Assessing Perspectives on Innovation

Last week, I was challenged to create a survey to send out to my community of practice to help increase my understanding and knowledge of a wicked problem of practice (WPP). WPPs are identified each year in the Horizon Reports and I had chosen to examine the problem of “scaling innovation” that was discussed in 2015. This WPP felt particularly relevant to me because I co-facilitated a session at SXSWedu last year of the same name and my current role involves a lot of work to try and scale innovation slowly in my own school context and beyond via global initiatives.

Luckily, I had support in tackling such a tricky problem. I am working with another educator (an awesome teacher in VA!) for this project, which will culminate with a white paper. We decided that it would be informative to send the same survey to both of our school communities, since we work in very different settings (i.e,. private and public schools), and also to our PLNs. We made this choice because we felt that in order to truly gain a deeper understanding of scaling innovation and how and why it is a WPP, we needed to talk to a larger, more diverse population that could inform us about issues that would affect scaling or growing innovation beyond any one school or geographic area.

We crafted questions that would help us understand the background data of our participants, as well as their interest towards innovation, and the challenges they might be experiencing when trying to scale it or create change. Check out this Google Doc for my analysis of the survey results.

Ultimately, we found that over 90% of participants believe their schools need to innovate and these educators are willing to help make that happen.

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Yet, they still face large challenges, such as time, funding, and culture and there are also large gaps between what educators are aware of in terms of innovative practice and what they have (and possibly are able) to implement, possibly due to constraints they named in the survey.

This suggests that scaling innovation truly is a wicked problem that involves a huge range of variables and has no “right” or “wrong” answer but must be endlessly explored because each effort to scale innovation is unique and novel. Are you working to scale innovation in your school? What ideas have you explored or prototyped?

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Overcoming “Frozen Thought” with Design Thinking

Have you ever wondered why humans, an intelligent and developed species, can at times seem “so stupid in such deep and appalling ways” (Gee, 2013, p. 4)? James Paul Gee has and he attempts to address that question in his book The Anti-Education Era, in which he examines the many limitations that prevent humans from solving big, complex problems smartly.

One of the limitations he investigates in his book is the structure of institutions, which often “freeze” solutions in an effort to standardize procedures and lighten the cognitive load of their employees. This practice can make it very difficult for institutions to adapt and change the ways they work and solve problems, even if their old ways are no longer viable or effective. Additionally, Gee suggests that institutions face a secondary problem that make it difficult for them and the people who work in them, to deal with complexity – they are conflicted because of a tug-of-war between the institution’s goals and their own personal and social goals.

After reading the initial section of Gee’s book on “How to be Stupid,” for my graduate course on Applying Educational Tech to Practice, I argue that it is possible to use our knowledge of the limitations humans face when tackling complex problems to respond more intelligently. I believe that we can use this awareness to seek out tools, primarily design thinking, to reframe how we approach problems and to address them in a more people-centered way that is inclusive of personal goals. Check out my essay here to read more and let me know if you see design thinking as a viable solution to the limitations humans face when trying to solve complex problems.

References

Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan