Our March guest bloggers, Randy Bass and Bret Eynon, collaborated on a recent issue of Academic Commons devoted to new media and the technology of teaching and learning. Mr. Bass is assistant provost for teaching and learning initiatives at Georgetown University. Mr. Eynon is the assistant dean for teaching and learning at LaGuardia Community College.
When it comes to innovations in teaching and learning, higher education seems like the last to know and the slowest to respond. In every other way, we push at the frontiers of knowledge, ask critical questions, take risks. In all other realms of research, practices of peer review, dialogue, accountability, and replication engender innovation. Why is it the opposite for teaching and learning?
The problem is that we have no tradition of connecting the edge to the center, no established practices that enable us to turn the individual breakthrough into something more than idiosyncratic. We have little capacity to understand the potentially transformative quality of even small innovations. In our 20 years of working with teachers of all kinds, this never seemed more true to us than now, or more urgent. It has never seemed more important to cultivate the idea of “R&D” for teaching and learning.
This requires at least four shifts in thinking and action.
First, throw out old assumptions about diffusion of innovation, early adopters, and mainstream faculty. Professors who teach with what might look like traditional pedagogies now themselves might be active bloggers in their own discipline. What might look like small implementations with new social applications can have a significant impact on student experience—even if they don’t showcase as models. We need to stop thinking of “innovation” as one half of a binary, something that is either present or absent.
Second, we need to recognize that learning has expanded far beyond what higher education can handle at the moment. This is the phenomenon we have called invisible learning, the rise of those dimensions of learning that are undervalued in higher education: emotional and affective dimensions, risk taking, uncertainty, confidence and motivation, personal identity, and the critical roles they play in cognitive and intellectual development.
Third, we must create communities within institutions that truly engage experimentation in the context of inquiry and systematic improvement. Every campus should have its own R&D processes that nurture transformative practices. Every campus should be asking what it means to create such a space. How can structures of accountability nurture creativity?
Fourth, we need to engage new social tools to develop a culture of knowledge building around teaching and learning. That means letting go of 20th-century models for what the scholarship of teaching and learning might look like and thinking about how local expertise on teaching can become the basis for shared open educational resources. Similarly, we need to figure out how research on teaching and learning can be made accessible to practitioners as part of a day’s work.
In our next blog posts, we will expand on each of these areas.