“User innovation” and the opportunity to build broad, innovative teacher communities

Mike Caulfield wrote a great post musing on the origin of and instruments for innovation in teaching over at e-Literate, focusing on an area that I’ve always been particularly interested in, if only peripherally: the users. The following is a slight expansion of the comment I left on that post:

Almost from the beginning, one of the central efforts of my own education technology career has been faculty development. My personal fascination with the possibilities that technology offers to both teaching and learning has been irrepressible, and I’ve enjoyed sharing that fascination directly with teachers (and, occasionally, students). From admitted technophiles to technophobes, I’ve enjoyed nearly every conversation about the possibilities and limitations of technology. I’ve been challenged and contradicted; I’ve been told that technology is not the answer to a particular problem so forcefully that I’ve had no choice but to rethink my assumptions, and re-evaluate the technology itself.  And thus I’ve learned from every single conversation, and discovered that teachers scattered around your campus, yes your campus, are even now experimenting with instruction — whether your faculty development center is aware of it or not, and regardless of whether technology comes into play.

One of the keys I can’t seem to stop pounding is that every institution needs to invest deeply in ed tech faculty development for everyone, not just those teachers who self-identify into the ed tech user community. Simply enlarging the quantity and diversity of the ed tech participant community is one path toward discovering new, innovative ways of applying technology to education’s challenges. This is a hypothesis born of years of meeting and consulting with higher ed faculty who embrace or reject technology, and learning that great teaching (like poor teaching) isn’t exclusive to either technophiles or technophobes.

In one example, an English teacher was doing great things in his class discussions, things that would be hard to do online. These discussions engaged the students, and students produced high-quality work in subsequent essays. Understandably, this teacher felt online could never replicate the face-to-face discussions he had in-class.  nevertheless trusted a single anecdote power of blending onsite with online, and gave it a try. We discovered we were both right: online discussions did not replicate his students’ face-to-face experience, but they did expand and enrich discussions by providing different affordances. This blending was a small experiment, and that’s where .

Now, the current methods of ed tech faculty development may, in fact, produce a greater proportion of well-designed or even innovative instructional methods (if only because they tend to be supported by ed tech staff and more deliberately instructional designed), and that’s another great reason to invest in ed tech.

The challenge for ed tech staff, then, is to

  1. Get  faculty from across campus (disciplines, teaching methods, tech adoption, etc) in the door.
  2. Learn from their current (and dreamt-up) teaching practices.
  3. Uncover the root challenges they face in helping students achieve outcomes.
  4. Explore, together, new ways forward, whether face-to-face or online.

Then comes the fun part: the design, implementation, evaluation, iteration, and sharing of the results of those experiments. But as long as we (rather, you, at this point) in ed tech faculty development allow ourselves to be content with the self-identified community of participants, we’ll never fully realize the potential for innovation. Mike’s conclusion points out, “If we wish to engage in ongoing innovation, we need to focus on generating conditions that foster more communities of more such people, not less.” This is probably true simply because inclusiveness creates more opportunities for individuals to experiment, share, learn, and catalyze their instructional approaches, with and without “technology”.

2 thoughts on ““User innovation” and the opportunity to build broad, innovative teacher communities

  1. Michael Caulfield

    It’s kind of amazing what we expect faculty developers to do, really. Most efforts are, as you say, focused on people who identify with us, and most efforts at state-funded schools at least are staffed to deal — barely– with that level of demand, even though the model isn’t really a help desk model but a collaboration model.

    In a perfect world we would have put more money towards these things in the “fat” times of the late 90s, early aughts. Now it’s thin times, which is why I’m so adamant that the only way this is going to work is to start to pool resources. We may be meeting demand, but we’re barely scratching the surface on need.

    1. jaredstein Post author

      Pooling resources is a great way forward.

      There’s kind of a catch-22 in thin times, as you say: In order to maximize the limited resources that faculty development programs have, one must hire top-notch faculty developers with a balance of instructional design, creativity, and modern ed tech skills. But it’s hard to find those people given limited resources. When I worked at university I found my best option was to hire super-green (usually students) who had few skills but loads of potential — especially strong, positive mindsets — and train them up into the positions that I actually wanted to hire for.

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