In this post Dr Sarah Dyer, Director the Education Incubator, reflects on her visit to California to explore innovation in higher education.
The Education Incubator has been challenging academics at Exeter to reimagine learning in higher education since its launch in 2017. Our Incubator Fellows have responded by running innovative projects that have the potential to improve student outcomes. Their projects have explored how the university should reconfigure learning spaces. They have developed and evaluated digital tools, providing rich interactive resources in maths and science education. This year a fascinating project is exploring how VR technology can enhance the study of ancient didactic poetry, and another team of academics are developing a module which will equip students with digital skills to succeed in the contemporary workplace shaped by technological innovations.
Shortlisted for an International Award
November 29-30th I attended the Reimagine Education conference and award ceremony, held this year in San Francisco. This was a fantastic opportunity to see how others are responding to the challenge to embrace the new possibilities afforded to education by digital innovations, and develop education that equips us to thrive in the Knowledge Age. Attending this conference allowed me to spread the word about InVEnTA: Interactive Virtual Environments for Teaching and Assessment, an Incubator project, which was shortlisted for the ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching Award. There was a fantastic response from the audience with questions and expressions of interest. I also had many fascinating conversations about the Incubator model with educators working in schools and universities.
Collaboration – the key to future success
The conference included presentations from educators, edtech initiatives and projects, representing school, higher education, and informal learning such as private tutoring. A theme that emerged was the use of technology to enable peer learning and collaboration. The overall prize award winner was Peerwise, a platform developed at the University of Auckland, enabling students to create assessment questions, feedback and rate each other’s questions. It neatly encapsulates sound, evidence-based educational principles (about social and active learning) and contemporary mores and experiences (of user generated content) to create a valuable and adaptive education enhancement.
Other presenters provided thought-provoking takes on emergent drivers of innovation and on worthwhile approaches to education. I was most interested in hearing about the institutional structures that support innovation and change in educational practices.
Professor Suzie Derbyshire spoke about Queensland University of Technology’s Real World Learning 2020 vision. The vision is facilitated through curriculum review and staff development, including an explicit focus on investing in and rewarding innovation, and building a culture of tolerance towards risk and the possibility of failure, which true innovation requires. As an example, modules can carry ‘innovation flags’ which identify changes of practice for those reviewing student feedback, thereby taking account of fluctuations in feedback during the innovative process.
Ben Nelson spoke about Minerva Schools at KGI, of which he is the founder. A university, only established in 2013, and therefore able to imagine the ‘University’ anew. Although it has halls of residence, there are no teaching buildings as all classes are online active learning seminars.
These examples provide a springboard for thinking through how we can create environments that support and reward educators.
Bringing the learning to Exeter
I combined attending the conference with other visits. I went to Stanford’s D school, where I was hosted by their Director of Teaching and Learning Carissa Carter, who showed me around and introduced me to their fellows in residence. I really enjoyed seeing their teaching spaces, and discussing educational design, and frameworks for innovation. The latter topic was one I also explored when I met with Ben Werdmuller, who has been involved in supporting entrepreneurs through a media start up accelerator. Again, communities of learners, the need to support failure, and core values transfused our conversation. My task over the coming months will be to integrate my learning from these conversations in to the Incubator model.