How to capture the “full benefits of the creative, original and imaginative efforts of” teaching staff

What’s good for research, must surely be good for teaching?

An article on the Australian’s higher education page quotes the following advice from this policy note from the Group of 8 (an obviously non-self-serving document, of course)

If Australia is to capture the full benefits of the creative, original and imaginative efforts of its researchers, it will always need a means to support the ideas and challenges coming from individuals and small groups, even when these ideas fall outside formal priority setting mechanisms

Having engaged a bit in the formal priority setting mechanisms around institutional e-learning over the last month or so, I was struck by how this perspective could be moved across from research to institutional e-learning.

I don’t think anyone could claim that the institutional governance processes around e-learning – especially the LMS – could ever be described as “a means to support the ideas an challenges coming from individuals and small groups”.

This is not to suggest there isn’t some level of need for these processes to ensure the availability of institutional systems. It is to suggest that if you want “creative, original and imaginative” efforts then the processes need (I would argue) to be able to to support the ideas an challenges coming from individuals and small groups”.

For example, as mentioned previously as part of the case for getting BIM installed on the institutional version of Moodle I had to explain why others might use it. It seemed that the governance processes/bodies etc didn’t know that there were 30 odd courses this year that were using learning journals of one type or another that might have benefited from BIM. There appears to be a lack of knowledge of the ideas and challenges of teaching staff and students with institutional e-learning systems within the priority setting mechanisms that “govern” them.

The trouble with this type of argument is that it’s strange. Perhaps because of the lack of knowledge about the issues and challenges, it’s impossible for those responsible to see a problem with the priority setting mechanisms. Or perhaps it’s an example of the following.

From “Status Quo”

Or, of course, it’s not that big of a deal.

10 thoughts on “How to capture the “full benefits of the creative, original and imaginative efforts of” teaching staff

  1. i.e. set up small skunk works. Does not mean the main silliness is left to die (pity) but that there is a tiny bit of room to try odd/weird/crazy stuff. Oddly enough the history of science tells us that is precisely what most of the big breakthroughs derived from, not the silly planned, sci -> tech nonsense you can see in the Australian curriculum docs on technology.

    1. :) I could’ve, perhaps should’ve, predicted that response.

      I’ve felt conflicted about the suggestion. But in reality it’s what has to happen. I’m thinking about how the “thread of research” being contemplated in this series of posts is more about “enabling the Skunkworks” approach from where I sit. Need to think about this more.

  2. I can definitely see a mismatch in this statement and the practices that most institutions are engaging and resourcing. There is a disjoin from what management wants, what teachers/students want and the policies that then get implemented. Is it that there is a lack of models available to management to encourage innovation? Skunkworks is one that is tried and tested, but are there others? Should innovation just be the domain of a single group within an organisation or embedded in it’s day to day business?

    1. Love your questions, Tim. Very similar to questions I keep asking myself. I have some answers, but I wonder what you think.

      Can (how would) innovation be embedded into “day to day business”? Can you see the roles, structures and even technologies that currently exist allowing this to happen? Or, would the day to day business overwhelm the innovation. e.g. could a IT department that gets hauled over the coals when the LMS is unavailable for 20 minutes, engage in innovation?

      I’m sure Chris’ response – and those in the disruptive innovation literature – would be no to most of the above. The problems involved are essentially why the Skunkworks approach seems to be the way to go.

      I have the vague (and perhaps fatally flawed) view that with a bit of tweaking of the roles, structures, technologies and cultures involved with institutional e-learning there may be some hope. In part, based on the view of Universities as complex adaptive systems where small changes in initial conditions can create big outcomes. But I’m also pessimistic enough to think that the increasingly top-down, enterprise approaches being adopted within Universities are treating and can only see the institutions as a simple ordered system. The intertia may be too great.

      So, at the moment I’m only aiming to tweak the system enough to let me do some interesting things and document the impacts of these changes and the costs of the broader system not changing.

      Actually, a bit of cross-institutional comparative research could be interesting around this. Interested?

  3. I think looking at the players whose business is to innovate probably points to some useful differences, e.g. Apple, Google etc. Some of this is the stuff of myth but these folk at least understand you can’t legislate for innovation but you can try and create/sustain conditions that help. The silly corporate managerial stuff of the ‘modern’ oz uni works against this. I think folk who have written about this stuff which is strongly reflected in studies of science & technology includes folk like: Johnson, S. (2010). Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation. London, England: Allen Lane; Johansson, F. (2006). The Medici Effect: What elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press; Johansson, F. (2012). The click moment : seizing opportunity in an unpredictable world. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.
    It might be worth thinking about the conditions at places like MIT that supported the skunk works that gave us their version of a MOOC. My sense is that innovative stuff gets through despite managerial oversight. Corporate managerialism does not reward error/mistakes which is the raw ingredient of innovation. Managers would see a long list of failed stuff as reflecting poorly on ‘their’ managerial prowess. It would be fun/good/illuminating to collect little stories of the little red engines that did.

  4. Perhaps serendipitously I came across this video from Hybrid Pedagogy journal. Which offered a couple of ideas to this discussion.

    The first responds to some of your concerns Chris, “Collaboration, though, both in teaching and learning, is rarely institutionalized at an administrative level.” This is one of the main effects I see of the “corporate managerial stuff” – the individualisation of learning and teaching, where all measures and structures relate only to the individual. This to me is one of the core problems to the top-down approach. There is the possibility for innovation – but on such a tiny capacity that it will forever remain a blip. By building greater cultural capacity to collaborate we can start to build in the day to day innovation – which feeds into second idea – the collective.

    “communities are built around a sense of belonging, whereas collectives are built around participation. Collectives are “content-neutral platforms” with facilitating peer-to-peer learning as their reason for existing (53). According to Thomas and Brown, “collectives scale in an almost unlimited way” (53), because they are built around shared practice and are inherently nodal.”

    This would seem to offer another model to for innovation which would fit your idea of view of Universities as complex adaptive systems.

    Now we get into the technology component. This is where social media and social spaces – blogs, google+ etc – can enable the collective. However, when we want to institute actual technological innovations then the exiting IT model wont work. From mine, and your experiences by the sounds of it, their priorities are too different/ They need to be risk adverse and stable – innovation needs adaption and agility. So perhaps the skunkworks component isn’t a bunch of academics, but a group of technologist that can enable the collective. The two models operating in tandem….

    Just ideas at the moment, need more rigour and exploration to be honest – so would welcome an opportunity to explore further with you. I think gaining across-institutional perspective could be really beneficial.

    Transcript of that talk is here –

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