Innovation in my context - Wk 2

Right now I think it would be unfair of me to comment on the innovation in my current employment - for this exercise -  as an educator since I’m one of the Directors and I maintain that we ‘re all about innovation in learning. 

Instead I want to focus on ‘innovation’ as larger corporations engage and envisage it as fitting into their work place.

I worked for almost a decade at the University of the South Pacific. Truely an amazing place to work and I have never regretted it. That being said, ‘innovation’ was not something that was either valued, encouraged or supported other than as lip service. One can read ‘mission statements’, strategic plans and all sorts of core values but the reality is that actions should speak louder than words.

My evidence was in relation (ironically) to developing distance learning material. In particular the actual production of course, reading and activity material. When I first arrived there, computers were very exotic and certainly not something that all but perhaps 2% of the population had - let alone any reasonable access to the internet. The result was that most of the material was print material. The small team that I was assigned to, to write a course with, were given leeway to cut our own path. We did that by using different fonts, use of local artists to draw our cartoons and also we did a spiral bound book that had laminated covers in contrast to the ‘perfect bound’ cardboard covered books. We demonstrated that this was more durable (moist tropical climates tend to dissolve the glue that is used to ‘bind’ the pages), more flexible and ultimately cheaper than the solution the University used. I want to add that I wasn’t in anyway admonished or reprimanded for trying this new approach, or trying to promote it as an alternative. There was instead a simple lack of any concern or engagement to consider anything that was different or new. 

I was lucky enough to also be part of a university wide simulation experience that we put on for students (there’s a book in there that I have to write, so don’t get me started …), which everyone who took part and many lecturers who allowed their students to take part and get credit for their participation, thought was a wonderful and truely innovative way to go about learning. We had students assigned to play the roles of: leaders; technical experts; country hosts; NGO’s and other advocacy groups; a secretariat; and even a cadre of journalists who were writing up a newspaper (which eventually in one of the earlier iterations of this annual simulation, went online). We did try to get formal acknowledgement to have this simulation exercise counted as a teaching load (myself and one other staff member, did this on top of our teaching and administrative duties) but this was met with a stony ‘yes very interesting, let us discuss this further…’ in the various board meetings we took our presentation to. After my colleauge who initially started the simulation exercise left, and then the year after I left, there was no incentive by either management, or senior educators to continue this even though we only heard praise for the effort.

There were pockets of innovation in the form of a very few number of researchers, but these tended to be people who come to the university with an existing grant to continue doing their work, or they had access to the work.

I think this was definitely NOT because the university was led by horrible managers and leaders, but rather because the ‘purpose’ of the university did not have ‘innovation’ as being perceived as being central to daily, monthly, semester or annual operations. 

I believe that what I have learned is that ‘innovation’ can only be valued, encouraged and supported if it is seen as central and ‘core’ to the purpose of the organisation. Clearly there are such organisations ( eg ‘Google’[#9&10], ‘Apple’, or ‘Virgin') but it’s clear that their whole raison d’etre appears to be to active embrace (or is it chase) innovation.

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.  -Will Durant