What does innovation in teaching look like?
I love this question. It was suggested as part of David Hopkins‘ #OpenBlog19 initiative and the idea is to choose a topic from a curated google doc and then to write… so I chose this topic. Innovation? What does it look like? By nature the word implies something of newness, and possibly we understand it to have creative elements – creative in terms of new, having created.
Innovation in teaching makes me think of an open door.
For me innovation is not one thing, but can be many things, or maybe I should say many opportunities that could come in all shapes and sizes.
In a post from Stephen Downes about what things can scale and how they work, one sentence jumped out at me, and it fits here quite well. He said:
“Instead of trying to design learning, which is focused on content, we should create environments in which people can practice.” (p.570)
This immediately connected with something that happened to me recently. I was abroad with students and a colleague, and when we returned one of the students sent me a photo he snapped while we were in Los Angeles. It was taken on our first afternoon and we had all walked along the beach as a group, and we came upon loads of fun ‘stuff’.
There were rings and bars and ropes and balancing tapes (the things in the picture) and it was magical. What you can’t see in the picture is an older-middle aged man standing just off to the left giving advice, and the student taking the photo standing behind us, and my colleague standing next to him. The older man told my student to step up onto the rope, and then directed me, ‘Stand there and let him put his hand on your shoulder. That’s it,’ he said turning to my student, ‘One foot in front of the other, and just step out….’
The image has become my favourite picture and I jokingly said that it was the best tutorial I ever gave (or should say was part of!).
As far as a metaphor for learning, teaching, and innovation, I am somewhere in there, but as teacher I am not the focal point, actually I’m on the sidelines – accessible if needed, and (hopefully) reassuring. The student is completely in charge and he directs what he does, chooses the course, how far he goes in which direction. It’s not a traditional classroom, and I love that. I certainly can’t claim it’s anything I ‘did’ or ‘designed’ but I did let it happen and that door was open to the possibility of play and of participating (and failing) alongside my colleagues and students.
It has to be said I tried walking on that rope thing too – and fell off instantly. 🙂
Both are designed environments, that can be used in so many ways – there are possibilities to engage with various aspects of the elements within it, each person choosing to do as they like, and their enjoyment or benefit is not dependent on being proficient or particularly mastering any aspect of it. (although it is a possibility to achieve and display mastery) It is not built for some end-game about or dependent on facts, but on the fluidity of someone’s growth and perspective on that day. Engagement is set by the parameters they dictate. (image CC BY-NC-ND by James Tapparo II)
Innovation in teaching allows for that learner-driven, learner-controlled perspective and mobility. It allows for possibilities. It means the teacher does not know the answers, and perhaps can’t even plan for them. If we knew what was going to happen, it wouldn’t be innovative, would it?
I love the featured image at the top of the post (CC By-NC-ND by Jean Gazis), just because I’m sure the children are not doing what whoever put the sand or brought them there thought they would do- and they’re loving it!