DAILY INSIGHT: Innovation and education, part 1 of 3

By Gary Shattuck, CIO Advisor

In my last series of blogs, I wrote about thepast, the present, and the future (Part 1 and Part 2). More specifically, I wrote about the future in terms of how we must be preparing for a future that will be characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. If that is not daunting enough for ourselves as adults, how do we prepare our students for that kind of future? That will be our challenge as educators as we continue forward in the 21st century.

This new series of blogs is connected to the last one in the sense that I believe in order for us to prepare our students for this future we need to learn to be innovative and creative so we can teach our students to be innovators. In 2010, Steven Johnson wrote Where Good Ideas Come From as an illustration about how the innovations we know today were discovered in our past. By discovering how these innovations developed, we can have a better idea about how to go about developing a culture of innovation in our schools. For example, the mythology of inventions or innovations is that a single inventor working in his workshop, his basement, or his garage toiled away by himself until he was able to perfect a new invention and reap the rewards. This mythology is just that—mythology. In reality, most inventions and innovations were created by a team of people working together collaboratively to perfect an idea.

We all know that Steve Jobs did not singlehandedly invent the Apple computer; he worked on it with his friend Steve Wozniak. The same goes for Bill Gates and countless others. The computer mouse, a peripheral device we all take for granted, was invented by two engineers, Douglas Engelbart and Bill English, working at Stanford Research Institute in 1963. Thus, collaboration is an important element in an innovative culture.

Another characteristic of innovations is that they most often come from improvements from current practices or ideas. It is rare that an invention takes a great leap forward. It happens but very infrequently. Johnson calls this close proximity phenomenon the “adjacent possible.” Most innovations are just the next evolutionary step in an idea or a product. For example, the television was first used in a US broadcast from a TV station in 1946, and it was in black and white. The next evolutionary step was the color TV. When people wanted to record their favorite shows to watch later, the VCR developed which turned into the DVD and, now, Blu-ray. All these innovations were made possible by the pioneering work done earlier. These innovations were possible because they were adjacent to current practices.

Not only do innovations come from the “adjacent possible,” but Johnson also documents that innovations come from “slow hunches” and from “serendipity.” To this end, we in education must use these strategies to become innovative educators; to create innovative classroom environments that foster innovative thinking on the part of our students. These subjects will be explored in more depth in subsequent blogs in this series.

Gary Shattuck is the director of technology and media services at Newton County Schools in Covington, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter as @EdTechLeader.