ideas are for chumps

innovation isn’t about ideas, it’s about agile teams that can execute, learn and iterate.

Yesterday a colleague of mine tweeted this from a conference  he was attending. I got to tell you, the statement struck me when I saw it and it’s been sticking with me since. I think I need to write about it in order to let it go.

To start with, I think this assertion is fundamentally flawed at best if not totally inaccurate. Innovation could not exist without ideas. How so? Innovation is spurred by looking at things that exist and coming up with way to improve upon them or apply them to a new area. In other words, innovation occurs when ideas are successfully applied. Innovation is an idea in practice. Innovation is different from invention, generally defined as an idea that brings something into the world that did not exist before. Now I’m willing to be that more times than not when the innovation comes to fruition it may bear little resemblance to the original idea however, I’d also bet that without having that original idea the chances of that innovation actually happening dramatically drop.

To be fair, I did not hear the talk from which this tweet spawned so I’m not familiar with the context. So I’m willing to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt that this statement was part of some larger point he or she was making that did not transfer over to twitter. I’m hoping the point was somewhere along the line of an idea not acted upon brings not benefit but, again I do not know and do not wish to put words into the speaker’s mouth. I wish someone would share the full context with me. Anyone attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference care to help me out?

As to the second part of the statement, if there wasn’t an idea about a potential opportunity what point does it serve to work in team, or individually for that matter? What can you execute? What is there to iterate? What is there to learn?

I’m not sure if and when ideas went out of fashion. Did they?

what can the academy do with technology?

Why do we always ask, “What can technology do for the academy?” Shouldn’t we be asking, “What, if anything, can the academy do with technology?” The difference in perspective is profound. In the first question, which is the one most commonly asked, we are the object being acted upon. We are on the defense. Our only recourse is to react (or not).  In the second we are the subject. We have a hand in shaping events. In the former pedagogy is dictated by IT and gadget geeks. We are presented things and told to do something with them.  In the latter pedagogy is driven by learning theory and learning geeks. We present what we need to enhance the learning experience and go out and find (or create) them.

Which side of the verb are you on?

a funny thing happened

Yesterday I gave a presentation at the PSU Web Conference. The topic was “Using Social Media for Collaboration” and the particular lens explored was how an organization or department could leverage the affordances of social media to foster collaboration and communication both internally and externally. Presenting along with me was a colleague well versed in all things social media, Robin Smail. Our presentation was really a talk. You see, we tried to capture the spirit of online collaboration in an in-person environment. We went into the talk cold with barely an outline of where we wanted things to to go.  We also did not use any slides. This was to be an interactive chat session with some scribblings on a whiteboard…musings that emerged from the conversation. We wanted it to be awkward. We wanted, and we wanted our audience to feel anxious, uncomfortable, and maybe for even a few bored or disinterested. We wanted people to feel what it is like to interact in this environment.

About ten minutes in I needed to come up with an example of how our department uses social media and all I could come up with was probably the most volatile of things both Robin & I are part of at the moment, the annual Learning Design Summer Camp.  I  could not believe the words coming out of my mouth. I heard the dread in my voice as I said them.  I saw the dread in Robin from across the room in her bowed head and deep breaths. Ostensibly, camp is supposed to be about teaching & learning from the perspective of those of us who help to create these events & experiences. While our annual symposium focuses on the instructors, the focus of camp is on instructional designers, librarians, technologists, and multi-media folks who help make scholarship happen. We advertise it on our wiki page as “an informal space for people involved with education technology and course design to get together to show, tell, share, and create.” Robin and I approach the event from very different perspectives. She has been there from the beginning. Due to conference travel, I’ve been there once. Now I am the chair. I have ideas about how I’d like to shape the event. Robin has ideas about how she’s like the event to stay the way it is. We disagree on the most basic of points, such as the definition of what is fun. Most of the old guard agrees with Robin. The folks new to the event like my direction. This isn’t happening behind closed doors. This is happening out in the open, on the wiki page, on Twitter, in discussions. In other words, it made it the perfect illustration for our talk.

You see, that is collaboration done in the open. It requires risk. It takes frank communication. You have to be willing, as an individual and as an entity, to be out there, warts and all. You will end up with some egg on your face. You will need a thick skin. You will struggle both with yourself and with others. It requires us to be a lot of things we are not comfortable being, like being wrong on some things and right on others. Like having to disagree with someone and being able to articulate it. Like being direct while maintaining empathy.  Like focusing on doing what’s best for the whole all the while knowing what is best isn’t always what’s popular.

I think the audience felt the tension between us. But it wasn’t negative tension; it was creative tension. Suddenly Robin and I found ourselves simultaneously presenting to an audience and working through our own issues. A lot of folks in the room played along and a lot of folks opted not to get involved.  Some liked the session and I’m sure others hated it because it did not meet their expectations. Some waled away from the session changed, even in the smallest way. Others have already forgotten it and moved on to the next thing.

edtech podcast #9: data data everywhere and not a drop to drink

In episode #9 Brian & I use a recent conference he attended on Clickers to explore issues related to teaching practices. We discuss issues such as the apparent conflict teachers face when deciding how to teach their students. Do they teach for student happiness or do they teach for learning? Are these mutually exclusive options? Is it a problem of the education structure? Or is it a reaction toward the way we’ve moved as a society? We also take some time to discuss the ethical considerations we must consider when piloting in the classroom with real students when the stakes are high. What responsibility do we have to ensure we do not have a negative impact on the student experience? Does this conflict with our responsibility to conduct research that furthers teaching & learning practice? As always, your input is welcome.

edtech podcast #9

edtech podcast #7: what do we mean when we talk about academic rigor?

In this podcast Brian & I discuss the notion of academic rigor. Using the book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa as a starting point, we explore what we mean we when we talk about a rigorous education and if and how it fits into our cultural and economic understanding of the purpose of a college degree.

edtech podcast #7: what do we mean when we talk about academic rigor?

edtech podcast #6: what if students built the lms?

Several student driven LMS initiatives have popped up lately. One in Stanford. One at the University of Pennsylvania. And, one here at Penn State. In episode #6 Brian & I explore the cause behind this movement. What’s so bad about what’s currently out there that it would push students to build their own learning management system? What’s different? What can we learn? We’ll also discuss the topic of academic rigor. There’s been some recent articles indicating we may not be doing enough to provide students with opportunities to engage with content.

EdTech Podcast #6: What if students built the LMS?

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getting my socrates on

“Until you know what a thing is, you can’t answer any other questions about it.”


Do we need need to know what a thing is to understand it? Socrates thought so. I think so. However, I get the impression that many of colleagues in educational research & instructional design do not share this view. Note the comments in a recent piece in The Chronicle, “What’s in a Name? Researchers Struggle With Terms for New Learning Methods.” In the article, written by Ben Wieder, researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia found no consensus among academics about the definitions of “e-learning,” “online learning,” and “distance learning.” The research team asserts, and I agree, that our inability to name a thing makes it difficulty to know what it is. As researchers this also makes it difficult to assess its potential strengths & weaknesses for teaching & learning.

It’s been my experience that this is not an isolated sentiment in our field. Whether we’re talking newer entries into the educational ecosystem such as cloud based applications, social applications, and devices that are portable as well as mobile or some long standing things such as learning management systems & electronic portfolios we can’t seem to agree on what a thing is. What I find disturbing is that we’re not having a healthy dialogue as to what a given thing is. It’s not about agreeing on a definition of a given term (ePortfolio, LMS, eLearning) but coming to an understand as to the things essence. What is the essence of an ePortfolio? What is the nature of an LMS? Social media? Digital scholarship? eLearning?

What troubles me is this. As educators aren’t these the very questions with which we should be concerning ourselves? If we do not understand the nature of a thing how can we then apply it to any given situation, such as a course? How do we know whether what we’re doing is good, bad, or indifferent in it’s impact?

I’m not arguing for an absolute understanding going in however, isn’t it incumbent upon us to to know something well enough to have a game plan going in? If not, how do we understand the outcomes & make sense of it all? Do we not have an obligation  How can we know if an ePortfolio is an effective teaching & learning tool if we can’t agree on what it is?

Maybe that’s why we so often get insignificant results. Perhaps that’s why we don’t know if we’re truly making a difference