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EdTech & Design, Opinion, Promising Practices

Changing Our Minds About Innovation in Education

Back in November, Ron Canuel kicked off the CEA Blog Campaign on Innovation with a rather simple question, “Why Do We Need Innovation in Education?” My immediate (and, admittedly, somewhat glib) response was “Well, why not?” After all, I thought, we’re living in a 21st century culture that has presented us with a parade of immersive technologies that have profoundly transformed the way that we work, learn, play and connect with each other. And we’ve stood in line to buy into pretty well every one of them, haven’t we? So, on the one hand, the “why” question sounds a little odd—a little out of touch with the innovative energy that surrounds us.  

On the other hand, Ron Canuel is intimately familiar with the way that systems and organizations work. In fact, he’s led one or two of them himself. And I’m confident that he knew that, in order to get to the heart of both the challenges and opportunities presented to us by life in the 21st century, a simple question would cut more quickly and more deeply. 

As voices from across Canada and around the world have converged here over the past few weeks, it is clear that there is both a heart and an energy for innovation in our education systems. Each of the stories that have been told—even the ones grounded in a sense of caution—have emerged from a deep sense of caring about and commitment to this place we call school. They have reminded me of the observation made by many who write about change—that imagination, creativity and innovation are embodied traits, enacted by human participants and not necessarily by (and, at times, in spite of) organizations themselves. 

I recently encountered the work of creativity and change thinker, George Land, who has spent a good deal of his life thinking about patterns of growth in both natural and human systems and organizations. In his 1992 collaboration with Beth Jarman, Breakpoint and Beyond, Land makes several points that could offer a way of moving our conversations about innovation in education forward in a different way.  

Breakpoint and Beyond is based on the idea that the technologies that will move our organizations and institutions to the next phase of development are already among us. We have the resources we need to transform our personal, social and institutional lives. 

The key to successful transformation is the way we think—our worldview—our mindset. For Land, much of our culture is still immersed in a logical, linear, cause and effect view of the world. Problems are “fixed” by accurately finding the cause, isolating it, and dealing with it. Energy is spent trying to improve upon our existing services, resisting the move towards large-scale change but, instead, tinkering to make what exists “better”. 

But, Land and Jarman point out, the whole mindset that still grounds our thinking is a remnant of a time when particle theory provided the most accurate understanding of the way the world works. It’s a mindset that has failed to allow the “newer” scientific notions captured in quantum physics and wave theory to influence our thinking. Early in the 20th century, physicists began to realize that there was an energy that ran through the universe at a sub-atomic level—an energy that is dynamically creative and tends towards connectivity and interdependence. In this mindset, change is not driven by what has happened in the past, but is drawn into the future by a vibrant sense of possibility (and apparently unpredictability)

It is a view of transformation that is energized not by what has been, but by a compelling vision about what could be.

According to Breakpoint thinking, innovation—true and effective innovation—is predicated on a shift of mindset that moves us from thinking about the world as fixed, ordered and, in a sense, pre-determined to one that is creative, connected and future-oriented. 

So, I present this way of thinking as one way to continue the dialogue. Its a way of thinking that has taken up residence in my own imagination over the past couple of weeks, and its a way of thinking that I carry with me as I head back to re-read the blog entries that have made for a very interesting, diverse and engaging few weeks. 

Could it be that this talk about innovation is really all in our minds?