The Secret to Educational Innovation

For as long as I can remember, I have learned better in groups. I got started with connected learning early. I cheated my way through seventh-grade biology. By cheating, I mean used my classmates to help me complete my homework assignments. I often traded a Snickers bar in exchange for help. By today’s standards, I think this is called collaboration with an incentive.

Many educators are discussing how connections and collaborations are important to education. Will Richardson writes about this in his book Personal Learning Networks. He goes in-depth about teachers and students building a PLN to harness the power of the internet and social media.  These tools can forge connections and extend learning opportunities beyond the classroom.

How do connections lead to innovation in education? George Couros defines innovation as something “new and better.” With this definition, collaboration and connection are imperative to innovation. If you want to find something “new and better,” the best way is to stand on the shoulders of giants. Use their ideas to formulate your own.

In Steven Johnson’s TED Talk “Where Good Ideas Come From,” he makes the case for success favoring the connected mind. He also debunks the historical concept of the ‘eureka moment.’ He says that ideas are not a single thing. There’s no light bulb that suddenly switches on, or an apple falling on your head. Ideas usually take time to incubate, and they are most often cobbled together from other ideas within our networks. He states that historical breakthroughs happened in coffee shops and around conference tables when people shared their thoughts with others.



The concept of cobbling together ideas ties in with Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix. He defines remix as “combining existing materials to produce something new.” If you want to be an innovative educator that does things ‘new and better,’ copy, transform and combine the work of others. George Lucas didn’t pull Star Wars out of the ether; he remixed several ideas from earlier films. This is what we need to do as educators.



Austin Kleon makes a similar argument in his book Steal Like An Artist. He comments that bad artists steal from a few, while great artists steal from many. Basically, he claims we are the sum of our influences, and our job is to collect as many good ideas as we can, so we have plenty to choose from. He recommends keeping a ‘swipe file’ where we archive good ideas for later. He goes on to say that we need to see ourselves as part of a creative lineage. While this is true for artists, it is also directly transferable to educators looking for ideas for their classes and schools.



To summarize, connections are the secret to innovation. If you’re looking for new and better educational practices, reach out to other educators. It’s an absolute must. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are the 21st Century coffee shops where we express ideas and share resources. Find a lineage of like-minded educators sharing ideas. Cobble those ideas together. Copy, transform and combine them into your own remix that will work for your students. Keep a ‘swipe file’ using Pocket or Diigo to earmark ideas for later. Don’t be afraid to let an idea marinate while you continue to search for other pieces to make it work better, but keep working on it.

If you are an educator who found this post helpful or useful, I’ll gladly accept a Snickers bar in return. I mean, collaboration with an incentive, right?

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