September 30, 2006

Small innovation vs Large innovation, or how schools might think about R&D

Name Development has a superb summary of how even the smallest companies in the liquid products business have quickly seized upon the airline restrictions on carrying such products. It got me thinking about how change is often weighed up in education before being accepted: is this just a fad? is this something that is worth investing time (and money) in working on?

My attitude has always been that if it improves learning, no matter how short or long term the process of implementation may be, then we should do it. Blogging, podcasting, the use of wikis: all of these have often been perceived in schools as short-term, flash-in-the-pan ventures. In my own experience I've always been supported with a nod from management, but no time or school resource has been given for their development; this all came from awards or grants from Learning and Teaching Scotland.

What I call “large innovation”, such as the deployment of interactive whiteboards in large numbers of classrooms, have generally encouraged slow change and low innovation, with practitioners first of all reinforcing ‘old teaching’ before discovering new, more collaborative ways of working. “Large innovation” has also encouraged school management teams to spend money on a large scale, especially on hardware and to a lesser extent on training. Does the phrase “throwing money into a solution” ring any bells?

At the time I accepted this, since innovating on a small scale with relatively unaccepted tools seemed like an extra to the ‘day job’ of teaching the kids (read: killing them slowly with textbooks). I’m sure others feel that way today as they innovate in their schools. But in retrospect, and seeing how businesses such as these liquid companies cope with small, innovative change, I wonder if I would accept the “do it in your own time” quite as easily as I did back then. Small, innovative change has helped many of us improve the learner experience by leaps and bounds while large change has done so to a much lesser extent.

Am I being unfair on school management? How much does your school actually spend on its R&D? Are huge efforts made to get teachers away to major innovation conferences, such as SETT? If a teacher comes to you wanting to develop a passion how do you support him or her? Do you support them at all?


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There is a lot that the school sector could learn from Further Education Colleges. The use of virtual learning environments
( especially moodle currently) as well as issues around getting staff engagement at all levels. Have a chat to SFEU or Scottish Funding Council.

There are still a lot of folk out there in denial. But to get management to move at institutional or local authority level we need to show how ICT can add value in their terms.

Hopefully GLOW will bi-pass many of the dinosaurs and give learners, teachers and institutions the tools that they need to shift the learning paradigm.

There remain many subject specialist in schools and colleges who are hoping that ICT will not catch on before they retire.

The use of VLEs has been fruitful by schools throughout the country and especially in England. Glow's VLE will add that tool to every school in Scotland.

Where schools could move faster than further ed or HE is in small, frequent innovation. After working in universities for three years I know how it works - speed is not of the essence, funding is. In schools relatively little input is required to get maximum output with new technologies.

That is the point I am making in this post.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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