What is the key to innovation in education?


What is the key to innovation in education?

Tuesday the 9th of June, 2015

How Change Knowledge is the answer to that very question.

Members of the National Academy of Engineering were asked to name the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century. The top five were:

  • Make solar energy economical.
  • Provide energy from fusion.
  • Provide access to clean water.
  • Reverse-engineer the brain.
  • Advance personalised learning.

Michael Fullan in his book Stratosphere says of the trouble with the above ‘top five’ is that they were thought up by engineers. “No doubt doctors would have curing cancer near the top of their priorities. But I would venture to say that almost every group would have the integration of technology, human and social learning, and the improvement of their work in their ‘top 10’.” Michael also says that today’s schools should be focusing on the very integration of those three things through a process he calls “Change Knowledge” which he describes as the ability to put something new into practice. He says that this is the key to innovation in education. Change Knowledge has several components he describes as critical.

First is focus, such as examining the roles of student and teacher. Although Steve Job and Bill Gates argue that students can learn themselves with an iPad, Fullan argues that this is only half the solution. He says that students might do remarkably well with an iPad on their own, but they would do much better if led by a skilled change agent teacher. He says that, “in short, technology and pedagogy must be integrated around the roles of both students and teachers.” They must be working together with technologies to maximise the quality of learning. Salman Khan who developed the famous Khan Academy created over 3,000 Youtube videos to help students learn. Although the videos are just explanations, they enable students to hear those explanations of difficult concepts over and over again until they learn them. The videos are not a new invention but did demonstrate that old teaching techniques could be delivered in new ways.

The second point about Change Knowledge is that empathy is a rich and multi-faceted resource for bringing about innovations in education. Fullan’s research demonstrates that fostering teamwork and developing a strong sense of empathy for others, even those who are distractors, is a powerful influence in developing ideas. This brings about greater interaction and a sense of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Fullan states that their change work demonstrates that great teachers have impressive empathy or understanding of others - “That they are proactive in helping other people create a world they didn’t know they wanted. What could be a better description of teaching than that!”

All of the evidence demonstrates that students won’t learn well if left on their own. Neither will teachers. Innovations that combine the power of human learning, technological advancements and opportunity have true potential to improve the world for people. Such should be the innovations we think about as we become agents of change in education.

Fullan, M, (2012) Stratosphere: Integrating technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge. Pearson – Ontario, Canada.