We care about innovation at our institutions. We are determined to invest our scarce resources in areas that will improve quality, increase access, and lower costs. Where should we be investing?
I've been thinking about and working on this question for most of my academic career. And, as a staff member working in educational technology, I've concluded that the best way to promote innovation is to invest in faculty.
Yes, leadership matters. Certainly staff are important. Investing in technology is necessary. But faculty remain the key element that will determine the success (or failure) of our efforts to transform our institutions to meet the challenges of our competitive, global, and increasingly digital economy.
Transforming our institutions for the digital age will require that we recruit and retain faculty:
- Whose teaching and research crosses and connects academic disciplines.
- With backgrounds different from the normative academic training and career paths.
- Whose teaching and research is in emerging fields and new disciplines, and who interact and collaborate with colleagues outside of traditional academic circles.
- That research and teach about innovation.
Recruiting and retaining innovative faculty members, however, is not enough. We must also be prepared to provide faculty members with:
- Adequate resources and time to pursue experimentation in teaching and learning.
- Career progression paths for promotion that encompass non-traditional scholarly output and which measure impact beyond traditional metrics.
- Robust opportunities to partner with learning professionals in technology, information science, and other disciplines essential for modern teaching and research teams.
Innovative and highly energetic faculty members push our institutions along through the work they do in their classrooms, labs and studios. Faculty members who insist on working across disciplines and departments have the power to evolve our cultures and shape our organizational structures. Innovative faculty members draw the best students and the highest quality collaborators.
Over and over again I have witnessed the power of a few ingenious, generous and connected faculty members to move forward our debates, build new structures, and challenge our prevailing orthodoxies.
Spending dollars on new technologies or new programs (or new buildings) will appear to us as tempting accelerants to innovation on campus. These dollars, in my experience, are almost always better spent on the recruitment, retention, and support of innovative faculty.