Eric Joyce, Marketing Specialist
How can educational leaders take collective action to advance educational research and development to catalyze transformational change shaping the future of higher education?
This cross-institutional discussion continued last week.
The Office of Academic Innovation advanced this dialogue by welcoming more than 50 educational innovation leaders from 20 different institutions to the University of Michigan for a special convening titled Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners, or the HAIL Storm.
The event extended the breadth of the Academic Innovation Initiative, a charge to the Office of Academic Innovation by President Mark S. Schlissel and Provost Martha E. Pollack to steward a conversation to “consider how U-M will lead the way for higher education through the information age and further strengthen our impact on society.”
With HAIL Storm, this conversation included an industry-wide discussion about how to advance educational R&D models drawing from experiences to improve access, quality and equity in student learning. Higher education innovators from public, private, non-profit and for-profit institutions and university systems established new connections at the event while surfacing perspectives from those currently working in the educational R&D space.
The convening was designed to establish a knowledge base for educational R&D models and grow a network of innovation leaders across institutions sharing recommendations for institutional structure, human capital, funding models, accreditation, assessment and building a culture of experimentation as well as developing and nurturing internal and external partnerships.
James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for the University of Michigan’s Office of Academic Innovation, framed the two-day collaborative discussion by invoking an illustrative metaphor of Kintsugi – the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver and platinum. He noted the intention of the Japanese art form is not to hide the breakage, but to accept it as part of the history of the object.
“From shattered pieces came rebirth and something often more beautiful than before,” DeVaney said.
He urged attendees to embrace the shifting nature of student learning and seize new opportunities to scale collaboration by leveraging the unique strengths of every institution. Through this collective action, our institutions become not only resilient to a changing world, but “antifragile” according to DeVaney.
“To become antifragile is not to avoid the stressors that shatter,” he said. “It is to break through and then see beauty in our scars.”
In her keynote address, Dr. Michelle Weise, Executive Director of the Sandbox Collaborative at Southern New Hampshire University, compared the two vectors of sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. In the context of higher education, she said sustaining innovations tend to support student expectations while disruptive innovations recognize the shifting needs of 21st-century learners.
Weise discussed how organizations foster potentially disruptive growth by creating separate organizational units focusing on innovation. She used her office, the Sandbox Collaborative, as an example of how this could translate to higher education.
In addition, speakers representing six different institutions shared what educational R&D looks like at their college, university or system in a series of lightning talks. Themes from these brief presentations touched on constructing solutions with empirical data, redefining the value proposition for the Liberal Arts, creating context for innovation, connecting pathways between learning and employment and building relationships to scale new innovation.
Dr. Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Principal Investigator for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, called the University of Michigan a “giant laboratory of education” as he described the three labs comprising U-M’s Office of Academic Innovation.
“Educational R&D is a collaborative thing, it means everybody is at the table,” he said.
Participants then turned to group discussions beginning with one-on-one pair interviews intended to build an understanding for each others’ experiences. Partners discussed their approaches to educational R&D and the pain points they’ve experienced in the pursuit of fostering equity-driven innovation. The pairs ultimately synthesized their partner’s needs and drew insights from their conversations to identify problem statements.
In small groups, participants shared their problem statements to identify a single problem to explore in greater depth. The teams approached the problem from the perspective of adopting the idea in service to the broader community.
Idea leads from each group presented their problem in a 60-second pitch to the larger group. Participants were then given the option to “jump ship” by joining another group after listening to each pitch. The newly formed groups continued to iterate on solutions to these programs, ultimately sharing their proposed solutions in a three-minute presentation to the larger group.
The groups discussed themes of benchmarking the impact of R&D outcomes, ways to better define student competency and mastery through assessment and solving the biggest innovation challenges through collective change. Participants discussed transforming higher education into an “open data” community as well as ways to catalog their successes and failures in the educational R&D process. They also plan to develop a framework to demystify the process for peer institutions launching innovation offices.
A willingness to build bridges of cross-institutional collaboration was ubiquitous throughout the event debrief. Many participants said they were surprised by the functional similarities between their institutions yet recognized the diversity in the size and scope in their approach to innovation.
These educational leaders said they will look to scale educational innovation and celebrate iterative change while maintaining the momentum initiated by the convening. Moving forward, participants said they intend to continue collaborative discussions and develop declarative statements guiding this transformational process. They also look to coin a term for this activity beyond “educational R&D,” “innovation” or “research.”
In his closing remarks, President Mark Schlissel called the event an “unprecedented gathering.” He said he saw this collaboration as a way institutions can fulfill and renew higher education’s social contract.
“We’re at a moment where we have opportunities that are really going to change the nature of education for succeeding generations,” Schlissel said.
He praised the participants’ commitment to collaboration and encouraged them to enjoy the discovery process while taking the necessary risks to obtain the best results.
“We want to engage others and approach the world ahead as partners,” Schlissel said.