As invitations go an application form might not be the most anticipated one we ever receive. Application forms are invitations though; an invitation to dream a new project, to create new working relationships, to learn new things. The Education Innovation Lab application form is also an invitation to think about change in universities in a new way.
Our previous Incubator application form didn’t sit right with me. For a couple of years, we have been using design thinking to inform our work with Incubator fellows who are trialling and evaluating innovations in university education. Design thinking asks us to be prepared to interrogate our assumptions about the problem/situation we are addressing and to learn about it from others’ perspectives. If we do this right, our ideas about how to address it – about what needs doing and how we involve people – should change. And yet, we used to ask applicants to tell us in detail about the solutions/improvements they had already designed. In part, we did this because it helped us in the Incubator with our budgeting and project planning. This is putting the cart before the horse. We know in education about the importance of alignment between aims, activities and accountability. Our new forms bring these into alignment.
When we wrote these application forms, it was also really important to recognise that everyone working in universities is completely exhausted. We needed to acknowledge the huge amount of work and care people have given already this year and not ask them to do anything else that isn’t absolutely necessary. Doing the work ourselves, of deciding what is really important – and what isn’t – in our application process is a small way of showing our appreciation. I think it is also important as a way of making the Lab more inclusive for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the work that this year has entailed. I hope people feel in some way that we see and appreciate all they have done to teach and support students this year.
Of course, publishing the application form has invited more people into a conversation about the Education Innovation Lab itself. I am having more conversations about it, both with potential applicants and others who are interested. Just as I will be asking project fellows to open their ideas up, to test their assumptions, and to learn about their projects from others’ perspectives, I am needing to do the same. In going ahead and piloting the Lab we are taking seriously those principles of testing our assumptions, empathising with those our work impacts, and learning through doing. It’s good to be constantly reminded what the process of innovation can feel like. I love that we will be building a community creating change together.
The deadline for applications to the Lab is 31st March. Students can apply here: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/teaching-excellence/educationincubator/about/slartwo/
Academics and Professional Service colleagues can apply here: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/teaching-excellence/educationincubator/about/innovationlab/