Friday, September 19, 2014

Innovation and Education - What I learned

Image by CERDEC,

This week I did something I've never done before. I viewed a recording from the Global STEMx Education Conference that took place in September of 2013. The session that I viewed was "Innovation and Education: Why and how they belong together" by William J. Ashby. He spoke about how innovation and education are cyclical; education feeds into innovation, and innovation (and innovators!) feed back into education. He also explained how education is still working in the pre-information age, where schools, libraries, etc., had to get information to people. Now, however, people have more information than ever at their fingertips. Why do schools need to teach them things they can look up on Google? Instead, this is the information age, and our problem now isn't to help people get to information, it's to teach them how to problem solve and take risks. People need to learn how to use the information they have access to in order to solve the real world problems that we don't have answers to, like curing cancer, creating better fuel alternatives, or restructuring our education system.

Although the webinar format was frustrating at times (I could only see the powerpoint slides, so whenever participants commented, watched a video, used a poll, etc., I couldn't participate), I really enjoyed being able to listen and take part in this session, even after it had originally taken place. It's pretty neat that a conference that happened one time is available for me to use as a resource any time I want!

The biggest thing I got from this webinar was that in order to solve problems, you have to define the problems. This may seem like a no brainer, but the participants in the session thought that this was the biggest issue in STEM education. You can't solve a problem when you don't know what it is! Ashby explained the design he uses for understanding and developing a problem. First, empathize with the students (or whoever the problem affects) to help you understand the problem. Then, dig deeper so you fully understand by rephrasing the answers you received. Write your findings down, then define the problem.

I feel like this is a good model for problem solving both in the classroom and out. Ashby believes that this model for problem definition is efficient, and I can see it working too. He was presenting it in the context of defining a problem that requires innovation to solve, but I could see it in a much smaller scale as well. If classroom conflicts or problems arise, such as a student who is struggling, I think that this could be a good way to get to the root of the problem instead of jumping to conclusions about what the problem is. By empathizing with my students, digging deep and rephrasing the information, and defining the problem in a concise way, it could help to get a more accurate idea of what's actually going on. Obviously this could be applied to a much larger scale, but for my professional practice, I could see myself using it within my own classroom.

I used to think that innovation was for 'big thinkers', or people who were far more educated and creative than I am. Now I think that innovation can happen on a smaller scale and can be accessible for me and my students. We just have to ask the right questions, get to the problems, and find solutions to those problems! What do you think fuels innovation? Do you think that defining problems can help lead to more innovation in education?

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