Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Neither strategy nor "space" to innovate is enough

Read this piece – Why CIO’s, IT and Faculty need to find common ground on technology – by David Wiley yesterday as it did the rounds. The article argues that the focus of the CIO/IT on highly reliable systems is a mismatch for the needs of innovation in learning and teaching. It brings up the tension between standard systems and rogue systems (aka shadow systems). The solution to this is a space – a policy space – that enables innovation.

In general, I am sympathetic to this argument, but I also don’t think it truly captures what is required for innovation in contemporary learning and teaching.

I then had a real laugh when I read the comments. The comments suggested that there was a misconception underpinning Wiley’s argument. In particular, that it’s not the responsibility of the CIO to maintain uptime. That’s the CTO’s job. The CIO should be innovative, they should be focused on strategy and on how to enable innovative ways to use technology.

I’m not convinced that either side has found the solution.

The idea that strategic thinking by a CIO will result in innovation in learning and teaching is, based on the literature and research I’ve seen, essentially wrong. That’s not where innovation originates. There are a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones is that being strategic inevitably leads to large scale projects and projects are based on incorrect understanding of the world. This essay – The seemingly peculiar property of projects – explains these problems and offers the solution – Tinkering.

And tinkering is where the “space” for innovation faces a challenge. I haven’t gotten to the stage of abstract principles, so instead I’ll talk about specifics. I’m currently using BIM in my teaching. To tinker with BIM while I’m using it, BIM needs to both have access to the institutional data/systems and yet be in a space where I can play. Without the institutional data I can’t use it effectively within the rest of the organisation. But without the space to play, I can’t tinker. There’s more, but taxi duty awaits.


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  1. You really got me thinking through this David. I agree with Wiley, and from my own experience, that one of the core issues is that IT has become the five 9s. Thats the KPI and measuring stick – but that mentality is at odds with innovation as it should have sense of delinquency.

    Out of all this I’m really starting to really question what *is* innovation. It’s become the catch cry for too much – any change is now an innovation it seems.

    But is innovation the effect and not the cause? Is innovation what happens as a result of thinking, tinkering, playing and experimenting – but those things in isolation cannot really be considered aninnovation of themselves? Is innovation really just insight disguised as a product or process?

    • There’s a lot of good questions built in here and some that I’m still developing myself.

      I think strategy is a more dangerous cage than the five 9s. As the comments on Wiley’s article suggestion, a lot of people see strategy as the source of innovation. For me strategy – as implemented in most universities – is faddish. They don’t know enough to be innovative so they have to chase the fads – MOOCs etc.

      Once strategy becomes important I’ve seen IT limit what they do to something that can be seen to implement/support the strategy regardless of the reality. You can’t do X, it’s not in the strategic plan.

      What is innovation? Interesting question. Being the nth university to implement a MOOC doesn’t strike me as innovative. Disruptive or otherwise.

      Have to write and read more about this.

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