The key to building a new culture of learning is to use the communication opportunities afforded by technology to foster and support innovation, says Sheila MacNeill.
What is an innovation support centre? And what does someone who works there actually do to support innovation? Well, as Facebook would say “it’s complicated”.
A central tenant of the Centre for Educational Technology, Interoperability and Standards has been to support and develop the effective use of educational technology standards.
So we have been involved in helping the uptake and adoption of such things as metadata (data about data) in learning resources, formats such as content packaging for sharing and exchanging resources.
We’ve also encouraged extending the use of virtual learning environments, through integration of widgets and the use of the learning technology interoperability specification (integrating different technologies), and most recently learning analytics.
But how do we do that? Well, there is direct contact with standards bodies that involves lots of pretty techie meetings and sharing back and forth actual practice via engagement with our community.
Regular face-to-face meetings have evolved and are increasingly supplemented by online communication and sharing, most notably through our use of blogs and other social media channels, particularly Twitter.
Sometimes I jokingly say what I actually do is type and go to meetings, as most of my life seems to be spent in front of my laptop answering emails, writing blog posts or on a train going to a meeting somewhere, where I usually sit in front of my laptop, tweeting.
However, there is more to it than that. One of the key elements of supporting innovation is fostering open cultures to share ideas and practice.
The growth of social media has been quite transformational in this respect as it makes sharing new ideas almost instantaneous as there’s no need to wait for a face-to-face meeting or to clog up people’s email boxes with updates on mailing lists.
I have found my own practice transformed through being able to keep in touch with people in between meetings through lightweight and informal services like Twitter.
At the same time, I’ve also had some really meaningful interactions with colleagues via Twitter, and have been able to nurture and extend my own professional network.
My blog has also become an increasingly important way for me to share my reflections on, for example, some of the truly inspiring and excellent work carried out by institutions funded through various Jisc (formerly Joint Information Systems Committee) programmes. It also provides a way to easily let people know of other developments such as new standards, and some slightly leftfield ideas I may have.
In many ways, blogs can become a place to store professional memory, and a key way to engage with colleagues in the sector. It is also a reflection of all the good practice I am able to “soak up” from the sector and then share back out, like a kind of innovation sponge.
I am in an incredibly privileged position in that I am paid to engage with many people in the sector, and share that experience without the added complications of teaching commitments.
Providing space (and funding) for this sort of work is essential for innovation to thrive.
But, as we are all too aware, our funding climate is changing and support for innovation is dwindling.
Our job now is to find a way to adapt and thrive in our changing climate to ensure innovation continues to be supported and shared.