Saturday, January 29, 2011

Innovation and Schools

The opening session for Educon 2.3 was a panel discussion centered on the essential question, “Why does innovation matter?” The panel included a distinguished, diverse group of professionals from a variety of fields with Dr. Frederic Bertley, Vice-President of the Center for Innovation in Science Learning, The Franklin Institute, serving as moderator.

Here are some of the ideas about innovation that I captured during the ninety-minute session:

Innovation, which is not just technological advancement, comes with a sense of renewal, hopefulness and excitement. The human race has always had a natural urge to innovate, to find the next voyage, to embark on the next adventure.

Innovation can be dependent on the environment and our pre-conceived notions of the environment's constraints. Traditional school structures can actually inhibit innovation. The physical structures of schools, modeled from the 19th and 20th century ideas about schooling, should be changed to reflect 21st century learning (i.e. technology supported collaborative project-based learning). We can begin simply by NOT calling them "classrooms” which has a centuries-old connotation to it. The way we set up, organize, and name our learning spaces gives people preconceived ideas about what is expected when they enter the facility, including expectations about their respective roles. We must move away from traditional, outmoded school structures starting with names, i.e., institute rather than museum, academy rather than school, community rather than classroom.

It's not just the facility or its contents that will drive innovation. We have to combine the right environment with the right pedagogy and community to create synergy for creativity in an organization.

A number of innovations are coming out of developing countries from need. We're not seeing the same in U.S. because we tend to buy too much “stuff” in our schools. Constrained resources inspire creativity and innovation (Apollo 13 is an example that came to my mind).

How do we get kids to innovate? Start by giving them a sense of purpose and have faith in their ability to rise to the challenge and solve problems. It requires that we give kids (and staff) the spaces they need to be creative and innovative. Allow them to learn to fail fast, fail often, but fail gracefully.

The overarching theme tonight is that innovation does not rely on resource-rich environments and can even be hampered by it. Not having access to resources can make you very efficient at what you do. This is occurring in many developing countries which are beginning to develop more innovative approaches to societal problems than we are in U.S.