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Tag: innovation (Page 2 of 3)

Traditional Innovation

Rand Paul, generally considered to be a leading thinker in the Republican party, is now also an education expert.

One example of the innovations he’ll be promoting: Paul said he’s fascinated by Khan Academy. He first became interested in the program while helping his kids with math and discovered Khan Academy online. “I remember a video on the Doppler effect, and saying, ‘My goodness, this is a better explanation,’” Paul recalled. “I took a lot of science and math growing up, and it’s the best explanation I’ve ever seen.” “If you have one person in the country who is, like, the best at explaining calculus, that person maybe should teach every calculus class in the country,” the senator said. “You’d still have local teachers to reinforce and try to explain and help the kids, but you’d have some of these extraordinary teachers teaching millions of people in the classroom.”

In other words, Paul’s innovation is the lecture. It may be recorded, distributed digitally, possibly with better graphics.

But still a lecture, representing the centuries-old concept of learning as the one-way transmission of information from an expert to the student.

Permissionless Innovation

Last Wednesday was the 25th anniversary of the world wide web. Or at least March 12, 1989 was the date Tim Berners Lee published his proposal describing the concepts behind the web. Ok, any excuse for a celebration.

At first the Guardian article 25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday looks like just another x-number-of-stuff list tied to the anniversary. But it’s actually a very good overview/opinion piece about why the web has become so powerful in its relatively short lifespan. And why it’s important to fight back against the many corporations who want to limit and restrict that power.

That thing number 3 is especially important.

The importance of having a network that is free and open. The internet was created by government and runs on open source software. Nobody “owns” it. Yet on this “free” foundation, colossal enterprises and fortunes have been built — a fact that the neoliberal fanatics who run internet companies often seem to forget. Berners-Lee could have been as rich as Croesus if he had viewed the web as a commercial opportunity. But he didn’t — he persuaded Cern that it should be given to the world as a free resource. So the web in its turn became, like the internet, a platform for permissionless innovation. That’s why a Harvard undergraduate was able to launch Facebook on the back of the web. [emphasis mine]

I love that phrase “permissionless innovation”. It’s the true power of the web, covering work done by the developers of the software behind this site, Twitter, RSS, Evernote, and all the other web-based resources that I and many others use every day. Just the fact that anyone can throw up a blog like this one without filing a bunch of official forms and for only pocket change is amazing.1

It’s also a concept we should be teaching our students, although the concept of kids doing something on the web and not asking permission is one that really, really scares a lot of people.

It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

All the loudest voices in reform seem to shoe horn the word “innovation” (or some variation) into most of their pronouncements on how to improve education.

However, according to a former middle school teacher, they probably aren’t thinking of anything approaching the actual meaning of the term.

But the word, like so many others in education, has been hijacked. The “new reformers” have appropriated it as a descriptor for policy proposals and practices they advocate, and as an antonym for almost anything else. Charter schools? Innovative. Regular public schools? Definitely not. Competing for education funding? Innovative. Assuring that adequate monies go to schools that most need them? Passé. Evaluating teachers based on test scores? Innovative. Collective bargaining? Old school.

Corporate reformers have come to own the word so completely that they’re able to promote even the most wrongheaded ideas and still be portrayed by many media outlets as innovators.

The kind of “innovation” behind No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, KIPP, and other high profile education “reforms” of the past ten years has resulted in narrowing the curriculum to little more than reading and math, with even those subjects being taught to the majority of students at the most basic, rote-memorization levels.

This teacher is frustrated that, among other things, the media studies class that he use to teach and the video fair in which his student participated, are “long gone and buried”, sacrificed to the all consuming standardized testing culture.

But he also makes the excellent point that, because of that culture “teacher and student creativity will continue to be squashed at every turn.”

Ok, reformers, you want innovation? Instead of consulting people like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan, neither of whom go near a classroom unless the press is already there, listen to what these students have to say on the subject of improving their own education.

Behind those four minutes is a learning experience that can’t be measured on a multiple choice test.


Innovation Requires Failure (and we don’t do failure)

I don’t remember the first three Educon conferences having a theme (certainly not the meaningless alliteration used by most educational conferences) but this time around, at the very least, the word of the year seemed to be “innovation”.

Friday night at the Franklin and at the Sunday morning session panelists were asked to reflect on the concept and the term seemed to be woven through many of the conversations during the rest of the weekend.

While many of the panelists and others at the conference offered some great insight, I’m still not sure I understand what innovation really is.

Is it unique? Or do you call anything new and unlike what we’re used to “innovation”? Can anyone who does things differently from what is considered normal be called innovative? Where is the line between being innovative and just plain nuts?

Maybe the concept is similar to that of creativity: very subjective, and the degree to which someone or something fits in the category is in the eye of the beholder.

Certainly from the people on all sides of the education reform debate we hear plenty of talk about “innovation” and “creativity” being two skills we want our students to learn, and traits we want teachers and administrators to have.

As the concept applies to education and teaching, one of the best points was made by Kathleen Cushman, author of Fires in the Mind, during the Sunday morning panel when remarked that she has trouble with term innovation since for students it looks a lot like learning.

Anyway, regardless how you define it, I can’t help but wonder if our educational system even wants to teach kids to be innovative in the first place.

Because, people we think of as being innovative will often talk about their many failures before they made the big breakthrough for which they received the recognition.

However, when it comes to school, we don’t handle failure well.

Teaching kids to be innovative would require encouraging them to experiment, try new things, many of which will fail, and then helping them learn how to recover.  That is not how our cookie-cutter, test-driven system works.

So, the bottom line to all this rambling is that I still have more questions than answers when it comes to the concept of being innovative.

But I’m very sure it has little to do with what we currently think of as school.

Schools as Innovative Spaces

Steven Johnson‘s video essay on where good ideas come from (not coincidentally, also the title of his forthcoming book) is very compelling and worth five minutes of your time.

We should be organizing schools as spaces that foster innovation and creativity, and connecting them to other people and groups doing the same thing.

First, however, we need to seriously commit to the idea that these are traits we want our students to acquire during their K12 years (as opposed to just reciting sound bites about it).

Or at least that those goals rank higher than that of passing an annual multiple choice test.

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