Innovative Teaching: Does Our Education System Allow It?
With lagging STEM performance and a need for technology to be weaved into the classroom, the Department of Education (ED) is attempting to get regional school districts to band together to accelerate the innovation of education through technology. The ED is discussing a movement called "Education Innovation Clusters," whose purpose and necessity are highlighted in a recent article on the ED website. “At a time when advances in technology and digital media hold the potential to dramatically reshape the way we approach instruction, assessment and research, many barriers still continue to slow innovation,” the article says. Innovation Clusters Accelerating the pace of innovation requires a great deal of collaboration between educators, researchers and commercial partners. To encourage this collaboration, the ED convened at the University of Pennsylvania last week to share best practices from emerging clusters to take back to their respective regions. The 13 leaders present also came up with ways to support one another as a series of innovation hubs, rather than individual communities. With more collaboration, the leaders hope to encourage their regions to emulate the success and innovation of their partners. Many cities, from Boston to Los Angeles, are buying into this clustered approach to supporting innovation. The Tennessee Department of Education is emulating a Metro strategy to encourage three districts with the lowest-performing schools to create innovation clusters. The plan is for the three districts to create Offices of Innovation. These offices would include representatives from the many schools that would work together to spark turnarounds and innovative approaches to education. “The three districts are required to turn in Office of Innovation proposals by March 31,” writes Joey Garrison for The City Paper. “At stake is $35 million in federal school improvement grants to be spread out among the districts over three years.” Tennessee is buying into the idea that innovation will be key to spurring improvement in these areas. Technology and the Education System Technology advances at a rapid pace. Things constantly taken for granted today, such as high-speed wireless Internet and touch screens, were barely even at consumers’ fingertips only a decade ago. This rapid change can represent endless possibility, but also a huge challenge to our most important institutions. For education, innovation and advancement is regarded with the highest importance. Technology like the iPad has the power to transform the classroom and distribute resources like never before. But will our current education system even allow this innovation to happen? This is exactly the question on many education writers’ minds. In his article for MindShift, Aran Levasseur poses two questions: “What are the educational goals of technological integration?” and “Do the current systems and processes support the integrative and innovative goals?” Levasseur asserts that the best schools have, over the decades, prepared students for the economic and social realities of the time. He adds that our current system is largely still designed to fit the needs of industrial advancement. “The social and economic world of today and tomorrow require people who can critically and creatively work in teams to solve problems,” writes Levasseur, “Technology widens the spectrum of how individuals and teams can access, construct and communicate knowledge.” Our system, however, is not set up to create this type of learner. The definition of teacher and student is changing, and the system, according to Levasseur, has largely stayed the same. Change will have to come on the margins and not all at once. As Levasseur puts it, “… it’s not as simple as bulk purchasing iPads and deploying them into the wilds of education.” Innovation must be grown, not just planted. With ED dedication and support, more areas may seek out this clustered approach to creating innovation so that real growth can sprout nationwide.