Learning Innovation, From Professional Practice to Scholarly Endeavor

Some more thoughts from HAIL at SNHU.

September 18, 2019

Earlier this month, we both participated in a HAIL (Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners) convening at Southern New Hampshire University. Both of us feel a small sense of pride in how this learning innovation community has grown, as at least part of the origin story of HAIL dates back to a Leadership Roundtable on Academic Transformation, Digital Learning and Design that we co-hosted (along with Huron’s Peter Stokes) at Georgetown in May of 2016. This original roundtable was literally held around a table, with many of the core of folks who would go on to form HAIL participating.

We love the idea that a small, grassroots convening of the learning innovation community has gained momentum and some scale through HAIL.

HAIL’s goals, as important and valuable as they are to each of us individually and to folks that attend collectively, are a bit different than what we originally wanted to accomplish at Georgetown. This is a good thing and makes a lot of sense. HAIL is a different thing, run by different folks with different goals and aspirations.

Still, given where we are and what we’ve been advocating for, we wonder if it’s possible (or even necessary) to bring together learning innovation colleagues to nudge (or push) the learning innovation conversation from a professional to a scholarly endeavor.

As enlightening and energizing as were the conversations at HAIL SNHU -- and they always are -- the information exchanged and shared among participants was primarily in the domain of learning innovation practitioners. We discussed the drivers, catalysts and challenges of creating the conditions necessary (culture, coalitions, funding) to enact institutionwide learning innovations. We examined examples (both successes and failures) of organizational changes and leadership initiatives designed to make large and strategic advances in teaching and learning.

This is important work, necessary to the momentum so many of us have gathered on campuses to change the conversation around teaching, learning and innovation.

What occurred less at HAIL SNHU, though, was the sort of conversations that scholars of learning innovation might wish to engage in. A scholarship of learning innovation would move beyond discussing best practices and lessons learned, to a focus on critically examining the forces and trends that give rise to institution-led efforts to reinvent how teaching and learning are structured.

Further, a scholarly orientation toward learning innovation would concern itself with aggregating the trends around institutional changes in teaching and learning, in order to tell a larger story about change across the postsecondary ecosystem.

The funny thing is that we find many of these conversations happening at HAIL and perhaps elsewhere in the breaks, in the ad hoc conversations that emerge when a few folks sit around in Adirondack chairs and start talking about what is important and meaningful about their work.

This scaling up of intimate conversations to conference-size interactions is difficult to structure. It’s hard to envision sometimes how to go from best practices in an applied field to engaging deeply in the theories, models and research problems that often implicitly drive our work.

Our ambition was then (and still is now) to explore what might happen if the learning innovation community adopted the norms of an interdisciplinary academic field.

We wonder what would be different in convenings such as HAIL (are there any others like HAIL?) if there was a greater mix of learning innovation professors (whose main work is scholarship and teaching) and learning innovation practitioners?

How might a focus on researching institutionwide learning innovation mesh with, or possibly clash with, a focus on leading these campus initiatives?

How might we achieve an integration of scholarship and action in an academic conference?

Should we adopt the mode of many academic conferences, where presenters read deep, thoughtful and perhaps at times overly long scholarly papers? Or is that traditional mode of academic exchange for knowledge creation incompatible with an event meant to catalyze institutional change?

What would it look like to take the conversation from Adirondack chairs to a podium?

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