Yesterday I attended a group discussion around the barriers to innovation as well as how to encourage more participation in the Canadian Network of Innovation in Education (CNIE) conferences. Here are a few notes from the conversation mixed with some reflections of my own and unanswered questions.

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Barriers

Tenure

According to participants, the tenure process, by definition, opposes or stifles innovation. I am not very familiar with the tenure process, yet I hear that to achieve tenure one needs to avoid risks. I have actually had a similar conversation with a colleague who I consider a mentor. I was warned not to step on any toes as it can be a career limiting move.

Innovation is risky. Being risk adverse opposes innovation. One tenure-track person indicated that they were directed by management to “Do well on your teaching but no more. Any additional effort goes into research.” I find that fascinating and unfortunate. How can we encourage innovation in teaching for tenure-track faculty?

Once people achieve tenure, I hear that they are socialized into maintaining the status quo. With all the politics I have witnessed I believe it. Can the tenure process be changed to support risk-taking? Can risk-takers be acknowledged by their institutions?

Fear of Student Opinions

If students dislike the innovation that can influence student feedback and therefore job security. For professors who are not tenured or in precarious work situations there is a perceived need to please students in order to get good feedback. Innovation is risky. Failure is part of the process of learning new things. It is important that we share the lessons learned from these failures.

Recently I tried badging. Overall it was a success. However, not everyone liked it. I will be presenting the analysis of the results next week, but below are some select quotes from the evaluation that illustrate why one may be fearful of student comments.

What part of bagding in this course helped you feel most engaged?

None of it – it was time consuming and did not help me learn the material. It was an unorganized method that caused frustration. It felt like I was part of an experiment with badging, and it was an awful system that had good intentions, but did not follow through with its purpose.

What about badges surprised you the most?

It surprised me how much I felt like a child with this badging system. We are university students and should be treated as such. This system did not motivate my learning on account of this. I felt like an elementary school student and felt belittled because of this system.

The class had several innovative learning strategies, including a grid topic layout (instead of the scroll of death), group work and links to activities. For this student that did not seem to work.

I wish this course was taught differently. I was very disappointed with the layout of “Moodle” and quite honestly, I was disappointed with the entire course (aside from the content itself). I found information incredibly difficult to find online, especially with links integrated into the documents. It discouraged me from completing readings, submitting in-class work, and I lost interest in the course overall. I suggest abandoning badges, and familiarize yourself with your powerpoint presentations.

 

No matter how awesome you are, students may be unhappy and give overly negative or critical feedback. Even in a successful situation, you will not please everyone. When you fail, the negative feedback could be exacerbated. Depending on how disruptive the innovation is and how understanding your boss is a poor reaction from students can be damaging to an instructor’s career. I actively seek out student feedback. The above feedback is important to hear in order to improve, but what impact does it have on job security?

Student buy-in for change is difficult.

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Fear of Failure

We, as innovators, need to be open to failure. It is impossible to be successful all the time when trying new things. While some of us may be comfortable with sharing failures, most often academics are not comfortable pointing out their failures.  If we don’t celebrate our failures how can we prevent others from making the same mistakes?

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The idea was suggested to celebrate failures through a conference stream, awards and celebration of the biggest failures as a part of the CNIE. The award for the biggest failure would be a welcome addition to the CNIE awards at the nest conference. (PS: If they don’t add the award that would be the biggest failure of the CNIE 😉 and Mr. president will hear from me).

Failure is important!

Training

Training for teaching is limited. Educators are hired for their content expertise and often do not have training (or have limited training) in education. We need more professional development!  This commitment needs to come from the institutions. I am lucky to be at an institution with awesome in-house professional development … but by definition, it is optional. Often it is the innovators who attend these sessions rather than the teachers who could really use some training.

Training is mandatory, but then you get into a difficult conversation about how much, when and what value it has. Again, each institution needs to commit to improving the skill level (not even just innovation) of their faculty. How that is done with a precarious workforce in some institutions is another thing that needs to be explored.

How do you encourage faculty to take ownership of their professional development?

Awkward Attention

Sometimes educators limit their sharing because they do not want to be seen as a self-promoter. The attitude of “oh there goes that teacher again doing something” is a barrier to sharing the interesting things going on in your teaching. It creates a barrier with some peers. This barrier can also be career limiting. How do you change that? No idea.

Personally, I have accepted that and chosen to innovate anyway. What ends up happening is that through networking you can build an inter-professional support group that enables you to “be with your people” and feel supported even if you are isolated from some peers. Is that what the CNIE is trying to do? Being involved with eCampusOntario has certainly skyrocketed my opportunity to build and expand this network (that is why I picked the tweet below).

Needed Supports

Support of Administration

A common theme was the need for support from administration. Policies, uncertainty or poor communication can limit innovation out of fear. The degree to which an administration clearly supports innovation has a large impact on how comfortable educators feel taking the risk of being innovative. Institutions should revisit their strategic plans and address concerns of faculty around support for innovation.

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Grassroots Movement  

Grassroots and friendly admin was agreed on as a key to promoting innovation in education. How do you normalize change and adaptation and risk-taking? Someone in the system doing grassroots advocacy is how the change will be impacted – it starts with people who are not afraid to fail. The CNIE seems to be aiming towards supporting this grassroots movement. Tell them how they can do that. eCampusOntario is also supporting us. Reach out to them as well.

Bravery

Brave souls recruit others. Being innovative takes bravery. Let’s be brave together. Seriously, reach out, let’s “have coffee” and you can be part of my network.

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Social Media

“Real” innovation can be generated on and magnified by social media. eCampusOntario pushed me onto twitter so you can find me there and we can support each other in innovation. Sharing the successes, failures, and lessons learned from peers creates a supportive environment that is empowering to be a part of. Social media is also an important networking tool. Building a network fuels innovation by promoting new ideas.

Definition

Innovation needs to be defined to promote communication and effective collaboration. I am having a hard time finding a definition of innovation on the CNIE website – we should add one. At my institution, I was part of the group that developed a definition. Is innovation something new in my context or does it need to be brand new? Today our keynote speaker said that there are really no new ideas. Knowledge is co-constructed. If that is true, does innovation exist?

Cross Collaboration

Breaking barriers. As an organization, we need to be actively seeking more members from different educational sectors. In particular, how do we meet the needs of  K to 12 educators and engage them in the discussion? Personally, the connections I have with the teachers at my daughter’s elementary school have prompted many critical reflections on my own teaching practice. We need to break down silos and work together.

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Incentives

Some of us are innovators because it is part of the core of who we are, but others need some incentives. How can we incentivize innovation in an era where funding for professional development is declining?

PS: I still think the possibility of a conference on a cruise ship should be investigated. Google tells me there are a few interesting options in Canada (but the price needs to be considered – as mentioned earlier funding is low).

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What have I missed here? Please comment below!

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