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Margin Notes

Academics – innovation laggards?

Two academics argue that "when it comes to innovations in teaching and learning, higher education seems like the last to know and the slowest to respond." Please discuss.


A guest entry on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog takes a few shots at the general lack of innovation in teaching and learning within academe. The guest bloggers are Randy Bass and Bret Eynon, who also collaborated on a recent issue of the online resource Academic Commons devoted to new media and the technology of teaching and learning.

Here is the crux of their argument:

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?

The problem is that we have no tradition of connecting the edge to the center, no established practices that enable us to turn the individual breakthrough into something more than idiosyncratic. We have little capacity to understand the potentially transformative quality of even small innovations. In our 20 years of working with teachers of all kinds, this never seemed more true to us than now, or more urgent. It has never seemed more important to cultivate the idea of “R&D” for teaching and learning.

Does this seem a bit harsh? I have met so many enthusiastic professors who are keen to improve their teaching techniques and who are at least aware of the scholarship of teaching and learning, if not actively engaged in it. Mind you, that does not necessarily negate the bloggers’ point that individual’s small, idiosyncratic innovations are not being taken up in a more centralized and formal way. And while I think universities have made tremendous strides with the establishment of teaching support offices on nearly every Canadian campus, I can’t say that I get much sense that the scholarship of teaching and learning is a huge priority – that is, outside of the enthusiastic subset of professors who regularly attend the STLHE annual conference.

What do you think? Are academics laggards in this area?

Shameless plug: elsewhere on our site you’ll see this article offering tips on choosing a technology in teaching conference that’s right for you.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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