explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

Tag: innovation (page 1 of 2)

Innovation in Higher Education…and other blasts from the past

I had the pleasure to be a keynote at CNIE 2017 in Banff last week, 14 years after first attending the very first iteration of this conference in the exact same location. This year’s theme was Exploring our past, present and future, which could not have been a more perfect theme to talk about a topic I’ve become quite interested in over the past year.  Last year I began looking into the past of concepts like open pedagogy/pédagogie ouverte  and delving into this past has really helped me gain some perspective on how we are currently talking about open.  Preparing for the CNIE keynote gave me a great opportunity to delve  more deeply into the past of other concepts such as innovation, ed tech, and open in particular.

The point of this presentation was to take a journey to the past, the 1960s and 70s for the most part, and talk about current day open, ed tech, and  innovation in relation to the past.

We started with the Then or Now game. I put up 4 slides of different quotes from 1960-present and you had to guess whether the quote was from the past or present.  As expected, this wasn’t an easy one to guess, the point being that a lot of the past rhetoric on open, ed tech, or innovation sounds very familiar to those of us who’ve been in the field for a while.  You can see the quotes in the slide deck, but the references for those slides follow:

  1.  The Erosion of Innovation in Higher Education, 1970. ( A dissertation written by the future president of Buffalo State College, or was it really written by Gail, his wife?). note: you need access to pro quest to access this one, full citation here:JOHNSTONE, DONALD BRUCEUniversity of Minnesota, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1969. 7001794.

2.  The automated university: bots and drones amid the dreaming spires, 2017

3.  Technology and Education: who controls?, 1970

 

And my personal favourite:

4.  Radical Innovation in a Conventional Framework: Problems and Prospects, 1977

The point of the Then or Now game is that there are many recognizable tropes in those quotes, and what I learned in looking at 1960-1980 is that for every gushing Chronicle or Ed Surge article you can find a 1960s or 70s equivalent.  Of course, there is both great comfort and room for critique in that observation.


“The crisis facing higher education in our nation has been mentioned so often that I fear we may tend to consider it an old story. It is not.“

In 1963, where this quote is from, it turns out there actually was a crisis in higher education in the 60s and 70s. What we learn from reading about this time period is that the drivers for the crisis, perceived or real, are not dissimilar to today.

For example, there is a pressure of numbers- in an OECD report in 1968 Change and innovation in higher education pointed to the pressure of numbers (changing demographics) as a result of growth in population and demand for greater equality – for example, I was surprised to learn that in UK between 1961 and 1968 24 new universities were created.

Also noted is the driver of scientific and tech progress: “new disciplines must be introduced; boundaries between the old ones become artificial; the rapid obsolescence of existing technologies has to be taken into account”.  Those same drivers appear in this Huffington post article from 2015.

I then continue with more echoes from the past including:

  1.  Disruption 1960s style: “ there is a chorus of exhortations – articles beginning ‘Higher Education should’ or ‘must’”. From 1967 – Innovation: Processes, Practice and Research p.38.
  2. No shortage of buzzwords and technology solutionism: “technological revolution” is a term “used with great abandon and little definition”. From 1968 Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities.
  3. And no shortage of skepticism – the newest trend becomes embraced or critiqued:  “in spite of or because of its obscure meaning, individualized instruction is held up as a panacea for the ills of education”– 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities
  4. And of course, the obligatory tech as distraction reference: “Kids who are used to having blaring transistor radios around hem every waking moment have trained themselves to ignore anything coming into their ears, and therefore hear very little of what comes out the the earphones they we are in the language lab” : 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities

One of the greatest higher education innovations was the Open University. I find it curious that during the MOOC mania, there was little discussion about how open universities were a real solution to a demographic/accessibility/education massification problem, AND they actually provided students with real credits in a meaningful education “currency”. The OU UK was established in 1968, and many other open universities followed. Here in Canada, as a result of the Quiet Revolution, there was the establishment of a new higher ed system called CEGEPs in Quebec in 1968, resulting in 46 new 2-3 year colleges that were accessible and largely free.  The scale of higher ed expansion at this point in time is mind-boggling.  In a period of 10 years, 28 other open universities were established around the world.

In 1979 John Daniel writes somewhat retrospectively on this phenomenon in Opening Open Universities:  “They are designed to serve working adults, usually without any academic prerequisites for entry, and they involve the delivery of instruction at a distance. Best known of these new institutions is the Open University of the UK, which has identified some 29 other universities around the world which implementthe open university concept in various ways. For most of these universities, adult off campus students constitute the sole or primary clientele”.

Here in Canada, in 1972 a task force on the Télé-Université reported that the establishment of TELUQ should address these challenges.

— Lifelong learning

— Real accessibility for all.

— Social development.

— Needs of working population.

— Greater mobility of knowledge.

— Wide use of new media and techniques.

— Rethinking the learning situation.

— Taking account of people’s prior life experiences.

— Reduction of unit costs

What is striking is how incredibly ambitious this list is.

In comparing our current day solutions to changing demographics, population, tech change, accessibility, to those of the 60s and 70s, where there drivers were very similar, it is notable that in the 60s and 70s the open universities had very ambitious agendas.  Today, it appears, we lean on MOOCs and OERs to address our higher ed problems, and we are certainly asked to buy into a rhetoric of disruption.

What is interesting, however, is that in the 60s, disruption meant actual student protests and disruption on college and university campuses around the world.  Today, it means the creation of new tech products, that will somehow solve higher education problems.  This is the innovation conversation of today that many of us in the ed tech field are familiar with. As this graphic from 2015 shows, the sample of the ‘ed tech players’ are for the most part LMS or MOOC platforms. 

And we are breathlessly reminded that this is a growth industry.

Keep in mind there has always been an education market.  In 1966-67 it was estimated to be worth 48 billion dollars in the US, second only to defense. Today the ed market, however defined, is second only to heath care in the US.


The question is, how much of what we are doing is recreating the past.  To this, we can look at Open Pedagogy as a possible example.

When I began looking into the origins of open pedagogy, I didn’t find many references in the English literature, but found a body of work in the French literature that dates from the early 70s, associated with Claude Paquette, a professor at UQAM.

Open pedagogy in its current day form has been argued to be the pedagogy that results when open education resources (as defined by the 5R permissions) are used. Along with this definition are the 5Rs as articulated by David Wiley.

Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content

Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways

Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself

Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new

Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

As a result, this is a content focussed definition, and  Wiley has since reframed his definition of open pedagogy as OER enabled pedagogy.

What becomes interesting is when we contrast the current day open pedagogy, centred on the permissions surrounding content, with open pedagogy of the 1960s where learner emancipation, not the use of OERs, was the goal of open pedagogy. Claude Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation. For me, this is a much more ambitious definition of open pedagogy, focussed less on the how and more on the actual goal.


So what happened?  We can perhaps look to the 80s for some clues, although I spend less time in this era of the literature and there is more work to be done here.

The first hint I found is from Patricia Cross, speaking about community colleges in 1981:  “the message seems to say that the old ideals of the 1960s that used to excite and inspire, albeit midst frequent controversy, are gone, and new ones have not yet emerged”. She describes the emergence of a plateau “between 2 periods of high energy and a sense of mission in the community colleges” and notes that the early ideals have receded. In this article, she compares ‘should be’ goals at a 10 year interval and notes particularly the decline in the should be goal of accessibility, a significant decline in esprit de corps…mutual trust and respect among faculty students and administrators.

We also can see the emergence of corporate-speak applied to higher education as exemplified in this quote from 1982:“institutions of higher education lag behind most other sectors of the economy in their capacity to improve productivity”.  This article, which was published in Journal of Higher Education – is entitled The Impact of Organizational and Innovator Variables on Instructional innovation in Higher Education .

There are some interesting examples from the graveyard of dreams that also demand us to pause and ask how we came so close to getting it right.

Consider, for example, the case of the Earth Sciences department at St. Lawrence University. In 1977 Bill Romey (same author of the blobs of jello quote) writes: “An opportunity arose to implement a new program in a conventional academic department of geology and geography at St. Lawrence University. Would it be possible to bring about extensive change from within a conventional department in an old-line, conventionally oriented liberal-arts school? ”

The change Romey describes includes 10 or so characteristics of the new program that would have considerable appeal by current day standards.  These include:

  • Independent project work at all levels, for all students and faculty, would replace all standard courses.
  • Students would evaluate their own work.
  • Students would keep portfolios of their own work as an alternative means of showing what they had accomplished. There would be no more examinations of conventional types.
  • Students and faculty would participate fully and equally in the governance of the department.
  • The department was to run as an open organism with free access for everyone in the university, whether or not they were formally enrolled for credit.
  • Each person would function both as a teacher and as a learner.
  • The faculty accepted responsibility, in cooperation with the students, to create and maintain a rich and stimulating learning environment for the benefit of all.

Romey describes the evolution over a few years, and notes that conventional thinking is starting to creep back in but for the most part the department is operating as described above.

If you go to the department page today you will see there appears to be no essence of this spirit left and the now Geology department adopts a structure not unlike many other universities.  In fact, the only hint of this former time can be found on the academics page, where some amount of program customization is referenced, but this comes across more as academic strategy-speak than real.

It’s important to underline that there were lots of these types of idealistic experiments happening on campuses across North America (see the chapter on Recent Developments, p.10, for a good description of this) –St. Lawrence not the only one and it would take some work for somebody to dig in and explore how they look today.  Also notable is that there were several threads of open across concepts such as individualized learning, open enrolment, and open classrooms, to name a few.

Fortunately, there are also some examples of things that have only gotten better with time – in 1970, MacManaway writes what can only be described as flipped learning 1970s style – provide students with the lectures scripts for private reading and use the classroom time for small group discussion and assignments.


What the past and present version of ourselves shared was a common desire for teaching, learning, and student success. And this is where I think current day higher education can innovate with openness.  Of course, openness is often associated with Creative Commons licensing.  But increasingly I’m less interested in potential of CC licensing and more in the question of Open as a means to what? I feel like our 60s and 70s counterparts were much more clear and explicit about this question.

In this section of the presentation I describe some examples where I think we can clearly answer the question, Open as a means to what?  These include:

  1. BCcampus as providing the higher education sector in BC as a means to collaborate.
  2. The BC Open Ed Tech Collaborative
  3. The beginnings of a WordPress Cooperative as a new model for doing things together
  4. Some JIBC examples of open for the public good:  eg. Fentanyl Safety , which was recently written up in the Atlantic
  5. An international collaboration between JIBC and University of Guadalajara where early discussions and contract language included a CC BY NC license.
  6. JIBC’s work in developing an open textbook Zed Cred/Zee Degree in Law Enforcement Studies
  7. Virtually Connecting

If I can note anything about this journey to the past, it’s that the 60s and 70s literature is not dull reading…many of the articles linked above are written with incredible candour and passion, and there are plenty of LOL moments.

 

 

 

Considerations for ed tech and innovation

This is a continuation of a series of posts on innovation, and is my attempt to get a bit more pragmatic about the topic, namely because I was asked to frame some of my thinking into a workshop on innovation in higher education. There’s a number of ways to go with the topic, so I’m starting with some thoughts on considerations for innovation, which in this post I’m using somewhat interchangeably with educational technology. So if you are uncomfortable with the word innovation, you can swap in educational technology and arrive at a similar place.

For starters, it’s important to highlight Tony Bates’ well-established SECTIONS model for selecting educational technologies or media.  It’s a great place to start if you are an instructional designer trying to make decisions about educational technology in course and program design.  But when talking about innovation and ed tech at an institutional strategic level, I think it can be a good idea to take a step back and ask some bigger questions of your institution.

In considering considerations, I think it’s important to begin with a thinking (or erasing?) exercise that asks you to forget everything you know or think you know about ed tech and start over.  At many of our institutions ed tech thinking starts with the LMS, and whether we like it our not the LMS’s institutionally friendly attributes have an important role in shaping our thinking about teaching and learning.

Once you’ve erased your ed tech slate, you are ready to embark on some considerations:

  • Consideration #1:  What is the learning trajectory of students who interface with your institution? What data do you have about your students and does it tell an accurate story about the trajectory?
  • Consideration #2: What is the key driver of educational technology decisions at your institution (eg. access, best possible learning environment, institutional profile, institutional differentiation). You have to pick one, but you can acknowledge that others come into play.
  • Consideration #3: What does innovation mean at your institution by the various stakeholders? Does it line up with #1 and #2?
  • Consideration #4: What are the problems that need to be solved that could be solved by ed tech?  Is your current ed tech environment solving or hindering these problems?
  • Consideration #5:  Can you afford to not be/go open in some areas of your activities?
  • Consideration #6: What can be done to get at 4 and 5?  This is innovation.

If I was to go back in time six years when I started my role at JIBC, I would try to systematically engage in a process to get at some of these questions. In reality, the questions emerged over time and in a different order – #2, 3, 4, 6, 1, 5.  This is how it played out for us:

 Consideration #2:  It was pretty consistently stated that JIBC’s driver for ed tech came from a provincial mandate, meaning we have to deliver our programs across a very large geographic area, including rural and remote communities.  So for us, educational technology was primarily about access – making it possible for rural and remote communities to avoid expensive travel to Vancouver, and to give greater opportunity for BC communities to access our programs.

 Consideration #3:  Given #2, there was a very strong collective desire to innovate on how to do this.  We had an LMS, and had a web conferencing tool, but there was a sense that this wasn’t enough and was producing satisfactory but not good enough results.  So innovation meant finding new models of delivery, new formats for our courses and programs, and better tools.  There was also a common theme in that JIBC felt like it had been a leader in educational technology in the past (which they truly were, but that’s a subject of another post), but hadn’t evolved or kept up enough to maintain that status.  Anecdote:  In my first month at JIBC I was asked by the President in front of a JIBC -wide forum to comment on our ed tech status. I responded that I felt that they already had many of the tools to do what they needed to do  (LMS, video streaming, video production, web conferencing). This was clearly the wrong answer and was definitely a TSN turning point in my appreciation and underestimation of JIBC.  

 Consideration #4:  JIBC had a huge appetite and appreciation for educational technology, and unlike other institutions I’d worked at previously, there wasn’t a need to sell the importance at the institution, as illustrated by the above anecdote.  There was a greater need to push the envelope, but it took a while to get at the problems that needed to be solved. For example, it took some innovative people in some of our programs to turn me onto mobile (Consideration #6) by putting it into a real professional context (and that’s where the ball really dropped).  As the anecdote hints, the President, and JIBC generally, didn’t feel like the ed tech environment that existed was solving the problems that needed to be solved. But being able to translate this collective dissatisfaction into an articulation of a future direction emerged over time.  This is partly because we hadn’t really unpacked #1.

Consideration #1:  We arrived at a clear articulation of the JIBC learner trajectory through a number of data points.  Institutional data showed that a significant percentage of our students come back to do additional programs and credentials, many of which are very niche, unique kinds of course and programs not offered elsewhere. In other words, we are truly a lifelong learning institution for many of our students, partly because of the kinds of programs we offer.   And because of the kinds of professions and communities that we work with, we know that our students often have a relationship with JIBC before enrolling in our programs. Additionally, one of our research surveys showed data that most of our students are working full time while attending our institution, and age group distribution is fairly equal between 18 and 60+.

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The different data points about our students lead us to the following description of a JIBC student trajectory, where we tried to articulate the student relationship with the JIBC before, during, and after taking a course or a program. This, of course, had important implications for educational technology decisions and innovations, namely, that things that we create or implement should be things that students not only use while they are at JIBC but have direct application and use in the professions or communities in which they work. This is also how we ended up at # 5.

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Consideration #5: In BC we are fortunate to be part of a higher education sector that encourages and supports open, facilitated by BCcampus. Once we had an understanding of #1, the rationale to go open in some areas of our activities was clear. This is really the subject of another post, but using WordPress to make courses and parts of courses available to students at any phase of their learning trajectory ended up being a win for both students and the communities with whom we work.

Our current ed tech/innovation formula:

In some my posts on innovation, I talked about how we didn’t go the flagship innovation initiative route, but instead focused on a few smaller initiatives that have converged. Our new innovation formula -for lack of a better word – ended up being mobile + wordpress + open = innovation*. However it has to be underlined that the context for this is a combination and result of considerations 1-6, which obviously will be variable depending on the institution. This is why I think it’s important to scrutinize both current ed tech environments and the latest innovation flavours of the month, be they e-portfolios, mobile, augmented reality, etc., since it’s quite possible that it doesn’t make sense in a particular institutional context.

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*we also do a lot of scenario-based experiential learning and simulations, but this was already well established at JIBC.

Some ideas for creating a culture of innovation

In my last post I mentioned the importance of the idea of third spaces in creating a culture of innovation and in removing barriers to innovation.  I focused solely on the T & L centre as an obvious starting point for a third space or facilitative boundary object, partly because I really wasn’t in the mood to get into how IT departments, steering committees, etc can be so inhibitive, even if they try to be on board with innovation.  I find that often these inhibitive structures don’t really know how to be facilitative of innovation, and like T & L centres need some transformation.  As the new Director/VP of innovation you can’t always dismantle these structures, or blow them apart and start over, so what can you do to keep innovation from devolving to a project (see first post as to why innovation shouldn’t be a project) that only you care about?

I see this as a series of steps with various inherent mechanisms.  Some of these might seem to be a bit obvious, so bear with me.

Talk to people and find the innovation on the fringes:  Chances are there are some people in your institution doing some really interesting, innovative stuff that not many people know about.  Find out why that is, how they are getting stuff done, and what is getting in the way.  Then figure out how you will be able to help them move from the fringes to key examples of people doing great things that the institution supports.  You might also find out  (as I did on more than one occasion) that something that they are doing that wasn’t on your innovation radar should be a key initiative.

Support the people who want to do some great stuff, but have no idea how to get going or get the support they need. Higher ed by design is full of smart, creative people who want to do cool things.  But sometimes the smallest things become barriers to getting them to implement their ideas.  For example, I’ve come across a situation where a faculty member’s amazing idea required purchasing a 500$ flip camera that he couldn’t get his department to buy.  His idea was simple, cheap, and would have had a great effect on student learning. Making sure you have some budget for supporting people on the cheap is a great way to get some quick wins and momentum – in the first year we did this we were able to support 5 or so projects with less than $3000, and these projects became highly showcased and lead to other great developments.

Don’t kill the innovators with process:  In our T & L Centre we have an innovation pilots initiative (see above) where people with ideas can access money and/or expertise support in order to try out their idea.  This is available at any time of the year…there are no calls for proposals, blessings by committees, or long discussions about what ifs.  We don’t require success, in fact we let them know that they are allowed to fail.  But since it’s not a free for all, we have a one page project plan that is filled out. Knowing that this is a barrier for people with little time, we ask them to come to a one hour meeting with us where they tell us verbally what they want to do and what they need from us, and we fill out the form for them in the meeting.  Our one pager covers the following:

Strategic Goals Addressed – what Academic plan, strategic plan or ed tech plan does the project align with

Purpose of the pilot—what is the problem/s you are trying to solve?

How are you planning on doing it?

Equipment/people needs

Evaluation:  How you will know if it is successful/not successful?

Timeline

We find that this process becomes a collaborative conversation between the people with the idea and the people that can support it, and sets the right tone for the relationship and the project.  We want people to feel empowered by the step they’ve taken rather than intimidate them with “how are you going to do this, what if XYZ happens…”

Pilots are your friend:  At every institution I’ve worked with, small innovative ideas have a habit of becoming complexified when certain stakeholders throw the but what ifs, the we can’t becauses, and the but we don’t haves.  Often this is a fear driven reaction to culture where unknowns are viewed as a risk.  To counter this, I’ve had good success with using pilots as a sort of boundary object that is introduced as a way to alleviate fear of failure.  Pilots by definition are ways of trying things on and figuring out whether an idea is worth pursuing through more formal channels, once a good assessment is made of the value and potential to the institution.  I like to point out that they are actually a low risk way of innovating in that they give the institution time to properly assess and learn about whatever is being implemented.

The other nice thing about pilots is that as Director/VP of Innovation you probably have a good idea of some must-have tool/innovation that you want to introduce to the institution, but don’t quite yet have the buy-in.  You can keep a tool/innovation in pilot until it has enough momentum and buy-in to transition it successfully to being institutionally supported.  Basically, once it becomes indispensable to the institution (WordPress in our case) you have plenty of examples to demonstrate your case without trying to convince people why the tool is needed.  Keep in mind that the key with this whole approach is that you need to have the authority to initiate and support pilots.  Finally, pilots are useful in showing that you actually do have a process and guidelines for introducing innovation to your institution – this is important because you don’t want people to think that you are jumping on any new shiny thing without having thought about it, or that you are shoving your favourite pet technologies/innovation onto the backs of already busy people.

Removing barriers to innovation – the teaching and learning centre and third spaces

In my last 2 posts ( 7 Rules About Innovation ; First Steps in Creating a Culture of Innovation;   I said I’d get to the topic of removing barriers to innovation in an institution. I’m a bit academic about this topic, since I feel like this stage requires some sort of framework that gives your actions some method to the madness.  This is also one area where I think senior leadership would do well to be a bit more academic outside of standard leadership literature and practices.  But I digress…

Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory is probably the most well known and cited tome on innovation, and I’ve found that senior admin really grasp this idea of diffusion and innovation, so it’s a good one to have in your back pocket. But it doesn’t really get down to the nitty gritty of what is happening in an organization at a macro level to inhibit or foster innovation, and what to do about it.  I’m an activity theorist at heart, so I tend to structure my method to madness around a  version of Star and Griesemer’s idea of boundary objects.  I think of boundary objects as organizational artefacts – people, committees, money, positions, policies, procedures – that can be inhibitive or facilitative.  They sit at the boundary of many spheres of activity, not just your own innovation agenda, and as Director/VP/President of Innovation you probably have to create some new boundary objects too.  The key is understanding which ones are important to the innovation vision that you have proposed (and has been endorsed) so that you can move ahead with your plans.

There are some obvious first places to examine in your institution and assess whether they are facilitating innovation or inhibiting it.  The most obvious place to start is the teaching and learning centre.

Teaching and Learning Centres: Is your T&L centre facilitative or inhibitive?  T & L Centres in my experience are a bit of an innovation paradox, in that they are well positioned to be an innovation hub for the institution but often need to be reinvented and transformed in order to do this.  This is especially the case with well-established T & L Centres that have become highly invested and good at doing one or two things (curriculum development, faculty development)  at the expense of others.   While the role of T&L centres is generally to enhance teaching and learning at the institution, my view is that given that these Centres are often centrally funded, ultimately their role is to make the lives of teaching and learning staff easier.  As with ‘innovation’ , this means different things to different people.  The VP Academic might very well see the T & L centre’s priority to increase the quality of teaching at the institution, but is this the Dean’s immediate priority? The Dean’s priority might be to have a simpler way of managing curriculum in its Faculty.  The faculty member might just want some support on the online course environment that they’ve been asked to teach.  Within this context, innovation competes with numerous other priorities.

If this is the case at your institution,  then I like the idea of invoking (in academic terms again) a third space* – a sort of fail safe zone or zones for innovation and transformation that is separate yet connected to the T & L Centre.  Plenty of institutions do this, and sometimes it can look like off-the-side-of-the-desk rogue activity, or unofficial clusters of activity, but I think it stands a better chance of succeeding if it has been endorsed and supported by the senior admin and the budget, rather than being an under-the-radar secret.

In order for these third spaces to work, they need to consider other barriers to innovation:  time, money, people, and bureaucracy.  This could be a whole other post, but simply put, if you innovation space requires a lot of effort to access the equipment, money, people, then it’s not really helping anybody.  This might be stating the obvious, but here are a couple of examples I’ve seen:

  1.  innovation equipment locked up in a separate room 3 or 4 buildings over from the teaching site.  Only the most keen and confident instructor will bother getting to campus early to go and grab the equipment and set it up.
  2. innovation funding processes that require filling out long, elaborate forms, that then have to be endorsed by multiple committees over a several month process.  Faculty are busy, and if it takes more hours to get the money than to use the money then there’s little ROI for them.  Also, if they have an idea they want to implement, it’s usually time sensitive.  This process also doesn’t support the notion that innovation is messy and sometimes fails.
  3. innovation that has to fit into existing systems, technologies, world views. Eg. an e-portfolio project that has to use the institutionally endorsed (read: expensive) e-portfolio tool.   This is a tricky one. On the one hand supporting innovation means that it should support the innovation vision of the institution (see second post on this) and it’s not a free for all.  But on the other hand, you have to know where you can let it go and challenge existing thoughts on this…for example, does it really have to tie into the institutional LMS, SIS, policy XYZ?  For me, third spaces should challenge the status quo where appropriate, otherwise it’s not really innovation.

Institutions often get into trouble with #3, because they’ve overly invested in certain technologies and want to see a measurable ROI, have created overly inhibitive structures (steering committees, policies), or lack vision and leadership on innovation.  Which unfortunately means that if you’re in a senior position with innovation as part of your job title/portfolio, and you don’t have the means or senior support to remove the barriers, then you’ve got a really tough job ahead of you.

*(Guiterrez, 1999, but nicely summarized here.)

 

First steps in Creating a culture of innovation in higher education – Figuring out what innovation will mean

In my last post I outlined Tannis’ 7 rules on innovation.  I said that the next post would be about removing barriers to innovation, but that’s actually jumping the gun a bit.  If you’ve just landed a job with innovation in your job title, the first steps are figuring out what your institution means when they say they want innovation.

  1. Find out what people at your institution care about when they say they want innovation.  This should be obvious, but chances are different stakeholders (the Deans, the President, the CIO, the faculty) all have different ideas as to what is innovation and what they want.  Innovation is a relative construct, and within an institution there will be small, medium, and large understandings as to what will constitute innovation.  Rather than impose your view, you will need to work with their’s, but without losing sight of where you think the institution needs to go, of course. This requires doing a good job of #2.
  2. Develop a clear vision for innovation based on what you learn about the institution.  Articulating a vision for innovation is a key step in making sure that the path that emerges is meaningful and relevant to the institution.  For example, there is a temptation to jump on the latest and greatest ed tech buzz (eg. mobile learning, e-portfolios) and roll it out as an institutional must-do innovation. But if mobile learning or e-portfolios makes no sense at your institution because of the types of programs, students, professions etc, don’t do it.  This doesn’t mean that you have to abandon it completely – this leads us to #3.
  3. Distinguish between institutional innovation and program level innovation initiatives.   In my last post I cautioned against flagship innovation initiatives, which are often rolled out and positioned as institutional must-do projects.  Flagship initiatives aren’t necessarily bad, but you will want to make sure that you are sensitive to innovation initiatives that might only make sense to one or two programs.  For example, moving all your history students to a tablet program probably doesn’t make any sense, but for your medical program it might be a no-brainer.  Program level initiatives also have the advantage of snowballing into other programs in more of a grassroots way, which is good for buy-in.
  4. Look for opportunities for convergence of smaller initiatives.  The method to the madness with flagship initiatives is that you are introducing a big, broad bucket of options that faculties will be able to identify with.  The risk with this approach is that it is a) too big of a bucket for faculty to see how flagship program will solve their immediate problems; and b) so broad that it intimidates or disengages since faculty feel like the learning curve is too big.  I’m a big fan of converging separate, smaller initiatives gradually. For example, a WordPress initiative can converge nicely with a tablet initiative into a bigger bucket called mobile learning, rather than starting with mobile learning and trying to have faculties understand all the options in that bucket.

Next post:  Next steps in Creating a Culture of innovation – Removing Barriers

About those innovation jobs…7 Rules About Innovation

Today was the latest job posting with innovation in the title, and this one is at a VP level.  This seems to be an emerging trend in higher education, suggesting both a desire of institutions to show their commitment to innovation first by including it in their strategic plans, and in addition to that, making sure at least one person in the institution has innovation in their job title.

This isn’t a cranky, cynical post about this trend, but it does seem timely to share some observations about what some of institutional barriers to ed tech innovation are, and what can work in overcoming them.  For credibility sake, I should mention that ed tech innovation has been one of my key areas of responsibility since I was hired 5 years ago. I’ve also worked at 2 other higher ed institutions and paid careful attention to where innovation emerges and where it is stifled.  Because really, that’s what its all about. In the spirit of so many “expert” listicles, here are Tannis’s 7 Rules About Innovation.

 1. Even if the term has become trite, innovation is important in higher ed. I believe this, and obviously institutions do too, seeing has how it is part of so many institutional strategic plans (and now job postings).  I don’t think that institutions need more disrupting  (or MOOCs) for that matter, but I do think that there is a lot of room for some ed tech innovation.

2.  One innovative initiative does not make an innovative institution.    I see flagship initiatives a lot ( think MOOCs, OERs, a tablet program, videoconferencing, active learning) and not only is it an eggs in one basket approach, but it’s difficult to gain momentum if there is only one innovative initiative, since you’re essentially banking on the majority of the institution being a) interested in it and seeing value in it and; b) it succeeding.  This leads to the next point…

3.  Innovation requires an institutional tolerance for a certain amount of failure.  This is why a flagship innovation approach is a bad idea…if you put all your eggs in one basket and it’s not as successful as your marketing and communications department has pumped it up to be, you have few wins to celebrate (and difficulty maintaining momentum)…

4.  Innovation requires momentum.    When innovation is truly happening, it engages everybody and inspires spin offs.  I think of innovation is a snowball that becomes big and then spins off other snowballs.

5.  Innovation is not a project, a policy, or a committee.  Innovation is first and foremost an institutional attitude that needs to be embraced and supported.  Innovation is messy and sometimes isn’t successful.  This makes administrators uncomfortable, from which emerge project plans, policies and steering committees to control what is perceived as risky, chaotic activity.  These efforts lead to what could be called in academic terms “inhibiting boundary objects” or gatekeeping devices that will essentially void any strategic plan or job title change efforts.  But it also doesn’t mean that innovation is a rogue free-for-all that costs institutions buckets of money either. More on that below.

6.  Innovation is not retroactive catch up or large tech projects.  Sometimes institutions mistake their latest enterprise software implementation as innovation, when it’s usually status quo with a new twist.  Just because your latest implementation is costing buckets of money and resources, it doesn’t mean it qualifies as innovation.  In fact, if your efforts are sucking money away from your innovation initiatives, your institution should take a critical view of why that is happening, and for what benefit.  (Sometimes expensive implementations are about taking the path of least resistance, and this is where I think institutions should be looking at whether a more innovative approach could have saved money–think LMS’s, AV vendors, other enterprise software).

7.  Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive.    In fact, if you are fighting the bean counters on the value of innovation when you’ve said that it sometimes fails, and failure is Ok, you will want to minimize the financial risk.  So showing the institution how much you can do with a small pocket of change is a great way to get momentum and buy in.

Next post:  removing those inhibiting boundary objects and creating momentum…or 5 Rules of Creating an Culture of Innovation at your institution. Or whatever.

Applied research day, badging, faculty development and iPads: Week 8 in review

WordPress theme:  I changed the theme for this blog, and it feels like a new pair of fabulous shoes.

JIBC Applied Research Day: We seem to struggle to attract a big audience to our annual research day, but this year was one of the best IMO.  Instead of a keynote, the day kicked off with a series of presentations by students on research they are doing as part of their Bachelors program capstone projects. This was quite impressive and a testament to how integrated applied research has become in our programs, albeit quietly it seems.  The speed research presentations were also fun, and I continue to love this format. Missing was an opportunity for discussion and questions, which I think is necessary in a 3 minute format.  Moving a keynote to an afternoon slot and giving up the prime time morning keynote slot to the students was a stroke of genius, and wouldn’t it be nice to see that happening at other ed conferences?

An added bonus was that the fabulous @ginabennett from COTR attended and we got to catch up on our ed tech worlds.

Student-centred learning and faculty development on iPads:  lots of resource gathering for our UG project has pointed to some gems worth sharing here (weeded out from numerous listicles). First of all, Rebecca Hogue (@rjhogue) has some really great resources on her various sites.  Here’s an honest description of various ways faculty at Palomar have tried iPads in their teaching, with a helpful list of limitations.

As part of this project, I’m back in the hands-on-with-emerging-tech sandbox.  One of the things I tried this week–Learni.st – which has decent potential for a class curation site. Also made my first Canva poster, and really love the template options and drag and drop of this app.

Badging:  We were forced to put our heads into the workflow of issuing badges via a WordPress/Learndash setup that will be hosted by us for Worksafe BC, but won’t technically be for JIBC students.  We’ve created a plugin for Learndash that will email a certificate of completion to the student, but Worksafe would like the student to be able to collect a badge to display somewhere.  This goes beyond my badge knowledge, so I found this resource really helpful.  When students take the micro learning course we are hosting, they submit an email, but beyond that there is no student registration system with either ourselves or Worksafe.  That puts it on Worksafe to be a validator of badges they issue (if we want to avoid handing all that over to a service like Credly), which I suppose could work like this:

1.  Students get their certificate generated by Learndash and email it to a Worksafe contact.

2. Worksafe sends them an embed code to a badge or a jpeg or something

Alternatively, we are looking at whether the plugin that emails the certificate can also include a badge at the same time (Yes, this is the most obvious route, I know).

Is there something I’m missing?  Does it have to be harder than that? Can it even be easier?

Things that wow’d me:

I swear I’m not trying to be smug about YVR’s mild winter this year, but in contrast to those crazy east coast snowbanks, I loved this photo of cherry blossoms by @harrietglynn, who happens to live my #fraserhood.

Week 5 in Review

I’ve missed a few weeks, but the scope of my activity is increasingly centred on our big University of Guadalajara faculty development project which is about to launch its development stage.

Innovation: The big news of the week was this announcement of funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada for our simulation tool, Praxis (#jibcpraxis).  Getting to this announcement has been a 2.5 year work in progress with many highs and lows for the JIBC team involved.  Nonetheless, it was a big event of speeches and congratulations and included both the attendance and an earnest commentary from MP @MichelleRempel who flew in from @dlnorman– land (and who apparently used to work in Tech Transfer at the University of Calgary).   It was also nice to have a chance to comment on the importance of support for applied institutions who have many innovations that never see the light of day due to the challenges in getting them to the next level where they can make a broader contribution outside of our institutions.  While WED certainly helps with that gap–their assistance with our proposal was essential– there is still work to be done to make it easier to get there if we are truly serious about Canada’s innovation agenda.

Collaborations:  I’m expecting the highlight of next week to be a quick 2 day trip up to Kamloops to visit the TRU folks at the invite of @brlamb.  I’ve been following the YouShow chronicles hosted and created by Brian and @cogdog and there’s a lot to think about for our own application.  I expect I’ll ask a lot of dumb questions about what they are doing and the context for the project, and I’m hoping at the same time that sharing some of the what’s and why’s of what we are doing at JIBC will be useful as well.

Things that wow’d me:

This interactive data viz on Gendered Language in RatemyProfessor teacher reviews  tweaked the data/language nerd in me.

Week 50 in review

Innovation:Pushed along by one of our always keen and innovative instructors, investigated use of drones for Fire and Safety and SARS (search and rescue) training.  This alternately excites me and frightens me, but then again, my job isn’t really about staying in my comfort zone.

Sat in on and learned a lot from Grant Gregson’s (Emily Carr U) TELL session and am ordering a WD cloud.  I’m grateful there are people in the ETUG community that can talk and do the technical, almost IT part of ed tech but still keep it simple for the rest of us.

Reading and Responding:  Responded to Tony Bates’ excellent (and well-timed) post on experiential learning.

Responded to a post on the OERResearch Hub site.

Read an article that resonated, despite it being specific to a developing country context problem. It’s a fun read and I highly recommend it for highered folks:  The impact of managerialism on the strategy work of university middle managers.

Workshops and Demos:  Joined our Marketing and Communications wizard, Richard  Chu, in delivering a Twitter 101 for our Exec team.  Richard pointed us to quite a nice Twitter info graphic cheat sheet.

Delivered a demo of our simulation platform, Praxis,  to some really great Camosun College visitors.

Classroom of the Future:  Our Belkin Tablet Stage arrived, sadly a day after Demofest, but we haven’t yet had time to set it up.

Made arrangements with Valerie Irvine to chat with us about multi-access learning. Since we have 5 campus locations, and many f2f classes that run parallel to online offerings, this method could be a good option for us.

Things that wow’ed me:  I’m a textile nerd, and this 3D printed dress was the coolest thing I saw all week.  Textiles + Technology may be my next career if I can figure out how to make it one.

And because I work at JIBC, this criminal botnet tracker was a close second (via @The_O_C_R) .

Mobile Learning at an Applied Institution

We’ve been asked on numerous occasions about our mobile strategy–how we got there and where we are going next.  Oddly, we are rarely asked the why question, but for me that is really where it starts.

The Context

When I first came to JIBC 4 years ago, mobile was on my radar as the latest thing but I was already at that stage of ed tech dis-illusionism where everything sounded like a buzzword. But the more I learned about this peculiar institution– which boasts a relatively unusual range of course offerings, course formats, and professions and pathways–the more mobile became interesting.  When a particularly savvy program area pitched the idea of an app, explaining that it would eliminate the need to carry stacks of binders of info into the field, the lightbulb went off.  Mobile wasn’t a nice to have here, it was an ed tech necessity.

The necessity factor is in fact much more nuanced.  Institutional data shows that our students have a long term/lifelong relationship with the institution. There’s a lot to be unpacked here, but put simply, JIBC is embedded in professional and physical communities who send their people to us for training, who then go back to their communities, only to come back later for further training.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 9.35.56 AM

The Assumptions

Once you consider this JIBC student trajectory, the method to our mobile madness makes a lot more sense.

1. We teach to professions that aren’t the sit at your desk variety.  First responders are generally on the go, in the field, and attached to some sort of mobile device.

2. Experiential learning, simulations, or active case scenarios, are a primary method of training.  These simulations take place, for the most part, outside of a classroom environment.

3.  Learning, while on the job or at the institution, has a fair bit of just-in-time characteristics.

4. The tools and resources that are used while in their JIBC program are the same tools and resources that are used in their professions.

Our initiative is based on the above assumptions and criteria.  Number 4 is critical–everything we’ve created for mobile is something that could be used by a community, a professional, or a student in our programs.  This is also one of the reasons why most of our mobile initiative projects are free or open.

The Mobile Initiative: Evolving towards a strategy

While we have a mobile initiative, I wouldn’t say that we are at a point where we can call it a strategy.  Through some donor funding, we’ve been able to create a favourable environment for experimentation and learning and failing.  We’ve done this by funding equipment, small pilots, and contributing to boosting the infrastructure.

1. We funded the purchase 2 class sets (50) of tablets for loaning and pilots.  This number also required the purchase of some Griffin charging/syncing stations, a mac mini, and covers.

2.  We funded the development of some iOS apps. None of these apps have cost more than $3000.

3. We funded the purchase of an array of program specific apps.

4. We funded some instructor/program-initiated pilots. Most of these are simple projects that can be done off the side of a desk with a little bit of pilot money for equipment, or staff or contractor backfill time.  We don’t require the pilot to succeed, we only require that lessons learned be shared.  Most of these pilots have cost less than $3000.

5. We funded some necessary IT  infrastructure pieces, such as Airwatch licenses for the mobile device management system, and technology for a “classroom of the future” that is designed with mobile in mind.

We try and make it as easy as possible for people to bring an idea to our centre and to try it out.  We make sure everybody understands that we are learning as much as they are.  We emphasize that we don’t have all the answers, but the purpose of pilots are to better understand what is needed, what should become integrated, and what we shouldn’t bother with moving forward.

The next stage is to articulate considerations for a strategy. So far what has emerged is:

1.  Good campus wifi is essential to making this work.  (We have some work to do here)

2. Although we started with creating native iOS apps, WordPress has been a very effective alternative for certain projects.

3.  The idea of a learning ecosystem is helpful in deconstructing the learning environment–for a tablet program, the tablet provides the platform for all the bits that make up the program learning ecosystem.

4.  A mobile device management system (MDM) with something like Airwatch is essential for moving from small, isolated projects to more integrated, program level thinking about mobile.  It basically allowed us to move into the big leagues.

5. Mobile thinking should probably be the default at our institution, given who are students are, where they come from, and where they are going.

Presentation for ETUG 2014
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