According to WordReference.com, the word “Frontier” means:
an undeveloped field of study; a topic inviting research and development; “he worked at the frontier of brain science”
This notion rang true recently for me after Gary Ebels, a professor at GRCC forwarded me an article from the Wired Campus entitled: “Randy Bass and Bret Eynon: We Need R&D for Teaching With Technology”
In this article, Randy Bass, from Georgetown University, and Bret Eynon, from LaGuardia Community College posed the following statement and question:
“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?”
I thought this was an excellent way of posing the ongoing work and challenges facing education in this highly technical, fast moving, and interactive world in which we find ourselves. Why is it so difficult for educational institutions in adopting new technologies and methodologies? Why is it that we get stuck on theory and principle but can’t quite make it to methods and practices? How can institutions meet change head on and accept it, even though it may reduce control from the departments and individuals that are used to heeding control?
I think Mr. Bass and Mr. Eynon are correct in saying that one of the reasons is that we have little means to take an individual idea or technology from breakthrough to the mainstream. One problem is that for many institutions, the institution’s policies, procedures, and operations exist for the purpose of simply maintaining the status-quo of an institution. And that is why I think it is important to underscore the suggestion in the article. That is, “…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?”
All this being said, educational institutions are approaching a sort of “transformative tipping point” (if you will) where if they don’t change, they run the risk of becoming old and outdated in their desire to preserve the past, as others pass them by. We need to set aside our rigid formal policies and procedures that restrict innovation and creativity and proceed forward. It is true that we can’t do everything, since trying to do everything results in not doing anything really really well. Hence, as the article suggests, every college needs an “R&D department”.
Change happens quickly in our next generation world, and those that are successful will be fast to adopt new technologies and teaching methodologies. It is no longer good enough to be the biggest-on-the-block, you also need to be able to adapt quickly while keeping momentum and the mission dynamic. Put another way, it’s really about flattening the organization so that flexibility can breed enthusiasm which encourages creativity that leverages innovation.
Understandably, with growth and change comes uncertainty, disagreement, etc. but through working together collaboratively with flexibility, I believe this frontier can be explored and leveraged.
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