Addressing Barriers to Innovation in Education: Participants Share Thoughts from the 2021 National Technology Leadership Summit
In the wake of COVID-19, schools and districts across the country continue implementing new strategies to support students, both in academics and social-emotional learning, and to facilitate better family and caregiver engagement. This trend is fueled by the increased attention to the role of technology, as the U.S. Department of Education’s data on the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund shows substantial investments by districts and higher education institutions to provide internet and device access.
While technology provides immense opportunities for the future, it also presents challenges in ensuring that educators, families, and caregivers can access and implement innovations that are most effective in their given contexts. At the 2021 National Technology Leadership Summit (NTLS) in Washington, DC, Chris Rush and Ji Soo Song from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and Elizabeth Langran from the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE), co-facilitated a working session to identify existing barriers to innovation and how we may approach those barriers. A summary of the participants’ thoughts is included below.
What is innovation? Who defines and drives the research around innovation?
NTLS participants, ranging from education researchers to nonprofit leaders, asked how we may more precisely define “innovation.” Does it refer to thinking about the role of cutting-edge technologies in the classroom? Or is it more general, broadly considering the range of new methods of accelerating the learning process? In all senses, participants agreed that researching the effectiveness of innovative solutions must involve the continuous involvement of end users for which the innovation is intended. They arrived at a consensus vision statement, “An inclusive and equitable national education research must be continuously driven by diverse stakeholders on the ground.”
Participants identified several guiding principles to drive this vision:
- All stakeholders involved in innovation research and development must first have a shared commitment to supporting the educator profession and developing the whole child.
- Stakeholders involved in the innovation research and development must democratize the identification of success criteria, collectively identifying what is valued in learning.
- Systems leaders must incentivize stakeholder participation to continuously inform innovation research and development.
- Educators must be equipped with adaptative implementation supports in a variety of formats to translate research into actionable practice.
What are the risks if we fail to act?
NTLS participants additionally identified associated risks of maintaining the status quo, where educators are solely viewed as the end-implementers to be researched on, rather than active co-creators and collaborators in innovation research and development:
- Solutions may be identified with underlying biases and assumptions about the needs of specific communities.
- Participation in continuous iteration and improvement of solutions may get less buy-in from educators.
- Conclusions drawn from research may not be published in readily implementable formats by educators.
- Motivation to continuously inform practice with research may wane for educators.
How do we translate this vision into action?
Finally, NTLS participants identified ways they could individually ensure that this collective vision continues to be refined and incorporated into ongoing workstreams. For example, participants offered to host stakeholder roundtables, including at national conferences and events; to create actionable recommendations for each stakeholder group in the innovation research and development space; and collaboration between K-12 and higher education to better reflect this vision in grant research projects.
Do you have ideas about how the field may turn this vision into action? Comment with your thoughts below!
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