Innovation is all about keeping up with the tech, right?

Pepper the robot. Innovative or not?

What does it mean to “innovate”?

Just because you’re using “innovative” technologies doesn’t automatically mean you are being innovative yourself. Conversely, you don’t need to use cutting edge technology to transform your practice in innovative ways.

It’s tempting to think that in the field of education technology, if you’re not keeping up with the latest tools and trends then you’re not doing it right. In our team at Jisc, we’d challenge this assumption.

So, what do I mean?

Prepping for a workshop I was running for a college in South West England recently I noticed this video which illustrates it quite neatly.

(Forgive me, I’m going to skirt round the fact that this is an edited video and not a peer-reviewed piece of research but I’m using it as an anecdotal example to illustrate a point. Always ready to hear counter-arguments!)

The teachers here are innovating. They are addressing shortcomings they’ve perceived as professionals when using traditional practice with their students by adopting new approaches. These new approaches mean that certain fundamental things in their relationships, behaviours and processes have to change.

It’s about changing practice; not changing technology

But what do you notice about the use of technology?

What struck me most was that the technology involved isn’t particularly cutting edge. It barely gets a mention! What they’re doing can be accomplished using PowerPoint skills, a microphone and somewhere to post the videos. Those things have been available for well over a decade.

The other thing to note is that just adopting the technology and nothing else wouldn’t transform the activity in the classroom. According to the teachers and students interviewed the important change has been in the way that they interact, collaborate and learn. Most of the effort has been put into structuring the new activities and ways of interacting, students to teacher and peer to peer. Take the tech out of that picture and arguably those changes could have happened another way.

I don’t think you could argue that if you injected the technology aspect without the other things it would have had the same impact.

Reflections

So, what do you think?

What I noticed when I shared this video with college staff was almost a sense of relief. I think they were bracing themselves for another talk about emerging technologies that promise a world of possibilities but at the expense of time and stress. Usually there’s a dearth of the former and a surplus of the latter!

Instead they had an opportunity to discuss what it was about their practice that they really wanted to change. They talked about creating great learning experiences, things that would motivate and engage their students and help them demonstrate their professionalism. Only then did they talk about how technology could help them to achieve that.

Importantly, I encouraged them to think about what technology was already at hand and that they knew how to use. Whether they decided they wanted to use VR or just a different approach to the VLE didn’t matter.

It all needed to go back to the innovation they wanted to see in their practice.

Want to know more?

Read Jisc’s Listening to Teachers report by Donna Lanclos and Lawrie Phipps

[This post is the first in a series where Jisc’s team of digital practice subject specialists challenge some of the myths and misconceptions they regularly encounter. They’re intended to be gently provocative and we’d love to hear your thoughts and challenges. Stay tuned to the blog for more]

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