I blurted out a comment this week that sounded way more negative than I meant it to, and the reaction of the people in the room got me thinking. This was an informal meeting, we were talking about renaming a teaching and learning center, and somebody pitched the idea of a “Center for Faculty Excellence.” I said, “Excellence? Ick. I’d be happy if we just got to mediocrity first then we could talk about excellence. Who the hell ever feels like they are excellent? I thought only Bill and Ted said that. Ick.”
Shoot. I know that silence. That happens when I say something that I meant to be funny and it was taken as bitter sarcasm. Or that people don’t get my pop culture reference. Or it sounds like negativity. Bitterness. Kinda mean. Unnecessarily hostile. Elitest. Choose the insult, and I’m sure it’s been said about me or my ideas. For the record: If I was surrounded by people from the Northeast, they would have fired back three retaliations to belittle me and/or my ideas. We’d laugh. Drop a couple of F bombs. Insult eachothers’ mothers. It wouldn’t have been a thing. Just sayin.
Then the word “Innovation” came up. Double Ick. And I have to tell you, I’m awfully sick of this word. I’ve ranted about it. I’ve thrown my fist up to the heavens about it. And then I saw this beauty of a post from Tim Klapdor, Innovation and the Novelty Factory.
What scares me about this trend is that now innovation is being talked about in government policy, institutional strategies and every goddamn mission statement known to man – and yet, I don’t think there is any understanding about what innovation is: what it really means, what it entails or the implications of adopting it actually are.
Horace Dediu posits a taxonomy which I think is extremely useful to help discern innovation and reduces some confusion:
Novelty: Something new
Creation: Something new and valuable
Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful
People don’t want to invest in innovation because change is really hard. It’s complex, expensive and risky and more often than not takes time – years if not decades. It requires behaviours and mindsets to adapt to entirely different concepts, inputs and environments. It requires people to leave behind what they did, what they built reputations on, what they trust and tacitly know, and replace it with something strange.
Innovation is about trust and relationships more than anything else.
It’s about building, shaping and learning not just coming up with ideas.
High-five, Tim! Thank you, Internet! This is exactly what I needed to read today. Yes, maybe it’s invention that we should care about, and like Tim, I’m worried about this constant focus on innovation for innovation’s sake. It’s like this bad smell in the refrigerator that we can’t get rid of when we start talking policy and strategic planning. I worry that what we say we are doing isn’t what’s happening at all, yet that’s what we’re selling, so to speak. I’ve got issues with that. I’ve broken off the last two sentences and bolded the font to emphasize what I loved most in Tim’s post. Those two sentences are forked into my heart. I can make those sentences mine. (Shout out to The Fedwiki Neighborhood, you know what I mean).
And the ideas in this post are on my mind because I left a card game last night to read a blog post in the guest bedroom. My friends–for the record–were super pissed that I left their amazing wit for a blog post. I said, “But it’s Amy Collier, y’all, I have to read this.”
“I don’t care if it’s the Queen of Frickin’ England. You’re reading blog posts instead of hanging out with us! What a gigantic loser!” they said.
They were talking about the wainscoting and paint colors, mind you, so yes, I left to read Amy’s post. I didn’t think they’d miss me, honestly. I’m kind of more in love with NotYetness than I am with shades of kitchen paint. When somebody like her puts something into the world, I have to check it out. Read this:
…our focus as educators should be on emergent situations, where complexity gives rise to ‘new properties and behaviours… that are not contained in the essence of the constituent elements, or able to be predicted from a knowledge of initial conditions’ (Mason 2008, p.2).”
So what does all of this mean for educators? Here are some ideas. Embracing not-yetness means making space for learning opportunities that:
promote creativity, play, exploration, awe
allow for more, not fewer, connections, morepersonalization (true personalization, not necessarily what has been offered to us by adaptive learning companies)
transcend bounds of time, space, location, course, and curriculum
encourage students to exceed our expectations, beyond our wildest outcomes, pushes back on “data science of learning” focus
do not hand over essential university functions and important complexities over to private industry
The ill-defined, the un-prescribed, the messy can lead to the unexpected, the joyful.
Noel Gough (2012) writes, “complexity invites us to understand that many of the processes and activities that shape the worlds we inhabit are open, recursive, organic, nonlinear and emergent. It also invites us to be skeptical of mechanistic and reductionist explanations, which assume that these processes and activities are linear, deterministic and/or predictable and, therefore, that they can be controlled (at least in principle).”
So much to say here that I don’t even know where to begin. All I can say is yes. Yes. I am so far gone into NotYetness that it could file for a restraining order because of my stalking. I especially love Amy’s attention to the messy and playful. The unexpected. The unknown. The joyful.
So maybe we need a Faculty Funhouse. No scary mirrors or clowns. Just a place to spice it up and feel appreciated doing it. Just a spot on campus to have a bit of fun with what you do for a living. Maybe a place where you can dream a bit and feel okay if you fail trying something new.
Whatever we end up naming it, it shall heretofore be known as the Faculty Funhouse to me. And these posts come at a time when I’m a bit worried about a new project that we’re brewing up in eLearning. If what I’d like to try is the right thing to do. The right thing to try now. The right thing. Right. Now.
So speaking of Notyetness, Fun, and Invention, my Instructional Designer and I have a joke about the whiteboard in his office. We call it The Dream/Reality Whiteboard. He sketches The Dream, I add to it, and then we revise it down to what we can actually make happen now. Reality. We sent a call to faculty to learn about Backward Design, and I expected maybe seven or eight to respond and we got 20! I’ve heard from 25 faculty the last time I checked my email. Who knew?
And here’s the thing: We don’t know what we’re doing because The Dream can’t be done (yet), so our scaled down version is really sketchy. Reality is unknown. This so NotYetness because we’ve never tried anything like this here. We’ve never tried. Here. Elsewhere. Yes. Perhaps there is a center of excellence that has pulled it off.
So here’s what we wrote to faculty about what we’re inventing. Our little Funhouse we’re creating. Here’s the description that I sent the faculty and I got back so many Woohoos! and Love This! and I’m so excited to do___! Basically, we’re going to try a bit of (funded) connected-learning with a cohort of 20 faculty. We’re setting “a class” and we’ve made it flexible on how they connect with us. We’re hoping they will help us and eachother, and they are so game. Who knew?
Here’s what I sent them:
We are building this airplane as we fly it, so we hope you’re up for an adventure. We going to try an online asynchronous flexible professional learning opportunity with lecture capture and backward design. What does that mean? We are going to build OL modules that will teach you a bit about Backward Design while supporting you through the process of creating videos for your course. Ideally, we’ll create short engaging videos where you will incorporate meaningful content and assessment using our lecture capture tool.
The purpose of this pilot is to invest in your learning of a valuable productive tool in educational technology. We want to learn from you on how we can improve our support of your teaching. In short, the success of Backward Design courses is contingent on creating good questions–what is often called The Big Questions in a thematically organized course. This is something you already do as a teacher, so let’s see what happens when we focus on the Big Questions using videos.
We’d like to debunk the myth that you have to be these two take make something worth watching.
We have to debunk a lot of myths in education. There are a lot of things we’ve yet to try.
That’s why we need the Faculty Funhouse, NotYetness, and Invention.
Image credit: http://bit.ly/1I0vF8M