidental innovations result from working to solve a problem, often because the innovators have a breakthrough when they see a different angle to a problem they're working on (check out Page 10 of this publication from IEEE for a few historic examples of this).
6. Consider risks openly: Be open and honest about risks, they're a natural part of the process. Innovations can look great in the lab but then fail to get adopted for various reasons. A technology innovation may work well in one course or for one teacher, but not scale up well. Innovations can also lead in unexpected directions (which can be good or bad). These are all natural risks that come with being innovative, and it is more productive to be aware and plan for them than to simply ignore their potential.
7. Create an innovation lab or other innovation events or places: One way to spur and encourage innovation is to provide specific spaces and/or times to focus on innovation. There's a reason why big companies like Google, HP, and 3M encourage their employees to spend time innovating, and educational institutions (of all sizes) can certainly benefit from this kind of thinking. A classroom dedicated to innovation and experimentation can be another great way to encourage faculty, staff, and students to jump in and try new ideas. Of course, this may require a budget, so be sure to give this consideration at budget development time.
8. Create a culture of innovation: Many of the above items combine to help create a culture of innovation, but there is more that can be done to encourage and welcome it. Administrators from the uppermost level down must message the acceptance and/or expectation of a culture of innovation. This messaging should be supported through marketing to get the message out – discuss it in meetings, mention it in newsletters and broadcast emails, bring it up in dialogue. Another essential element in creating a welcoming culture of innovation is rewarding and celebrating innovation efforts, including failures that deliver useful information as well as widely adopted successful education and technology innovations.
These tips can help innovation become a part of the daily mind set of administrative staff, teachers, and technologists across your institution. If you have some examples of how ideas like these have helped bring about innovation in your school or classroom, or some other tips to foster innovation, please comment and share them.