How innovative are we?

Me, back in my punk phase.
Me, back in my punk phase.

Around these parts, we tend to make a lot of innovation. We write posts about cool new things we do, partly because we like telling people about such stuff, partly because we think you’d like to such stuff too.

Of course, we’re also very sensitive and certainly don’t fetishise innovation: it’s got limits and there’s a time and a place for it all. We’re not going to make you do something you don’t want to, or need to.

But there’s another question that sits to one side in all of this: just how innovative are we in any case?

I ask this because I found myself in a conversation recently where I had to admit that I’ve not done anything fundamentally innovative in my practice for several years, and I couldn’t decide if that was a problem or not.

The reasons I gave to my interlocutor were that I didn’t see clear benefit in changing what I do, nor did I really have the time to change what I do in any big way. In that I sound those colleagues we all have who stick with their 20-year old lecture notes and format: I just happen to be stuck at a different resting point.

Maybe ‘stuck’ isn’t the right word, because I’m still really keen to try out new things, but my opportunities have been a bit limited of late. One of the greatest ironies of being an Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching is that you don’t have much time for actual teaching. And what I have been teaching in recent years is all stuff that I’ve taught for several years, subjects that I’ve explored pretty thoroughly, pedagogically speaking.

Of course, now I have a research fellowship, I’ll be teaching more (yes, I know). I have a new module this spring where I want to try a more ambitious flipped format, using the university’s new lecture-capture system. The subject matter – EU politics – is one I’ve taught before, but it’s been a while, so there’s plenty to get my teeth into.

But even this opportunity looks a bit limited to me: I’ve been doing a more limited form of flipping for several years elsewhere, so it’s more a matter of degree than a step-change. Assuming everything that our e-learning unit has told bears out, then even the technology side of things should be child’s play (maybe we’ll come back to that one).

But again, does this matter?

Largely, I would have to say that it doesn’t. I’m still very focused on giving my students a high quality learning environment, just as I am on making sure that my practice is adapted to their needs, rather than to mine (if it wasn’t, then I’d just dig out my old class notes).

In addition, I’ve also come to appreciate that it’s not only in the classroom that innovation can occur. At the risk of sounding, well, American about it, this blog has been a really positive step for me, because I’ve been able to get many more ideas and reflections on my practice, as well as being able to  get involved in what other people do. I might not be able to completely re-invent what happens here in my home department, but I can discuss what happens elsewhere, be that directly or indirectly.

Innovation isn’t just about what we do for ourselves and for our own students; it’s also about what we do for others. Maybe this is what we should remember when we feel that we’ve slowed down.

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