Georgia Tech and the Scholarship of Institutional Learning Innovation

“Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education” as a primary source for a new academic discipline.

May 16, 2018

"The rules of innovation should be part of the fabric of education. That requires an approach to innovation that is deliberate.”

Part Three: The Culture -- Becoming Deliberately Innovative

If we were to create a new academic discipline on postsecondary learning innovation, what would we study?

We would study the new Georgia Tech report from its Commission on Creating the Next in Education: Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education.

This document would be a primary source. The unit of analysis would be the institution. The population is the agglomeration of each college and university within a specified geographic / political area.

The Georgia Tech report is written as an internal document. One designed to guide a large-scale shift at the institution towards a vision in which the school provides its students with a lifetime of learning and credentialing.

I read the document as a clue about a much bigger story about the future of higher education. The Georgia Tech report, to my eyes, is an artifact to ponder.

The questions that I have in reading through the report are all about decoding.

How can I make sense of how this institution - or at least those who wrote the report - are thinking about learning innovation?

What is the context in which the report was written, but at the institution and in the larger postsecondary ecosystem?

How will the changes in culture and structure at the instituiton that report proposes play out in the lived experiences of students, faculty, and staff?

What are the mix of personalities, structures, and trends that are driving Georgia Tech to re-orient the institution towards learning innovation?

In this scholarship of institutional learning innovation, the research is necessarily comparative.  What is most interesting about the Georgia Tech story is how the actions of this university both reflect and drive changes in the larger postsecondary ecosystem.

I’m interested in how what is going on Georgia Tech will impact the thinking of others in higher ed, and the actions of other institutions.

The point, I think, is that both the Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education report - and the changes that it catalyzes at Georgia Tech (and elsewhere) - deserve to be studied.  The report and its meaning should be analyzed, and this analysis should be taught to the next generation of institutional learning innovation scholars and future postsecondary leaders.

My sense is that the way things stand today this Georgia Tech report will not receive scholarly attention.  It may get attention on some news articles, blog posts, and tweets.  But it will not be taught in graduate schools.  And it will not be systematically analyzed in anything recognizing the peer review of modern scholarship.

Perhaps I’m wrong?  Are there places where the Georgia Tech report will end up as the subject of research, debate, and writing?  Are there graduate students writing dissertations that where Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education might show up?

I’ll leave you with some quotes that I pulled out of the report that from the Culture section that particularly caught my eye.  The language below captures much of what some of us are starting to see as a larger trend towards systematic efforts in learning innovation across the postsecondary sector.  Georgia Tech may be more aggressive, articulate, and forward thinking in their institutional learning innovation efforts, but they are not alone in their efforts to create a new higher reality.

Select quotes that I love:

"Despite many successes, educational innovation is still not systematic. Inventions germinate and successfully change the way education is delivered, but success or failure seems to depend as much on luck or circumstance as on merit or need.”

"Not only is there a natural resistance to change, as there would be in any culture, but faculty governance over academic decisions means that the prevailing academic culture at most universities favors slow and consensus-driven change as a safeguard of the integrity of academic standards. Yet structuring the academic enterprise to behave more like the research enterprise would create a more agile environment for educational innovation. The goal should be to agree on an innovation infrastructure for the academic enterprise that does not detract from the integrity of the academic mission.”

"By making innovation processes the subject of study and applying research-based methodologies, the Commission believes that Georgia Tech can become a more deliberately innovative organization.”

"The innovation process needs to become more repeatable, targeted in its actions, and more inclusive of a larger community of people.”

"Georgia Tech’s successful educational innovation initiatives have their roots in two cultures, one grassroots and bottom-up and one institutional and top-down."

"All types of innovative organizations seem to share common characteristics. For example, a shared vision of the importance of innovation is invariably built into the fabric of an innovative organization. An innovative organization encourages open discussion of ideas, has a reward structure for creativity, an embrace of experimentation, provides incentives for risk-taking, and learns from failure.”

"Innovative organizations also have infrastructure that eases the development of new ideas, even when that means overcoming organizational barriers.”

"Because research opportunities are often unpredictable, successful universities tend to have an agile research infrastructure. Academic operations, however, are more encumbered by slow- moving processes. Even simple changes like modifying curricula or updating textbooks can involve buy-in and approval from multiple, often redundant, committees and are therefore often difficult."

"The Commission further recommends that additional organizational transformation and change management strategies be used to help adopt or spread educational innovation."


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