Permission to Launch and to Fail: Building Culture for Academic...

Digital Learning

Permission to Launch and to Fail: Building Culture for Academic Innovation #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     Dec 26, 2018

Permission to Launch and to Fail: Building Culture for Academic Innovation #DLNchat

Innovation is about doing things creatively and as Kathe Pelletier pointed out at #DLNchat: “Perhaps counterintuitively, structure for creativity and divergent thinking is needed.” Universities need to set aside time, create processes and, perhaps most importantly, build a culture that allows innovation to flourish. How? The #DLNchat community shared ideas on December 11.

First, #DLNchat-ters defined the term innovation. Scott Finkelstein put it this way, “I define innovation as the willingness to take measured risks and not worry if it doesn't pay off in the short term. Improving existing processes and creating new ones with validated learning to guide you.” Christine (@ALazyLibrarian) had a more succinct definition: “Innovation, to me, is pushing past our comfort zone to promote effective change.”

The change that #DLNchat-ters want innovation to bring varies, but many shared similar aims: increasing access to learning opportunities or improving learning outcomes. However, the most persistent theme in defining innovation was about what innovation is not—namely, technology. “Innovation is NOT = technology,” tweeted Cali Morrison. “Great point,” said Sara Murdock. “Or put another way, tech isn't necessarily electronics. Education and teaching are social technologies! At least, from the Cultural Studies perspective.” That sentiment likely appeals to faculty in other disciplines as well. So, how can colleges get faculty on board for innovation efforts?

Kristen Eshleman, director of digital innovation for Davidson College, advised: “Have faculty involved in the design of the process and in the vetting of ideas.” Other #DLNchat-ters also felt that co-creation with faculty was key but some argued that cultural barriers may need to be dealt with first. As Leah Chuchran-Davis said, “This is all about relationships and development of trust with faculty. Asking them to take risks and explore the possibilities of (perceived) failure.” Pelletier agreed; “Yes, and that speaks to the importance of culture and the 'permission' to fail. Not present in many institutions, but critical to sustain innovation,” she tweeted.

But where to start in creating that culture? Alex Kluge suggested, “Include effective teaching in the career path. Complete focus on research and publications will steers faculty away from innovation.” Autumn Ottenad posited, “It seems as though it needs to be tied into the contract. Beyond research, publishing, teaching add in some sort of partnership or outreach work which connects to innovation.”

Don’t forget about resource restraints, warned Yin Wah Kreher. “Institutions need to understand the time it takes to innovate,” she tweeted. But rewriting job expectations may not be an option. Morrison suggested: “Find your champions and then have them sell the message. Top-down-only innovation can lead to unrest and initiative fatigue.” Hailey Wyman also felt faculty will be most inspired by their peers. “It's finding those couple of faculty willing to play and getting them to share those experiences. Faculty will only listen to ‘administrators’ so much, coming from a peer has more impact,” she shared.

Where else does the innovation process start on campus? “Innovation can come from anywhere. Key is leadership believes and listens to those who are willing to share,” said Tonya Troka. “Those closest to the issue may know more than anyone at the decision making table,” she added. Many at #DLNchat agreed. “Should come from those ‘in the trenches’ who see what happens and can think about how something might be better. If it ‘comes from above’ it's no longer ‘our’ idea and it's something imposed. Ownership is incredibly important,” Wyman tweeted.

Other #DLNchat-ters suggested starting with students. “Creating more formal ways for students to participate seems critical if we are committed to human-centered design,” Pelletier said. “Isn’t the source for innovation 360 degrees, at least potentially?” asked Malcolm Brown. He continued, “And in the end does the source really matter, if the idea is worth pursuing?” Probably not, most in the #DLNchat community would agree. But, JJ Johnson reminded the group: “There must be a mechanism to allow all voices to be heard.” Morrison advised inclusing a mechanism for transparency as well. “Highlight the people actually doing the work, not just those in top leadership who approved it,” she tweeted.

After innovation efforts are underway, how can institutions best assess their results? “Some markers include: number of ideas generated over a period of time; the diversity of who they came from; how many proceed to pilot and implementation; scan your culture annually to see if perceptions of the value of innovation improve,” shared Eshleman. “It is important to adjust the ROI conversation from money to learnings,” she continued, “the more learnings you generate, the more successful your process. Learnings inform viable future options, but those may take years to fully blossom.” And don’t forget to consult those who may have their doubts, advised Troka. “I love to partner with the critics,” she said, “it is my secret weapon.”

There’s been some critique that higher ed innovation projects, in an effort to increase efficiency, can stifle creativity. Morrison, however, argued the opposite at #DLNchat. “When you have process efficiency it leaves space for creativity and discovery. When you innovate to provide automation of rote processes then faculty can engage students in creative discovery.” Nicolina Intsio shared similar thoughts: “Increased efficiency will occur naturally if we concentrate on discovery and creativity. AI will create efficiencies and so will people's innovative ideas.” Kluge argued that depends on the size of the experiment. “I am thinking more light weight rapid iteration, with rapid feedback,” he tweeted. But, countered Troka, can such experiments be reproduced? She advised, “It is important to understand how an innovation/intervention can be scalable—if it can't then it won't matter if it is effective, it won't be efficient.”

Considerations about scalability, efficiency and discovery were just some of the wisdom shared by the #DLNchat community. Their parting thoughts looked forward to how institutions can develop a culture of academic innovation that is proactive. Christine said, “Oftentimes we are insular in higher ed and too narrowly focused. Expanding our focus externally to investigate what other schools are doing, gathering ideas from colleagues at other institutions and at conferences, etc., can help us be more proactive.”

Eshleman shared a similar proposal: “Make sure you have a way to bring in ideas from outside of your institution; from outside of higher ed; engage with disruptive ideas critically and honestly; we have a tendency to dismiss anything from the profit side.” She also added: “Avoid echo chambers.” That is unless it’s reading through these insights from #DLNchat again and again.

Got questions for the #DLNchat community? Or want to share your ideas about building a lasting culture for academic innovation? Tweet our community with the hashtag #DLNchat! You can also RSVP for our next chat: How Can Colleges Best Support Faculty Transitioning to Teach Online? on Tuesday, January 8 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET. For more topics, check out our summaries of past chats. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET, Tyton Partners and EDUCAUSE.

How Can Colleges Best Support Faculty Transitioning to Teach Online?
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