All that glitters is not (necessarily) gold. Innovation must significantly disrupt and achieve desired outcomes in better and more productive ways. Not just old ways in a new shiny wrapper.
When I was a child our telephone had a dial, to call I needed to know the number, kept in a separate directory. When calling someone each time a digit was dialled, we waited for the dial to return to its original place before the next digit in he sequence could be selected. Then came the touchpad phone. No more waiting for the dial to make its way back to its place, all I needed to do was touch each digit. These phones could even store the numbers of my 10 chosen contacts.
In the 1990s CD became the new storage solution for music. They were more compact (that’s the ‘C’ in ‘CD’) and each disc could hold more songs than a record.
Not all new technology can be considered an ‘innovation’.
What makes something an innovation?
The touchpad home phone wasn’t an innovation in itself, but the phone with (almost) infinite memory storage is.
The CD wasn’t an innovation, MP3 technology is.
We still communicate by phone and listen to music, but innovation significantly changes the way we do it and improves the experience.
Vinyl records packaged music for the market. The performer and/or record company decided the playlist and designed the cover. The consumer bought the complete package, including the songs they may not want/like. The CD didn’t significantly change this for the consumer. MP3 technology changed the landscape completely – now we can just buy a particular song and make our own playlist. The consumer decides.
From telephones with dials to those with touch pads the same problem remained – what’s the number of the person I’m calling? Infinitely greater memory storage in phones means that I no longer need to separately record or remember a phone number.
Innovation in school education seeks to disrupt – to apply the creativity, solve important problems and improve. Yet, ideas are often packaged as innovation, when they are just the equivalent of changing from records to CDs.
Just like listening to music and talking on the phone, the outcome of school remains – educating and preparing young people to aspire to a future that will be personally fulfilling and enable them to make a meaningful and positive contribution to their community. Changes in education can only be considered innovative when they disrupt convention and achieve the outcome to even greater effect.
Here are some examples:
The interactive whiteboard is not an innovation if it reinforces the class facing the front and one person directing the learning.
The open learning space is an innovation when it significantly changes the role of the teacher and his/her interactions with students.
A textbook on CD-ROM is not an innovation when content is selected and packaged by a company that believes it knows what students need to pass exams.
The team approach to teaching a larger cohort of students is an innovation. This requires teachers to plan, teach, coach, guide, assess and evaluate as a group, instead of one teacher to one class ratio.
Digital technology (the computer in all its forms) is and at the same time isn’t necessarily an innovation in education. Not when it is used to sustain existing practices through providing text-based resources, where it doesn’t facilitate collaboration and its use is narrowly directed by the teacher. It is industrial era teaching practices just made to look prettier.
However, when digital technology becomes a platform that enables entrepreneurial thinking, collaborative projects and expressing creativity, then we see the innovative potential that technology brings.