What is Your Customer’s Definition of Innovation?

In a recent engagement, I spoke with teachers across the country and asked them, “What was the last innovative thing you did with your students?”  Among the answers I got were:

·        “I flipped one of my lessons.”

·        “I employed Project-Based Learning.”

·        “For one unit, I had my students set their goals and choose how they were going to demonstrate their learning.” 

When I asked them, “How did you go about that?” among the answers I got were:

·        “The students all have iPads, so I pulled together some videos and a list of what each student should know before the next class.  Then they built a Quizlet based on their learning and shared it with a peer.  We worked through those questions in class.”

·        “Students were given the rubric and then decided how they would demonstrate their learning.  We relied on the Google Ed suite to provide feedback and collaboration during the unit.  It was amazing not only how diverse and creative the projects were but also how easily I could see that students whose strength isn’t writing were so much more engaged.”

Note that no one mentioned a technology when recalling their latest innovation. They did talk about a specific technology when asked about implementation.  This was 100% consistent across the two dozen or so teachers I spoke with.  The innovation is the pedagogy. It is enabled by technology.  Not the other way around. 

At conferences, on websites, and in emails I see a barrage of “innovative products” and “innovative solutions,” but I rarely see a focus on the real innovation--the pedagogy.  I think Curriculum Associates might be the best example of a company who has consistently put pedagogy front and center.  Their iReady series has successfully supported blended learning classrooms for years and their growth has been strong and steady—even with the precarious nature of Common Core Standards and ongoing assessment changes.  This stands in contrast to a slew of companies driving “learning science and big data” whose relentless pursuit of reports and analytics are finding little purchase with overworked faculty. That is not to say that these products can’t be of great benefit to teachers and students, but the tool will not drive the behavior.  Just like owning a treadmill won’t make me run.

Before you tell your customer about your innovative product, you might want to ask them “what was the last innovative thing you did with your students?” and then show them how your product supports their innovation.