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The Secret to Scaling and Sustaining Innovation

There is much to celebrate about what is happening in classrooms around the globe. There is less to celebrate in schools. My point? We’ve known for years that there are many innovative teachers out there, doing extraordinary things with their students, but why does it continue to be so hard to scale that innovation across whole schools?

I would suggest the answer lies with benefit and culture.

When was the last time you walked into a bank?..that is, into a bank. Chances are you’ve used bank services within the past 7 days, but there’s a very good chance you haven’t been into a bank for several months. There are countless sectors of our lives that have been impacted by technology, but few have been as comprehensively transformed as banking. Indeed revolutionized might be more appropriate.

Not only do we rarely now go into a bank to get cash, as was a very regular habit, but in fact we are using less of it, given the plethora of ways in which we can now purchase goods and services. Not only is every minute detail of banking services managed by sophisticated computing services, but one only has to reflect on the chaos that happens on the rare occasions that a banking website goes down, to understand that complex technology services are a mandatory prerequisite for contemporary banking to exist.

Indeed for a sector of society that 30 or 40 years ago was viewed as one of our most conservative, and least likely to embrace change, radical transformation is now a reality. But banks still exist.

So what has this got to do with schools? To help us better understand the ways in which technology is impacting on education, it always helps to look at other sectors to gain insights on how we are doing. I will not spend any time debating the virtue or otherwise of selecting banking, suffice to say that while other useful examples do exist, I think there are some interesting observations we can make from looking at the way in which technology has been embraced in both sectors.

Every banking employee is required to be a competent user of technology. In fact each and every one of them in a modern bank has on-demand access to a computer at anytime. There is no longer a debate about whether technology is impacting on the daily lives of banking employees or users, but rather it is simply by how much. So why do we so often look forlornly at the state of computer use in our schools? Why is it that by comparison the impact computers have had in most of our schools is negligible, and in fact there are still some wanting to debate whether young people should even be using computers at school? Surely it cannot simply be that in banking we have clear accountability that is measured through profit, while in education we too often continue to debate what accountabilities we should be responding to?
I think the answer is quite simple; we have failed to show benefit.

In banking, at every level, it is obvious to every employee that technology allows them to do things they could not do before; it allows them to do things at a greater level of complexity that was not previously accessible to them. Is that the case in our schools?

We‘ve spent far too much time focusing on strategic implementation plans, digital literacy program, policyfests and research, and little or none on better articulating the benefit universal access offers for teachers..and their students. Additionally our use of computers has, for the most part, been so incremental that even in cases where there has been innovation, it is often not sustained …and barely anyone notices!.
Even a core school application such as attendance, which can be so readily implemented through technology is hardly seen at scale across schools systems around the world.

What is missing are the big steps. The changes that we can’t do without. Those innovations, like not going to the bank for cash, where the benefit is so profound, that there is no going back; and where its success breeds a culture of innovation that feeds on itself, and in turn genuinely transforms the learning experiences of our young people.

...as always, I’m interested in your thoughts...

Best regards,

May 16th, 2012 @ 11:51AM