Where Should Innovation in Education Come From?
Sandy Speicher
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Education is part of innovation, it has always been. Yet, whether that happens in the classroom, k-12 schools, colleges and/or universities, or outside the academic setting is another topic. Innovation is currently mainstream or the buzzword of the year in academic institutions and education conversations, just like MOOC’s were two years ago, or iPads four years ago, or any other topic that might had been seen as the solution to education or how might we make education happen.

We’ve heard of STEM, STEAM and others renditions of such letters. We have heard of flipped-classrooms, project-based learning (PBL), design-focused learning (DFL), active learning, hybrid classroom. There are stories of these implementations that work and other stories that had no good results. What is the solution? Is there one? Is it the method used? Is it the technology? Is it the students? Is it the instructors? is it the classroom? Many factors. But one thing that has been often mentioned by teachers who are on the ‘ground’ and up-front, is the lack of financial support to classroom facilities, technology, professional development or salaries, but more importantly, the administrative lack of support for spaces that allow for play and discovery. Instructors are given a strict model that has to be followed, by administrators that most often have never taught, or if they did, was many decades ago.

Classrooms have had the opportunity to be fantastic innovative spaces since there were classrooms, really. But, the issue is that innovation is and has been happening despite the academic administrators support not because of it, mostly. There are fantastic teachers, instructors and faculty that know how to engage and capture the attention of their students. They mentor their students, not lecture them. Not all teachers have these skills or capabilities to spark curiosity which is conducive to learning. See, the problem is that there are individuals ‘teaching’ in the classroom, but no learning is happening, or very little.

The term innovation is currently overused and misused by schools trying to attract students or justify their spending and budgets. But, true innovative solutions, with new divergent ideas that take into consideration their social and environmental impact are really few. Many of the innovation programs that I have experienced through attendance or reading online bring solutions already existent in today’s world. They might bring a minute change or iteration, but schools voice their events as unique and one-of-a-kind solutions. The problem is that many academic institutions, its administrators and a significant number of its faculty are not connected with the industry and professionals, thus do not comprehend what is truly innovative or not.

There is a great challenge right in front of us, to build up students talents and skills to develop curiosity so they want to learn. The way to do it is through practical hands-on experimentation. School is the best time to allow for errors and failures, to learn from such and to imagine solutions that might be deemed unattainable, ludicrous or too incredible. Let students be explorers, messy, creative and wrong. People learn from what they try, from failure and from collaboration. If faculty, teachers and instructors do not open their relationships and collaborative networks to share methods and practices, how can we expect our students to do so. We all learn from others.

Another element that has been out of the equation is to welcome the discipline of design in its entirety, not just as a styling approach, which is a very narrow view of the discipline. designers, architects, engineers, and others use design thinking to bring robust solutions. DaVinci used design thinking, Newton, Tesla, Einstein, and many others that have brought many wonderful products, services and ideas to us, including Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Welcome designers and design thinkers into your classrooms and schools.

True innovation will only happen if we support financially and professionally our teachers; if we build spaces of exploration and discover; if we give students time to play, learn and fail; if we open the doors to collaborate across disciplines and industries leaving egos and titles at the door.

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