Monday, March 17, 2014

Measuring Innovation?

I have just returned from Teaching & Learning 2014 in Washington, D.C. My head is full of new thoughts and ideas that will trickle their way out onto blogs in the next several days (or weeks). The idea of innovation is one that I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating over the last couple of years, in fact the session that I led was "Are you integrating or innovating with technology in the classroom?" One thing that I have learned is that there are so many nuances to innovation that we all have different definitions of what it is and how it looks in our classrooms.

However, in Bill Gates' plenary, while promoting innovative thinking, he made the statement that we needed to find a way to measure innovation. I sent this tweet:

and then this one 

Asking the question, "Is it possible?" bounced around in my head as I prepared to lead my presentation, an active discussion on innovation in the classroom with the support of technology. Based on my experience, innovation is a quality that can be nurtured much like creativity; by making it measurable means that we are going to take that quality and standardize it, which in essence extinguishes it. 

While these thoughts marinated, I attended Tony Wagner's Saturday morning plenary. His entire speech was so "tweetable" with revelations on innovation and how we, as educators, can foster it within our students. One thing that he said really resonated with me and my "bouncing question" was that innovators are critical thinkers. Critical thinkers are those that ask the right questions. Innovation is a team sport dedicated to removing the boundaries of content disciples in order to create, not simply consume content. 

As a teacher, we become a coach who empowers and enables students to ask deep, meaningful questions. We dedicate time for students to connect with one another, face-to-face and digitally, in order to ask one another questions, find solutions, share ideas, and push each other to new levels of thinking. We blur content areas lines because in life rarely is a problem dedicated strictly to academic discipline. Answers are found where content areas meet. We let them explore, discover, and create because it is not about finding one right answer. It's about empowering learners to take control of their learning, build meaning, and make a difference in the world.

So is it possible to measure innovation like we attempt to measure everything else in education? Absolutely not! It will take shape in each of our students in different ways. We will see it manifested over time with our coaching, encouraging,  and support. With respect to Bill Gates, what he is proposing is counterproductive to innovation itself. True innovation cannot (should not) be measured. It can be nurtured to flourish in each of our learners. So as we enter our classroom this week, let's put on the proverbial coach's whistle and get to coaching our students in their ability to ask questions. We have no idea what innovative idea is out there waiting to be discovered by one of our learners.

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