Revisiting Innovation

Mr reflections and meanderings in response to Chapter 1: What Innovation Is and Isn’t (Couros, 2015).

 

Almost every sentence of Couros’ opening chapter is written to provoke deep thinking about learning. The focus of this opening chapter of The innovator’s mindset: Empowering learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity is to revisit and define innovation. This is a pertinent approach as the modern educator is regularly called upon to be innovative and build creative cultures whilst our places of work regularly badge themselves as being contemporary and innovative. Just over twelve months ago I replied to an advertised teaching position that called for an innovative teacher. Very recently, after having worked in this college for twelve months, I was asked by leadership personnel to give a brief assessment of the school. I challenged them by stating that they did not have a clear view of what was meant by innovation. This is not too harsh a critique but a common reality as innovation is a complex concept and the boundaries between concepts such as creativity and innovation are not that clear (Anderson, 2012). The challenge for all learning institutes and educators is that they need to solidify their understanding of terms such as innovation, creativity, 21st century and student-centred pedagogy. What do these terms mean? What do these concepts look like in actual day to day learning? If we ventured into a physical or digital space of learning what would we experience that fosters creativity and innovation?

With regard to innovation Couros (2105) begins – by defining innovation as:

…a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” (p. 378).

The stance taken is that innovation is not a thing, task, or even technology but a way of thinking. This view point is important to grasp but not absolute as other thought leaders do offer slightly alternative views of innovation. For instance, Donald Kuratko (2012) describes creativity as the set of thinking skills that help bring novel, acceptable ideas into the world. Design is the process that shapes an idea into an artefact – when we design something we bring something into the world for others to comprehend. Innovation is described by Kuratko as the extended process that provides the artefact to a wider audience. In summary, Kuratko’s publication on innovation and creativity notes that creativity generally focusses on idea generation whereas innovation also includes idea implementation; importantly creativity and innovation are integral parts of the same process. This stance is also expressed nicely by Anderson, Potočnik, & Zhou (2014) who write “Creativity and innovation at work are the process, outcomes, and products of attempts to develop and introduce new and improved ways of doing things.” (Anderson, 2014).

These varying ideas hint at a duality in how innovation is viewed i.e as a way of thinking or as a process (design thinking also suffers from this same duality) but they do coalesce with the stance adopted by Couros that to meet the idea of innovation something new or better must be produced.

In summary, we need to acknowledge that innovation is related to the ideas of creativity, design and entrepreneurship and these related terms influence each other. Upon reflecting on this opening chapter, my take home message is that within the context of education it is very helpful to view innovation and creativity as a way of thinking. Such a viewpoint at least serves to remind us very clearly that innovation, as stated by Couros in his opening chapter, is not synonymous with technology (Yeah!) and indeed a technocentric view of innovation is not sustainable (Brown, 2009).  This is extremely important point: when building new innovative cultures of learning, educators need to design strategies that focus on innovative thinking followed by designed technology integration…not the other way around.

Professionally, I find these views of innovationcreativity and an innovator’s mindset liberating. If we intend to create innovative places of learning (physical and digital) then I suggest we can gauge our success by the ideas that are generated rather than the technological tools that we put in place. Innovation is about creating cultures of thinking and this is where we should focus our energies. Furthermore, in line with the idea that innovation is about thinking, I suggest that the deep shifts needed in education are in the ways educators view knowledge and learning as well as their professional place in the process of teaching and learning; indeed how they place themselves in physical and digital learning spaces. To be innovative educators, we must challenge our professional beliefs and assumptions regarding education to shift in response to rapidly changing contexts.

A point of interest: Couros uses the example of Starbucks as an innovative company that met with success by continually reinventing their business. Of interest, when Starbucks came to Australia and even my home of Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) the company met with dismal failure as its business model, suitable for an America context, was not modified for the Australian context. To me, this is a stark reminder to never assume that what works well in one context is going to work in another. In education innovation needs to remain very focussed and adaptive to local contexts…even classroom to classroom. 

Questions for Discussion, as posed by Couros; which have got me thinking about my past and present teaching practice.

What is an example of a practice that you consider to be innovative? How is it new or better than what you had before?

I want to document a few ideas here that in my mind demonstrate a few important points regarding innovation.

This digital report was made back in in 2009. The Victorian VCE Curriculum asked that Biology students submit a report of field work they had undertaken. In brief, I redesigned a traditional written task to allow students to build a narrated report. This was better on a multitude of levels but in summary, I had encouraged my students to research and curate information so as to create a new digital artefact that communicated visually and verbally their understanding of a number of complex biological concepts. I discovered that by building in the narrative component that the task demanded students take ownership of a number of key biological terms that they might otherwise gloss over in their learning. Very importantly creativity and innovation were also built into the task. The success of this one innovative idea was a turning point in my teaching career.

Astrophotography Competition (2013). This event was organised after meeting the Telescopes In School organiser at a Teachmeet. She was interested in telescope work and I was interested in night time photography via the use of SLR cameras. Through simple networking and the sharing of ideas we developed an idea to engage students across Victoria in night time photography. This idea was built over networks and eventually became a statewide endeavour that, although I am now back into classroom teaching, still continues. This project taught me that sometimes you need to work around the constraints of educational systems to let innovation bubble to the surface.

STEM Coding Classes (2016): This year I have initiated and run a STEM class for Year 9 boys. My STEM students teach themselves HTML by engaging with specific lessons on www.codecademy.com. I typically show the students how to administer code on their laptops by using Notepad++ or else Dreamweaver. Then I basically get out of my students way and let them engage with very student centred learning. Some students require my assistance with modified expectations but I build a culture where the students support each other in their learning coding. Peer to peer collaboration is strong and they also learn to search online for code. The buzz in the classrooms is vibrant and the students largely produce amazing web sites by manipulating code they have found and understand. (I will come back and post up examples of work..eventually). This unit of work ends with peer to peer presentations. We then incorporate robotics in the STEM experience bouncing off the same student centred collaboration. This is innovative in my setting as the classrooms are extremely students centred which leads to deeper learning and student agency. The pedagogical stance that I adopted, was to make deliberate use of knowledge networks, and make this approach explicit to my students. My position in that class is markedly different to that of other classes that I teach in…for various reasons 😉 – as I played with ideas of connectivism and constructivist learning theories.

How can you create opportunities for innovation in your leadership? In your teaching? In your learning?

As we are viewing innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better in my leadership, teaching and learning I think a solid strategy is to keep building networks within my school (build relationships) and also via social media platforms that allow for a flow of innovation – such as that experienced with the astrophotography competition described above. Such an open stance increases the chances of thinking in creative and innovative ways – for teachers and students alike. One of my teaching goals is to explicitly plug my students into solid knowledge networks.

Keep questioning the status quo and as suggested by Couros what is best for our (this) learner.

What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but is also necessary for our students?

Technology and digital social networks! As stated in this opening chapter “Today’s technology makes it easy to quickly spread innovative ideas around the world.” (Couros, 2015 p. 445) This includes into and out of our classrooms.

*note to self…make future posts are shorter…but I wanted to dig deep here. 🙂  

Thanks for reading, please gift me with your response.

References:

Anderson, N., Potočnik, K., & Zhou, J. (2014). Innovation and Creativity in Organizations A State-of-the-Science Review, Prospective Commentary, and Guiding Framework. Journal of Management, 40(5), 1297-1333.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperCollins e-books.

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset. Empowering learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. Available from https://www.amazon.com.au/Innovator%E2%80%99s-Mindset-Empower-Learning-Creativity-ebook/dp/B016YTBZKO

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration: Transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston: Pearson.

 

Food for thought: Creativity and Innovation (Could act as a pedagogical framework).

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5 Comments
  1. Hello Simon,

    Congratulations on this deeply reflective post which links research with practice. There is no doubt I need to read Couros’ book these holidays.

    A few comments…..

    I am not sure about “new and better” but prefer “different and better”. It might be a play of semantics; however, with coleagues in my local context we also talk about “new old”; that being a “new” idea that is a remodeled old construct. Eg. Open Learning Spaces with new furniture but old pedagogy. New New or Different and better” is Open Learning Spaces, with new furniture with appropriate pedagogy to support the space. As I said, it may be semantics but we use “different and better”.

    Overall, innovation has to be something new/different and better. This is supported by places where creativity and idea generation is encouraged and valued. Maybe that is the innovation education is searching; the valuing of ideas over the endless quest to get better test results!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts..

    Regards
    Greg

    • Hello Greg,
      Couros suggests that ‘different’ isn’t enough to make something innovative. However, you use of’different and better’ is most likely describing ‘innovative’.
      I think we explored somewhere that all design is redesign… and then we do get lost in semantics. Although, even the dictionary meaning of innovation states it must be ‘new’. 🙂
      Thanks for engaging with my writing/thoughts.
      Simon

  2. You raise some really pertinent issues here Simon. I have read much of George Couros’ work and find that he constantly challenges my educational thinking.
    Yes, it’s a long post but none of it is irrelevant. Thanks

  3. Simon, interesting dissection of terminology and its application. Tell me when you see media reportage or even a school website where thinking and innovation are held above the fancy, shiny tools utilised during the process! (Rhetorical obvs) as a society, we think innovation hasn’t happened because we havent had the tools to do it, not because our minds are closed to alternative ways of doing.

    • Hi Lisa,
      As leaders in digital innovation I see our job moving popular thinking that is expressed in popular media and also on school websites.

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