How Would You Use Innovation to Save Education?

Too often it seems like educators define innovation as “change for the sake of changing something.” Innovation becomes the default context that they start with: if you have a problem, then fix it by innovating. For a while now, various outlets have been asking various questions that all boil down to: How would you use innovation to save education?

This is part of what Audrey Watters refers to as the “Innovation Gospel,” which became overwhelming in education and business a long time ago. One goal of the Innovation Gospel, of course, is to “fix” education… but always by starting with innovation rather than solutions. Watters response to what she would do to fix education is not “innovative” according to many, but it is something that would be a huge change:

This is also a question I have often pondered – what would I do if I had massive money to fix education? “Reparations” being one of the best answers, I will have to go for some runner-up answers. To be honest, nothing really innovative comes to mind at first. What I first think of are things that we all have heard from research as far back as the 80s or 90s (probably earlier) – stuff that we are pretty sure would help education, but that we never really hear mentioned in the Innovation Gospel:

  • Care for students: make sure they are fed, clothed, cared for – and not just with the small (but impactful nonetheless) efforts we currently have.
  • Train teachers to be more empathetic and caring for their students.
  • Pay to make facilities and tools safe and inclusive.
  • For that matter, make our schools and curriculum inclusive and empathetic for all learners. Even the newer ones.
  • Re-vamp curriculum to move away from pedagogy to heutagogy (teaching learners how to learn rather than what to learn).
  • Fund and pay teachers and staff.
  • Remove grades and standardized testing.

The list could probably go on, but the important thing to emphasize here is that this is all old research. None of it is “innovative” in the way many use the term today.  You will even find these ideas mentioned or even explored in depth in older Instructional Design textbooks as “established ideas” (even though I would still use “established” cautiously at best) or some other term that implies they are not new.

So why do we hear more about learning analytics and virtual reality and innovation “fixing” education these days than these “established” ideas?

Maybe it is our worship of the Innovation Gospel. Maybe it is difficult to quantify care, inclusion, heutagogy, and grade-less classrooms. Maybe it exposes education’s long fascination with increasing surveillance of learners in various ways. Maybe it means we lose the ability to “weed out” less desirable students in the name of standardization and averages. Maybe we are afraid that these are never-ending rabbit holes of problems that we don’t want to know how deep they go. Maybe these are just too hard and complex and overwhelming to know where to start. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Whatever the reason, the people that have the money and means to work on these issues are usually not interested in the fixes that have already been discovered (but poorly implemented or never implemented). They are interested in data policies and future trends and fancy shiny virtual things – all things that might in some way impact education (or they might not). Our challenge is to pull that interest away from the shiny new toy of innovation and focus it on the nitty gritty work of making the hard changes at the classroom level of education. To be honest… that is a pretty daunting dragon to slay.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.