Describing Teaching and Learning Innovation

In this post I want to propose three ‘lenses’ that may be useful for describing and understanding the nature of a teaching and/or learning innovation. Innovation is certainly a prized commodity; deemed important enough to use to structure formal university module development and delivery processes, and to trade across and between practitioners and instititions. We also know that the question of innovation is likely to be an important consideration early on in the process of creating, designing and teaching a module or learning activities (and hopefully later on in the process also!). 

So how do teachers talk about and represent their innovation? I have been involved in a couple of projects that sought to to capture innovation and, like similar attempts elsewhere, found it difficult to define what innovation was. The conclusion is, of course, that innovation is a nebulus term embracing everything from a paradigm shifting idea to borrowing one from a colleague and using in a class. Broadly speaking, one could suggest that innovation is anything that creates new possiblities by combining different knowledge sets that should result in positive change or added value. This expectation for there to be a positive result I think distinguishes innovation from other terms such ‘something different’ or ‘ something new’  and prevents it being abused to the extent that  ‘being innovative’ becomes an aim in itself.   

So if innovation can be many things, do we need to be more precise in how we talk about it? Perhaps, like for other aspects of learning design, it could be helpful to have some lenses with which to view, describe and define it. Fair enough, each lens will present only a partial representation, but together such views may help better understand the character of the innovation and to use and evaluate it effectively.

LENS 1: For who is the innovation innovative? Each individual, group or community who experiences the innovation will likely experience it differently: what is innovative for one module author may not be for their students who did it last year on a previous course; what is innovative for the general way a subject is taught may actually be ‘common practice’ for a ‘leading-edge’ faculty or university; what is innovative in one faculty may not be so across the univeristy.

So this first view represents seven key stakeholders in the educational innovation. When selecting these seven, I looked at the ways practitioners (in interviews or in written documents) spoke about who their innovation was innovative for. I also thought it important that the diagram be organised in terms of the scale/size of the group effected (note the progression from the individual (on the far left) to the entire sector (on the far right)). Arranging the representation in this way should make it is easier to see how extensive or local the innovation may be. 


One way of using this view would be to determine how innovative the innovation is for each stakeholder and assign a score from 0-5. These scores could be written in the blanks provied. Scoring may Read more of this post

Open Innovation and the ‘Next Generation Stage-Gate’ process: Reflections on Learning Design processes 2

Next-Generation Stage-Gating

The Stage-Gate concept was developed by Robert Cooper as an innovation management method for businesses. It is now a widely used mechanism to manage the product development process – in the case of a University this may be the development and production of a course. The object of the model is to support the making of a key decision at each stage – the question: should development continue?– or as Cooper puts it; to ‘Go’ with or ‘Kill’ it. For Cooper, the period between Gates consists of ‘information gathering activities’ followed by an analysis of the result which is then entered in to the Gate for decision.

Over the last five years some work has begun to assess and revise the Stage-Gate model. Indeed, Cooper (2008) himself acknowledges the need for the‘Next Generation Stage-Gate’. Reading through this work, I was encouraged to find comments and observations that aligned with themes discussed in my last blog post. Cooper (2008) offers a range of ways to revise or add to his model. I’ve picked out seven below:

  1. A Flexible Process: we observed (see last post) that learning design activities should be planned in advance of the stage commencing and here Read more of this post

Reflections on Learning Design Process Models 1

Over the last month, Rebecca Galley, Paul Mundin and I have been reflecting on a range of our recent meetings and project related activities (including meeting with colleagues from Birmingham City and Gloucestershire, with our external partners, and OU colleagues). This post shares some of this ‘reflection-in-progress’ and as such uses languages familiar to those exploring new structures for curriculum/learning design processes.  

Here are two different draft representations to help communicate our interpretation of recent work. I think it important that such models seek to weave together the less formal practices and processes (such as design activities) with more formal and necessary demands:

If you click on the images an enlarged version should load.

By way of explanation, these representations were the outcome of our thinking about a range of questions. Some of these were:

  • Does a business case, or any related business approval stage, need any pedagogic information or design? – Possibly not. Could learning design be more damaging than enabling at this stage? – Very possibly (after all the design process has not yet properly started and decisions made here may constrain and limit design options
  • Where in the process is the learning design problem space considered? And how much planning of learning design activities (both formal in the design team, and semi-formal individual work)? The business case may set some constraints but little in respect to important pedagogical aspects associated with the design problem. Recent work in the wider design literature has highlighted the importance of fully understanding the ‘design problem’ before developing a design solution. A number of advantages are cited from promoting a more creative, innovative approach to the problem; to better understanding of the core purpose of the design process and more effective quality assurance and design validation.
  • How important is it to recognise that design stages are not discrete units that ‘end’ once a particular form or document has been submitted. It is not a linear process for each overlaps and may continue to be worked later in the process with more porous links to it’s neighbours (shown by the dotted lines above). Furthermore, it would now appear course development involves a greater range of people throughout the entire process (rather than each just involved in a discrete portion of the process).
  • Is too great an emphasis placed on the submission of a form or specification before work moves on? Instead why not focus on the process of creating these forms and specifications and use the cumulative amount of ‘work’ put in to preparing these documents as indicators of ‘sufficient’ design? Here the notion of doing a ‘sufficient’ amount of design work replaces that of producing a document/forum ‘sufficiently’. Yet how could we record and store documents and design activity ‘evidence’? The most obvious is some form of portfolio/s (e.g. folders on a local or shared area). The diagrams indicate some of these portfolios and each module would need to decide, upfront, what sufficiency may mean for them.
  • Is there enough formal review of the meso- and micro- levels of design? Module design currently takes place at several inter-connected levels, however often formal institutional process fade as design work in earnest begins.
  • Is there sufficient recognition of the micro-design taking place in the production of course materials and services even once courses have been written or operational documents prepared? Maybe not, and a consequence does this mean that micro-design decisions may not be properly supported or articulated?
  • Module/course evaluation (after delivery of the course) is often well formalised, however, can this be enhanced by better definition of the design problem space and planning of activity for the design process at the beginning? There is certainly potential for further quality assurance measures here and this may enable better tracking of decisions and therefore of accountability.