on supporting innovation on campus


I've been thinking about how to better support innovation on campus, and realized that there is a strong bell curve describing the drive to innovate in teaching practices in a population of instructors (and, likely, students), something like:

Innovation bell curve

The "mavericks" are the ones that will explore, experiment and push the boundaries no matter what the institution does. The "quiet majority" are where most instructors are - they work hard at what they do, but don't have the resources (time, funds, people, etc…) to try many new things. The "resisters" are the often-vocal ones who push back against change for various reasons.

It seems as though much of the usual support for innovation at an institution is aimed at the group of "mavericks" - find the rock-star instructors who are doing cool stuff. Give them resources, and let them push harder to see where they wind up. This is great, and essential, but feels a bit like slapping your logo on a Formula 1 race car and then marvelling at how fast you are.

The "resisters" is another focus - if only we can convince them that change is good, or will make their lives better, they will see the light and butterflies and unicorns etc… Supporting this group is important, but devoting a disproportionate amount of effort isn't helpful. Many of them would resist even if you peer them with a dedicated support staff with an unlimited budget.

The "quiet majority" is where the action is. These people do most of the heavy lifting of teaching at an institution. They work hard, and they care. What I'm interested in is how do we work with the "mavericks" to find useful innovations, and also work with this "quiet majority" to find ways to incorporate innovative practices at a larger scale to improve teaching and learning across the institution.

What does that look like? I'm not exactly sure. But I think the key is in providing access to institutional resources to help the "mavericks" amplify what they can do, while finding/building platforms to enable everyone to take advantage of meaningful innovations in practices and tools. And, it has to be evidence-based - try new things, figure out what really works, what doesn't, what's sustainable, what's extensible, etc… and work to develop appropriate innovations.

Also, for this to be effective, it can't be just about technology, or just about pedagogy, or just about institutional resources. This is where the campus really needs to come together and incorporate everything in one place. An community centre for innovation and research. That's where the magic will happen…

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