Creating and Nurturing a Culture of Innovation

by: Arti Sharma

Pursuing the best suited solution to a pedagogical need often means taking a gamble on something we have not tried before; it requires prioritizing teaching and learning needs while still being mindful of what is technically or strategically possible. In developing the latest version of Including Ourselves in the Change Equation with Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey, we had to step out of our comfort zones and ramp up on several fronts in order to best support the learning outcomes of the experience.

The Challenge

white drawings (gears, TV, camera, legos) against purple-grey backgroundRight from the start, this was an initiative with many firsts. It was our first SPOC (Small Private Online Class) on the School’s private instance of Open edX. One of the key learning experiences in the course -- the ability to capture, share and analyze personal journal entries -- relied heavily upon an updated custom x-block that made it possible to extend the core feature set of the learning platform. This was also the School's first foray into custom learning tool development using XBlock component architecture for the edX MOOC platform. It helped prepare the groundwork for future design and development of interoperable, discrete learning experiences. Videos for the course were among the first produced in the School’s new state-of-the-art digital studio. Support for users was non-standard -- we deviated from the norm of relying on central resources to outsourcing this responsibility to an external trusted partner.


Working on a project of this scale, nature, and intensity came with inherent challenges. It required collective commitment and active engagement from all involved. Success depended on our ability to be agile -- strategically and technically. It was also important to remain responsive to the evolving needs of the teaching team and learners. There were times we felt unprepared and apprehensive about our ability to truly prioritize pedagogical needs while attempting to establish a sustainable technology and support workflow.


Such intensely focused work with little room for error offered several valuable insights. It exposed the dichotomy that often exists between the need to innovate and the need to deliver on time. Innovation and creativity, within the constraints of time-bound elements, can present a unique challenge. On this project, it helped to acknowledge this challenge upfront and approach the work ahead of us with the mindset of doing the best that we can. In retrospect, that "best" was fairly ambitious and it pushed us all just enough to encourage us to contribute meaningfully. It also helped the team embrace the idea of being intentionally experimental and begin accepting the notion that not all of our work is going to come with a clearly defined plan with familiar language and signposts that we have spent years learning. This is an uncomfortable feeling, not unlike being in a new country with an unfamiliar culture. It feels strange but oddly rewarding at the same time. These are promising signs, indicative of a team trying to adjust to constantly changing expectations and landscape.


To be truly transformative and responsive to the School's evolving needs around innovation in teaching and learning, the TLL needs to lead and facilitate change while still remaining true to its mission of creating effective teaching experiences for use within HGSE and elsewhere. As a team, we need to be fully committed to developing and nurturing a culture of intentional experimentation, one that enables effective cross-functional collaboration and develops a lasting environment of trusted partnership.

Image Credit: Elias Polcheira.

See also: Organization