Fostering Risk and Innovation

Last week, I discussed a study by the Educational Advisory Board (EAB) which outlined some of the challenges and obstacles that faculty face when seeking to employ innovative teaching practices.  The predominant perspective was the faculty had to negotiate several fears (pedagogical, technological and social) in order to incorporate instructional practices that reside outside of traditional classroom approaches.  This week, I’m going to discuss a few of the strategies that we have used on our campus to foster more risk-taking and innovation by faculty and draw some parallels to the strategies that EAB recommends.

1.  Recognize and celebrate efforts.  In the EAB report, the authors encourage institutions to “empower faculty to reward innovative peers.”  Recently on campus, I’ve worked with some colleagues to create a monthly “Innovative Practices Spotlight” on our institutional teaching and learning website. This spotlight recognizes a different faculty member each month who is examining their teaching practices, taking risks and incorporating new teaching strategies to support student learning.  To date, we’ve featured faculty who are using flipped classroom instruction, expanding online education and creating more student engagement in their lessons. While a page on a website might not seem like much of a “reward,” the public acknowledgement can help to raise awareness of the creative and innovative activities happening on campus.

2.  Gather the troops.  The EAB report discusses the need to “identify innovation outliers.”  Most of this section of the EAB report draws on the kind of data that can be collected from a learning management system and how it can be used to identify innovators on campus.  While I think this unearthing process can be useful, it’s also important to bring those “outliers” together with other like-minded individuals.  For several years, my campus assembled a team called the Community of Digital Innovators (CODI) that grouped together the outliers who were exploring different online and hybrid models of instruction in their classes.  This group helped to foster other innovations across campus.  Examining the nature of the “social fears” explored in last week’s post, gathering the troops makes sense.  While individual instructors may feel some isolation in their home department when they try something new, gathering together kindred spirits can better support their initiatives.

3.  Seed innovation.  The EAB recognizes the need to “lower threshold for seed funding” to help spark the purchase of new devices for teaching learning.  As part of a larger “transformation process” on campus, we created Innovation Block Grants that were designed as low cost catalysts for risk taking and pedagogical exploration.  The block grants helped to fund a wide range of different technologies that could transform the learning environments on campus.  To “close the loop,” Block Grant recipients were asked to share their innovative work with the larger campus community.  This sharing process also addresses another EAB strategy, “generate proofs of concept.”  By providing successful models of innovation developed by other faculty members, other instructors are more likely to explore new initiatives themselves.

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