The first day at ConnectEd Canada was highlighted by tours of Calgary Science School and an evening of “TED-style” talks from educators in different fields. Throughout the day, the word that kept cropping up was innovation. It seemed every speaker and every 2nd tweet contained the word or a focus how innovative things are at the school. Don’t get me wrong, I was impressed with the conversations I had with the students and staff at Calgary Science School, but I wonder why there is such a strong push to define so many of the educational stories being told at this conference as “innovative”. Innovation is defined as “the act of introducing something new; something newly introduced”. Perhaps the title of Brad Ovenell-Carter’s Sunday session says it best, “The Ancients Stole All of Our Good Ideas”.
I’m not sure that what I saw the first day is what I would class as new, though it certainly doesn’t fit the mould of a typical, or perhaps stereotypical, school. Perhaps, the focus on innovation comes more from a collective vision of the stereotypical school, rather than the typical experience of students in our communities. These types of ideas are being done across the country and around the world. We are likely not the first, and most of these take ideas that existed before and recreate them in different mediums or combinations. Sometimes, the current push toward ’21st Century Learning’ is focused on preferencing ideas that are seen as new. However, shouldn’t the focus solely be on educational activities and strategies that enrich our students’ understandings about themselves and the world around them whether those are new or not? One of the other commonalities that I notice in the programs being highlighted as innovative is a focus on creation of end products, both digital and physical. By labelling these creations as innovative, it downplays the importance of expository writing, mathematical proofs, Socratic discourse and other forms of learning that don’t fit to a presentation model of learning representation. These modes and representations are just as valuable to the learner and people they interact with in understanding our world and ourselves.
I worry that a focus on classifying educational initiatives as “innovative” is exclusionary. It drives an emulation of a particular style of education as positive, while everything else is in turn devalued. In addition, a lot of the initiatives that fall into the “innovative” category are at schools that for one reason or another don’t serve a diverse population in terms of learning needs, ethnicity, and income. So, I wonder if innovative is just another way of perpetuating power structures and relationships that are already present. I believe firmly in the importance of universal public education for all and an equality of opportunity within that system. If access to “innovative” programs is only available to those from a particular group, income level or learning ability then it falls short for me. I believe if we are pushing to change the nature of education then we need to also address the structure of the system that teaching and learning takes place within.
I’m excited to continue the discussions over the next couple days about changing practices in education in Canada. I hope those discussions will better tease out clearer descriptions of the practices that work to expand all students’ understandings of their world and themselves rather than lumping them under a jargon-like term such as innovation.