At recent events in the UK and overseas, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the concept of pedagogical innovation in higher education. In particular, I focused on whether certain initiatives (often carrying flashy names) constitute pedagogical innovation and if so, against what criteria.
The key message of this blog post is this: many of such initiatives are not pedagogically innovative. They can be described in many other ways, including technologically innovative and sometimes disruptive. However, most fail to meet a basic criterion for innovative pedagogy: evidence that they improve (or have the potential to improve) student learning:
“Adapting to characteristics of students and responding to their development is an inherent aspect of pedagogy. […] These adaptations can be considered innovations if are based [sic] on a new idea and when they have the potential to improve student learning, or when they are linked with other outcomes […]”
(Vieluf, Kaplan, Klieeme & Bayer, 2012. Emphasis added).
The inclusion of a ‘technology layer’ does not imply change to a teaching method, never mind to pedagogy as a field of study. In other words, incorporating technology into learning and teaching does not mean that we are being innovative, although many seem to tempted to believe that it does. Diana Laurillard wrote in 2008 that education was on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies, but it had been on that brink for decades. Indeed, the learning technology literature is packed with over-promises and under-delivery. In our case, linking pedagogic innovation to the incorporation of technology alone is a poor approach to positive and lasting change in education.
A number of today’s practices demonstrate how teaching can make use of new tools. While those practices can sometimes be effective, very often they’re implemented within yesterday’s mindset and logic. Indeed, we seem to forget -for example- decades of lessons learned from distance education as we become dazzled by the floodlights of so-called innovations.
I have referred to these recent initiatives as old wine in new bottles. A few examples, with their sexy names, can be found below. The list is by no means exhaustive.
I have indicated that while old wine is generally good, so are some of these new bottles. This article is not against such initiatives. On the contrary, I invite colleagues to critique them while stressing the importance of researching them in different educational settings. These initiatives should not be described as pedagogically innovative, particularly before sufficient evidence emerges, so let’s not get dazzled by new names to describe old practices with a bit of tech mixed in.
Prof Alejandro Armellini
University of Northampton
Vieluf, S., Kaplan, D., Klieeme, E. & Bayer, S. (2012). Teaching Practices and Pedagogical Innovation: Evidence from TALIS. OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264123540-en