Innovation Tech Paradox in Education

Governments are throwing money at Innovation initiatives ($405 million in Queensland).

Big Business are constructing innovation labs in their offices to promote innovative startup thinking from their employees.

What is Education doing?  Oh don’t worry (note: I am prone to sarcasm!), the education sector is swamped with business-driven technology marketing; we go to conferences and educational Tech exhibits to be bombarded by salespeople who can help us teach better via their new learning management system, their suite of applications, or a range of tech toys. Our government further supports all of this by mandating and prescribing the digital technologies curriculum from primary through to secondary schooling and expect all teachers to hop on board!  Teachers are given training here & there, but not many experience a real in-depth learning into computer science or how to integrate digital technology authentically into their teaching.  Actually, there are many teachers and leadership who probably don’t even know what I mean when I write “integrate digital technology authentically” because you need to first have IT skills and also have good understanding of how technology is used by our students and in society’s workplaces.  The IT skills and IT training experience of teachers is so widely different depending on who you talk to.  I am also quite alarmed by the many leaders at schools who have professed to me that “all” of their teaching staff educate with a “digital pedagogy”!  This is quite a statement and it doesn’t take long to realise that it is simply untrue. I feel sorry for good teachers (with little IT skills) who then feel completely let-down by the school when they realise their students’ parents expect that they teach in a highly digitally integrated way.

What’s the problem?  Why are there many teachers who are not getting adequate Digital Technologies training?

We are told to INNOVATE and to embed digital technologies in teaching and learning in authentic ways.  When I was at University a few years ago finishing up my degree, I was told numerous times that I, and other “new” teachers with IT background, will be “change agents” (and I believed it!).  The idealistic story that we received from both University and many researched articles, were that new IT-skilled teachers were the change agents that would come in to schools, disrupt them and start the magical educational transformation that would finally allow schools to catch-up to the realities of society and our digital workplace. Ha!

What they don’t talk much about at University, at least not in my experience, is the overall, slow pace of change in our education systems.  The majority of schools that I have taught at, or schools that my friends & family teach in, generally have the same thing in common; a school culture that is based on a traditional organisational hierarchy. Obviously, the problem here is that most of the “change agents” that arrive in schools are on the bottom of this hierarchy!  Of course there are some exceptions; I have talked to some schools that have true open-door policies and a culture that celebrates innovation and implements change quickly however, this is not the norm.

To increase the digital technology performance, skills and knowledge of a school will require that teachers have time to learn, play and understand technology. Leadership needs to support this, not just once here and there, but in a big, long-term way.  Unfortunately, many school leaders work in the same way as big businesses (due to their traditional hierarchy setups), their business model (how they get things done!) is based on incremental innovations. So they focus on the business they already have, push the same product but make small adjustments (innovations) to it incrementally. Davila & Epstein (2014) warn in The Innovation Paradox that “When new ideas do surface, a narrow focus on enhancing current strategy can contribute to an organisation’s failure to capitalize on those opportunities. Companies simply get stuck in their old ways, while markets shift and form around them.” (p. 25)  Teachers, does this sound familiar?

I think I stumbled on this hierarchy problem first when I was on Practical experience while completing my degree: Do Teachers Eat their Young?

So, what do these “new” idealistic, transformation-driven teachers do?  How do they cope?  Do they stay in the profession of teaching, or do they leave?  I’m especially interested in the experience of IT teachers with IT industry background.  I have met a handful of us and we all seem somewhat disillusioned about our roles in education. I think eventually some of us leave the profession and some of us get used to hearing “slow down”.  I have met some that eventually get into leadership roles which allows them more flexibility, but of course with more power comes more responsibility (supposedly).

It is interesting that our Government tries to attract industry professionals into teaching and yet there doesn’t appear to be any support mechanisms to ensure that we stay!

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