Defining Learning Innovation | Technology and Learning

Several interesting points by Joshua Kim, on the nature of innovation in higher ed.

A focus on institutional learning innovation may involve the decision that all new classroom spaces and renovations will result in active learning spaces, with flat floors and moveable furniture. Or it may revolve around an initiative to embed academic librarians with professors throughout the course development, teaching, and redesign process.

One example comes from the world of online learning. On its own, an online learning program is not all that innovative.  What is innovative is when the school tries to figure out how to bring the lessons, methods, techniques, and resources from online courses to residential courses.MOOCs are not innovative. What would be innovative is to leverage what is learned from MOOCs to improve traditional online and residential courses.

Getting resources for pilot projects is usually much easier than transitioning the new practices to the normal operations of the school. Learning innovations that do not change how the institution works are ultimately useless. Learning innovation initiatives must be aligned with the strategic goals of the institution.

Source: Defining Learning Innovation | Technology and Learning

I’ve seen similar things with pilots – short-term funding to explore an idea that doesn’t get translated into something ongoing and sustainably funded, so it disappears after the pilot. Innovation has to be sustainable to make a real difference. It’s also incredibly important to avoid getting distracted by The Latest Shiny™ – learn from it, but the innovation is in how we translate what we learn into the institution, rather than just duct-taping on something new.

articles in the Journal of Learning Spaces 7(1)

4 interesting articles in the most recent issue, in no particular order:

McDavid, L., Carleton Parker, L., Burgess, W., Robertshaw, B., & Doan, T. (2018). The Combined Effect of Learning Space and Faculty Self-Efficacy to use Student-Centered Practices on Teaching Experiences and Student Engagement. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from

Instructors who teach well in one kind of learning space don’t magically translate that ability into teaching well in another kind of learning space. They need support/PD/consultation when moving, say, from a lecture hall to a flexible learning space (or vice versa?).

Zimmermann, P., Stallings, L., Pierce, R., & Largent, D. (2018). Classroom Interaction Redefined: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Moving Beyond Traditional Classroom Spaces to Promote Student Engagement. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from

Classroom design affects student learning. Some problematic vendor-specific language in the article, but the survey and discussion are interesting.

“There is no doubt the interactive space promoted a more collaborative and engaging environment than the traditional classroom spaces.”


“The interactive space allowed more mobility, generating greater immediacy and engagement in the classroom.”

Benoit, A. (2018). Investigating the Impact of Interactive Whiteboards in Higher Education. A Case Study. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from

From just down the highway at Lethbridge College. Some interesting descriptions of types of classrooms in an inventory, and proximal zones of engagement (related to distance from a screen)1. Their use of “IWB” (Interactive Whiteboard) is problematic because, I think, it’s shorthand for “an instructor using their laptop to run SMART Notebook” (although they don’t say what is powering the IWB). This would explain why student engagement with the IWB is low – it’s not their thing, it’s the teacher’s thing. Also, whiteboards are a specific kind of digital tool2 – a digital version of the traditional analog whiteboard. Cramming other functionality into the “whiteboard” tool name is confusing. We don’t have a name that I’m happy with, but our collaborative station display/interface dealies are called “collaboration carts” to abstract away from any specific software or functionality. They can be made to do all kinds of things. One of those things is to pretend to be a whiteboard.

Cogswell, C., & Goudzwaard, M. (2018). Building Demand and Reaching for Capacity. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from

An interesting description of Dartmouth’s recent Berry Innovation Classroom project, and some of the design and implementation decisions they made.

  1. but even that appears to be just a republishing of Epson’s “4/6/8 rule” marketing information []
  2. like, say, TIDraw []

Resources for learning space evaluation

I was asked to pull together some links to resources that can be used to get started in evaluating learning spaces – how are they used? how effective are they? what kinds of interactions are enabled by the spaces? etc. There are some great resources – best to share the list here rather than just in an email…

EDUCAUSE has some really fantastic resources on evaluating learning spaces. They have a book full of concepts and case studies:

And they have what is probably the definitive learning spaces evaluation framework, the Learning Space Rating System which includes a scoresheet/rubric for evaluating properties of a space.

UCISA has developed The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit, available at:

And the Social Context and Learning Environments (SCALE) survey measures and documents interactions between students in a learning space, which can be useful in describing the kinds of things that happen in different types of spaces:

There are also many examples and resources at the FLEXspace project website:

I’ve got some more learning space-related links collected at:

But the ones above are some good resources to start with. What other key resources are out there? What do you use?

like uber, for education

A long, roaming article in The New Yorker on Anthony Levandowski’s groundbreaking/questionably-ethical work on self driving cars. This is a guy that used to report to Sebastian Thrun, and it makes me wonder how much of this ethos is already pervasive in Silicon Valley Edtech™…

After bypassing restrictions on how to hire staff, purchase supplies (including hundreds of cars), and safely design and operate self-driving vehicles (resulting in serious injuries and property damage), this whopper gets laid:

“The only thing that matters is the future,” he told me after the civil trial was settled. “I don’t even know why we study history. It’s entertaining, I guess—the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals and the Industrial Revolution, and stuff like that. But what already happened doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to know that history to build on what they made. In technology, all that matters is tomorrow.”

Charles Ruhig (2018). Did Uber Steal Google’s Intellectual Property?

Rules are for the weak. History is moderately entertaining but irrelevant. People are inefficient and unpredictable. Nothing matters.

Compare and contrast with Randy Bass’s article in Change:

Technology can best improve education by helping us distinguish ourselves from machines and to make that distinction itself fundamental to the “project” of education.

As we look to the future, and as machines get better at being machines, the primary purpose of higher education must be helping humans get better at being human. Ultimately technology (machine intelligence) will have its greatest impact on human learning through the evolution in human capacity—the ‘complementarity’—that will be required to stay ahead of its advance.

Randy Bass (2018) The Impact of Technology on the Future of Human Learning, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 50:3-4, 34-39, DOI: 10.1080/00091383.2018.1507380

History is important. Humans are important. Pushing toward a techno-centric future with no consideration for history or how the human condition might be improved (not made more efficient. not monetized. not synergized.) seems like the kind of thing a devout libertarian with a Netflix queue full of “because you watched Terminator…” suggestions might want.