Organizations across industries today have come to rely on innovation to remain relevant and effective in our constantly evolving society. Whether by updating their products, processes, or business models or developing new ones from scratch, innovation allows companies to stay abreast of changing consumer needs and expectations, and to remain competitive against similar companies in their space.
The innovation process is responsible for many of the most popular products and services we know today, including app-ordered food delivery services, video streaming platforms, two-day shipping features from Amazon, and so much more. However, Karen Reiss Medwed, PhD—associate teaching professor and the assistant dean of networks, digital engagement, and partnerships in Northeastern’s Graduate School of Education—explains that innovation should be associated with more than just these large-scale projects. The education sector, for example, offers countless opportunities for change and evolvement that have the potential to impact students, parents, and educators for years to come.
Below, we explore the powerful significance of this innovative mindset among educators and offer tips for applying innovation in your educational institution today.
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What is Innovation in Education?
In general, innovation is based in the creation or redesign of products, processes, or business models for the benefit of an organization. Innovation in education is similarly focused on making positive changes, but in this case, these changes will directly benefit a classroom, school, district, university, or even an organization’s training and learning practices.
Educators and administrators take a variety of both large- and small-scale approaches to this process. For instance, innovation in education might include:
- An educator recognizing a need for ideas to be better shared among other teachers in their district and developing processes that more easily facilitate that.
- A professor identifying a gap in understanding among the students in their classroom and brainstorming new, creative ways to approach that topic.
- An administrator identifying the need for better communication between teachers and parents, and working to create an online system that allows for more transparency into their child’s progress.
While each of these forms of innovation is very different, each involves an educator following the innovation process in an effort to improve the ways in which the educational system functions.
Why is Innovation in Education Important?
Innovation is a vital component of progress across industries, and education is no different. “Schools don’t exist in a silo, teachers don’t exist in a silo, [and] businesses don’t exist in a different realm,” Reiss Medwed says. “We’re all at a table together, trying to solve the world’s problems.”
Innovation in education is especially significant, considering the young minds molded by the education system today will be those leading the charge for innovation tomorrow. And if the rapidly changing needs of the current workforce are any indication of what’s to come for future generations, this investment will be necessary in order to continue making progress at the speed and quality that we are today.
“Industry is moving at a rapid pace,” Reiss Medwed explains. “We’re living in the space of digital transformation. There are needs in business and in [other] industries that ten years ago, we never anticipated for the workforce, and as that rate of change takes off…we must [work to] catch up.”
To catch up, educators must update the outdated processes and approaches defining schools and universities across the country, and introduce practices that better prepare students to function in the future. This includes, most prominently, changes in curricula and hands-on exposure to the expansive digital tools being used across industries today.
How to Innovate in the Education Sector
Many professionals have ideas about how they might improve the educational system, yet very few possess the tools and support needed to turn their passion from an abstract idea into a reality.
Reiss Medwed believes that innovation in education includes three key steps:
- Examine your current situation. This should include an examination of your experience followed by a mental exploration of how that experience could be improved upon. Ask yourself three questions to get this process going, including, “What is the problem?” “How can I address this problem to make it better?” and “What tools do I have at my disposal to assist in this process?”
- Make Small-Scale Changes. Once you’ve explored the above questions and the answers are formalized, you should try to make that change on a small-scale within your own world.
- Broaden Your Approach & Accept to Feedback. Analyze the outcomes of that experiment and identify what further support might be needed to either hone the idea or restructure it all together.
This final step is perhaps the most important and will require the most time and effort. Within it, you will likely lean on existing data about your subject, which might include examining past artifacts, doing research, speaking with those who have tried to innovate in this space before you, and, perhaps most importantly, identifying your stakeholders.
“One of the big [components] of innovation in education is making sure students and parents are at the table,” Reiss Medwed says. “There’s hierarchy [in place] to keep those stakeholders out, but how can you innovate without the people who are your learners sitting with you in the process of design?”
To properly innovate with all the appropriate voices being heard, Reiss Medwed suggests “rolling out a broader-scale experience with all of the stakeholders engaged,” followed by a feedback loop. She similarly stresses the importance of self-reflection, including acknowledging when you need to “re-tool,” pivot in your process, cancel it altogether, or bring your idea to scale.
“We always want to be able to try something new [as educators],” Reiss Medwed stresses, “but we also have to be willing to fail at it, let it go, and move onto the next thing. Because innovation without the capacity of sustainability is just another experiment.”
Pursuing an EdD as an Aspiring Innovator
Innovators who have the experience and skills necessary to self-regulate this process will likely be able to make an impact in their industry. However, not all educators have attained this advanced ability by the time they are ready to start effecting change. For these individuals, obtaining an advanced degree such as a Doctor of Education (EdD) will provide the necessary training and guidance needed to innovate in this complex sector.
Learn More: EdD vs. Phd in Education
Many students in EdD programs work full-time as education professionals, bringing with them problems that they’re excited to solve and ideas about how to begin that process. In these scenarios, faculty in a program like Northeastern’s EdD provide a set of courses and feedback processes through which these ideas can develop.
“In the [Northeastern’s] Graduate School of Education, you’ll see both explicit courses on innovation and experiential learning, but also courses such as curriculum engaging with design thinking methodology,” Reiss Medwed says. “This approach to [the] integration of these competencies across the curriculum is part of what I think helps us advance students who are then prepared in their practice to apply this to their own work and see immediate results.”
Northeastern’s EdD program strategically incorporates these two vital aspects of training through an “experiential lens.” As working professionals already functioning in the education sector, students in this program can take what they’re learning in the classroom and immediately apply it hands-on to real-world scenarios. This is an incredibly beneficial approach, as the industry-leading professors in this program can offer useful feedback and insight to students as they work, strategically guiding them toward a successful innovation experience.
Reiss Medwed recalls one specific example of a student who came through a program within Northeastern’s Graduate School of Education and left with a full innovation plan in place. The student’s idea was to “develop a website that could connect educators to one another around the subject area she was teaching,” Reiss Medwed says.
During this student’s time at Northeastern, the faculty within the Graduate School of Education connected the aspiring innovator with peers who asked her targeted questions about her idea and faculty who gave her feedback about legal issues, budget considerations, and other advanced insights. She was then able to use “design thinking to prototype an idea and turn it into a plan that she could actually take back with her into her work,” Reiss Medwed says. Today, this student has a “fully launched community of practice” that she was able to create through her work at Northeastern.
“I think that everyone who [applies to] a graduate school of education is looking to make a difference in the world,” Reiss Medwed says. “But…if you’re coming to Northeastern as a student in the Graduate School of Education, you’re seeking out the tools and the support to make that change more explicit.”
Learn more about how a Doctor of Education from Northeastern can assist in your path toward educational innovation today.