on enabling innovation to enhance learning

When we work with instructors, there are 3 general groupings, in terms of their comfort level and technology integration and innovation in their courses.


There is a small group that doesn’t use much technology, doesn’t integrate much in their teaching, and don’t pursue any strategies that would be considered “innovative.” From the outside, this group is often labelled as Luddites or dismissed as being laggards, but that is definitely not always the case. There are important innovations happening in this group, but they may not be visible to outsiders because they aren’t using the shared language of silicon valley innovation. Not every innovation requires high technology, or even technology at all. We can learn much from the Reluctant adopters, because many of them are reluctant to adopt mainstream technology because it doesn’t do what they need.


There is a second, much larger, group that does integrate some technology, tries some new and changing pedagogical strategies, and basically is self-supporting as a status quo. This majority adopts technology because it’s there, and looks to their peers for guidance on what to do, and how to do it. Again, this is not a bad thing. These people are experts in their fields, and they adopt “innovation” when it suits their needs. And they ignore the new shiny when it doesn’t solve an immediate problem. And that’s fine.


A third group, at the “high end” of the bell curve, explores new technologies, integrates them into their teaching, and tries emerging strategies to try to engage students. This group builds stuff, finds new stuff, and tries new things. The Shiny. They take risks. Which is great, but not everyone has the time, comfort level, or experience to do that. So we need to learn from this group, give them support to help them do the stuff they’d do anyway (but maybe do it more? do it better? do it more successfully?), and learn from that.


It’s tempting to focus on the Pioneers, because that’s where new ideas are usually introduced, but we need to focus on all three groups in order to effect real and sustained innovation across the university. We need to work with all three groups, learn from what they do (and what they don’t do), and then showcase successes to help everyone adopt things that will help them in their practices.

This is basically just another way to look at Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations double-S-curve. Ron Newmann presented a version of it at the 2013 LiFT Conference. They’re looking at how to identify new innovations, and track their adoption from 0-100%, rather than trying to help foster adoption of constellations of innovation across a population, as we’re doing at the university level.

I see our job with the technology integration group as being the green arrows in the diagram. We work with everyone, and help them to enhance the learning experience. We work with them to identify, support, and enable innovation and successful integration of appropriate technologies, and to push the state of the art of teaching. That’s how we can help support and sustain real innovation broadly across the entire university.

I keep coming back to the guiding statement our group came up with:

To enable innovation and creative integration of learning technologies to continuously enhance the learning experience.

This is why we do what we do. It isn’t about shiny tech. It’s about working with everyone to help them enhance learning.

brian lamb and jim groom on reclaiming innovation

Having spent the last 2+ years of my life working on the LMS selection, implementation and replacement here at UCalgary, I can relate to this awesome new article on a pretty profound level. My life in educational technology has been almost entirely redefined in relation to the LMS. That’s a horrifying realization.

This part weighs particularly heavily…

The demands of sustaining infrastructure have continued to dominate institutional priorities, and the recent promise of Web 2.0 has been unevenly integrated into campus strategies: instances of broad, culture-shifting experimentation along these lines in higher education can be counted on one hand. IT organizations have started outsourcing enterprise systems in the hope of leveraging hosted solutions and the cloud more broadly to free up time, energy, and resources. The practice of outsourcing itself seems to have become the pinnacle of innovation for information technology in higher education. Meanwhile, IT organizations are often defined by what’s necessary rather than what’s possible, and the cumulative weight of an increasingly complex communications infrastructure weighs ever heavier.

and a faint glimmer of hope:

Starting now. A technology that allows for limitless reproduction of knowledge resources, instantaneous global sharing and cooperation, and all the powerful benefits of digital manipulation, recombination, and computation must be a “bag of gold” for scholarship and for learning. It is well within the power of educators to play a decisive role in the battle for the future of the web. Doing so will require the courage to buck prevailing trends. It will require an at-times inconvenient commitment to the fundamental principles of openness, ownership, and participation. It will require hard work, creativity, and a spirit of fun.

It will require reclaiming innovation. Our choice.

innovation and hype

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to support innovation, and to avoid feedback loops that trigger fads and unjustified hype. I figure the story usually starts with an innovation. Somebody has an idea for a process/product/tool/whatever. A few people try it out. Early adopters. People start getting excited about it. From there, I’m thinking the adoption curve takes roughly 4 different lines:

IMG 9942

From the initial adoption curve, the line will either:

  1. keep going at that trajectory. exponential growth. venture capitalists drool over this. it’s also not sustainable. carrying capacities of ecosystems, etc…
  2. slows down a bit, but keeps (more slowly) growing. This is probably healthier. But venture capitalists aren’t as excited by it, and so the media cares less about this kind of saner adoption curve.
  3. plateaus. the early adopters are basically the entire market for the thing. this is not necessarily a bad thing. early adopters need things, too…
  4. fizzles out. see Google Wave. Early adoption curve looked like it was going to Change The World™ – but… yeah.

Why does this matter? Because the media (and the traditional media now takes its cues from the online technical “media” sources1 ). Because anything that doesn’t conform to the insane exponential growth curve is deemed a failure by the media, and we let that happen.

What does this mean, specifically for educational technology innovation? I don’t know. But this is the pattern that has repeated itself for decades now. We need to work with innovators, to cultivate meaningful innovation, and not get distracted by the “media” and the press release republishing – especially as we move through Corporate Keynote Season…

  1. who, in turn, take their cues from press releases published by companies that can afford media agents []

the surprising truth(iness) about what motivates us

Not sure if it’s actual “truth” (or is it just truthiness?) but this is a pretty interesting animation/presentation by TheRSA.org and Cognitive Media on motivation in the workplace, and what drives innovation. It probably won’t display in the RSS feed, so here’s a direct link.