Risk and Innovation

A colleague shared a study from the Educational Advisory Board that examined the roadblocks to innovations on campus.  The study drew on several other publications that examined instructional innovations in higher education and highlighted some of the challenge that impeded their adoption.  For instance, the study referenced work from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that only 5% of faculty felt they would be adequately rewarded for incorporating learning innovations in their classes.  8% of responding faculty report that their school leaders effectively supported changes in teaching.  This may be why adoption of educational innovations is slow to be adopted.  In the study, the researchers found that while many faculty members knew about emergent instructional techniques (online and hybrid teaching, flipped classrooms, student response systems, open educational resources, etc.), the vast majority did not adopt them.

Innovation takes risk and most faculty identify this.  The EAB study identifies three main types of risk that most faculty must navigate in order to adopt instructional innovations in their classes.  The first type of risk, pedagogical risk, involves an instructional strategy failing in a classroom strategy.  Few instructors want to stand in front of a group of confused students as a new instructional technique flops.  Compared to incorporating something like a collaborative, problem-based learning activity, lecturing is a low risk strategy.

The second type of risk involves technology.  Instructors are fearful that technology won’t work when they need it to.  This may explain why many faculty members avoid using student response systems (clickers) in their classrooms.  They fear that the devices won’t work and they won’t have enough background knowledge to troubleshoot the technical issues.

The last type of risk involves social dimensions.  While some faculty may want to explore innovative instructional practices, they fear social backlash for employing methods that their colleagues may perceive as being ineffective or as watering down the rigor of the class.  Despite the overwhelming evidence for its effectiveness, active learning strategies are not widely used in collegiate classes.  While pedagogical fear may be impacting the adoption, social fear may also play a role. Consider this scenario.  There’s a course at your institution that students typically find very challenging.  Students often do poorly and struggle to grasp the content. After attending a teaching and learning conference, a faculty member decides to incorporate some innovative instructional strategy and students start to become more successful.  How would your institution react? In some industries, the individual’s success would be embraced and the institution would try to promote more widespread adoption of the innovative practice.  In higher education, however, instructional successes are often viewed skeptically.  In this fictional scenario, some of the instructor’s colleagues may accuse her of watering down the content.  Others may say that she was teaching to the test or simply inflating students’ grades.   Factor in the fact that many institutions don’t value teaching ability as heavily as they value research ability and you have a wide continuum of social risks that instructional renegades have to navigate to adopt more innovative strategies.

So, what’s the solution?  How do we help instructors navigate these risks and become more innovative in their practices?  Next week, I’ll identify some of the different programs we’ve tried on our campus.

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One thought on “Risk and Innovation

  1. Pingback: Fostering Risk and Innovation |

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