Innovation is another buzz word you’ll hear around the water cooler these days. Everyone is promoting innovative teaching practices or trying to promote innovative solutions to the big problems facing schools, education and society. Lost in the discussion of innovation, however, is the fact that being innovative requires a great deal of risk taking and possibly some failure. As a culture, we struggle with the idea of failure which limits our desire to take risks and innovate. But perspective is everything. Take Thomas Edison. Arguably one of the greatest American innovators of the 19th Century, Edison tried almost a thousand times to build the incandescent light bulb before eventually getting it right. When asked about failing so many times, Edison reportedly replied “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.” It’s all about perspective.
Or look at Michael Wesch. Wesch is an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University and has been an advocate for using technology instructionally to engage students actively in classroom content. Wesch has given TED talks and created several technology-based videos that have gone viral. For instance, Wesch’s Vision of Students Today which describes the digital lives of collegiate students has been watched over 4 million times. He’s a world renowned technology leader and educator.
Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured Wesch in an article titled “A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working.” While Wesch has been advising colleagues to use Twitter and blogs in their teaching, his colleagues have not reported the same level of success as Wesch has had. “It was chaos,” one of Wesch’s colleagues said after implementing Wesch’s strategies.”It just didn’t work.”
But it’s all about perspective. Innovation requires risk taking and involves educators learning from their efforts. Rather than focusing on his colleagues’ failures and dismissing technology outright, Wesch chose to re-examine its use and learn from their mistakes. Educators need to have a purpose for integrating technology and focus on establishing relationships with students, Wesch now recommends.
Wesch’s story teaches us a lot about teaching, learning and instructional technology. But it also offers us so much more. Innovation is about trying new things and promoting positive change. But we don’t always hit the mark. We learn from our mistakes.