The term “innovation” has been thrown around through the halls of education for several years. Its creation in our education system is a stated goal by our Department of Education. It is a reason, although some would call it a justification, for charter schools being formed. Charter schools were supposed to lead the way to innovation for public education. A problem with innovation however is that we often do not know it when we see it.
The whole idea of innovation is that it is something new. The other part of that, which is implied, is that it is also a successful improvement. That may be the piece that prevents recognizing innovation in education. Teachers, when it comes to education, are a conservative group. Change comes slowly, and there is a comfort in holding on to what has worked in the past. This has long been reinforced by the many trends and fads in education that have come and gone. Teachers have been programmed to believe that whatever the change being mandated by the powers that be, it will be gone with the next change of power. “If we wait a little while, this to will pass” becomes the educators’ mindset.
The newness of innovation is probably its greatest obstacle to acceptance. Teachers generally rely on the tried and true methods, proven to work over a long period of time. Innovation requires a leap of faith on the part of educators that the innovation will be a success. Unfortunately for innovation, the conservative nature of educators does not support taking risks. It may have something to do with self-perceptions of many teachers that as “content experts” they shouldn’t make public mistakes. Supporting innovation that fails would be a commitment to failure in the eyes of many educators. Obviously, this slows innovation acceptance.
This entire process has been further complicated by the rate of speed that technology moves and affects change. Committees, research and approval are very big parts of change in education. Today however, change comes faster and more significantly than in years past primarily because of the advancements in technology. These advancements continue to move forward regardless of anyone’s committee, research, or approval.
Collaboration has long been an element of learning. The term social learning is now creeping into discussions more and more giving collaboration a facelift. Face to face collaboration is the oldest and most easily recognized form. It is also a positive reason for department and faculty meetings. When learning individually we are good, but more often than not, learning collaboratively we are better. Technology tools for collaboration have moved collaboration to the forefront.
Now, let us combine collaboration with technology and see if it fits into our education system. Technology has most recently provided many tools, or applications for collaboration. Social Media is not one tool, but rather a network of many that overlap and intertwine. Educators can: join a Ning community,and meet a colleague from anywhere, converse on that site, connect and collaborate on Twitter, continue face to face collaboration on a Google Hangout, or Skype, collaboratively create and publish documents, presentations, Podcasts and videos. The potential ability for educators to harness this power and use it to model and guide learning for their students is mind-boggling to me, as a 40-year educator. It is only surpassed by the idea that the same potential ability in the hands of the students will take collaboration, creation, and learning even further.
We have labeled this innovation the Personal Learning Network. It is what we use to connect educators for collaboration beyond their buildings, districts, towns, and countries. It is technology-driven innovation that may profoundly affect education in regard to collaboration and professional development. It connects teachers with students, administrators, thought leaders, authors, and experts in all areas. It enables collaboration and creation on every level for educators to learn and teach. We become connected educators giving us insights and relevance that has been enabled by technology.
This innovation has been percolating for several years now, yet it has failed to be accepted as innovation. There is a growing gap between the adapters, or the connected educators, and the unconnected educators. The continuous discussions of the connected are directed and led by thought leaders and collaborative reflections, discussions, and content. The unconnected educators rely on the past and whatever direction is given by the powers that be in their districts.
If innovation is something new than the idea of technology-driven collaboration in the form of a PLN is old news and no longer innovation. Since it is no longer innovative, maybe educators will consider it, as a possible next step in education that will enable needed change. The idea that educators may be anti-innovative is my only explanation as to why the idea of a Personal Learning Network has not yet moved educators to accept it as a method to move educators, and education to a better place.