What is innovation in education? The TED-Ed Blog posed that question to educators from all around the world. Here are three responses:
“I think of the expression ‘Don’t put new wine into old bottles’ when talking about innovation in education,” said Hyuk Jang, a languages teacher from South Korea. “The world is changing. However, people still teach and learn in a way that was invented in the Industrial Revolution. It doesn’t work anymore.”
“Innovation in education involves constant collaboration with colleagues — a total last-minute redo of a teacher’s lesson plan because there was something else out there that he or she just had to try, a change in the direction of a class because the students are driving the instruction,” stated Jennifer Hesseltine, middle school U.S. history teacher from New York.
“Innovation in education is about more than just technology. It’s about how you can use technology to empower students to become lifelong learners who are agents of change,” said Steven Sutantro, teacher in Jakarta Barat, Indonesia.
There is no single definition of innovation in education. One thing is for sure: Innovation has a very important place in education. The U.S. Department of Education even has an Office of Innovation and Improvement.
What Is Innovation in Education?
Many mistakenly believe innovation has to do with the use of technology or new inventions. In “Four Dimensions of Innovation in Education,” Lars Esdal, executive director of Education Evolving, describes innovation in education as doing things in a new way. To do something differently requires coming up with an approach, process, product or strategy.
Esdal explains that outdated thinking of how to design a school leads to subpar performance in public education. “Learning experiences could be redesigned to be far more relevant to student interests and career paths, personalized to their aptitudes and abilities, and responsive to their culture and identities,” he writes.
Innovation in education encourages teachers and students to explore, research and use all the tools to uncover something new. It involves a different way of looking at problems and solving them. The thinking process that goes into it will help students develop their creativity and their problem solving skills.
Innovation does not mean creating something from nothing. Just like with any good science project, it relies on researching existing solutions to come up with a new hypothesis to test.
“Original research is critical to our education system’s overall success,” writes Vadim Polikov in “Innovation in Education Is More than a New Approach.” “I firmly believe that proving — or disproving — hypotheses with strong rigorous research is the best way to move education forward.”
Innovation improves education because it compels students to use a higher level of thinking to solve problems.
Examples of Innovation in Education
Innovation includes finding better ways of doing something and new ways to look at problems. ESchool News shares the story of students building recycling bins to support sustainability. The students did not simply build bins.
They identified problems with the waste management program, researched solutions and created an advertising plan to promote their solution with help from other areas of the school, such as robotics and broadcasting.
The application of project-based learning is another approach for spurring innovation and creative thinking. Instead of working on a single project in a math class, project-based learning combines multiple disciplines in one project. It promotes active and deeper learning.
One teacher incorporated Lois Lowry’s The Giver into a unit, complete with a test, writing assignments about the book, and a project. Amber Chandler describes the project in “Build Your Own Utopia: The Giver PBL Unit.” In the project, students create their own utopian community and try to sway other students to move there.
This project involves designing the community, creating a government and educational system, describing their neighborhoods, outlining employment, deciding on the climate for the community, and identifying technology views.
It combines all the disciplines: writing, math, social studies, science and art. In doing this, students think through everything it takes to build a city or country. They learn about their current government and communities by contrasting them with the ideal society they create.
Encouraging Innovation in Schools
School leaders want to avoid mandating innovation. “Policy should create opportunities and incentives for folks to design different and better learning experiences, but not require it,” Lars Esdal writes.
Instead of simply teaching ABCs and 123s, innovation goes beyond the basics by combining a variety of disciplines to come up with a new or different outcome. Knowledge of the basics is a starting point. Students use knowledge and concepts to find solutions by exploring until they find the best answers.
How can school leaders learn how to incorporate innovation and technology without mandating it? Some universities offer courses on innovation in their online MS Ed. in Educational Leadership programs as part of the core curriculum. Just as project-based learning focuses on the whole child by combining disciplines, “Innovative School Leadership” teaches students how to implement systems that lead to innovation.
This quote from poet William Butler Yeats is a fitting parallel for the role of innovation in education: “Education should not be the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”