Technology-rich innovation in schools

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Modelling innovation and reform
Key ideas and origins
What are core considerations embodied in the ODS innovation model?
Innovation and reform
What is innovation? What is reform?
Innovation model
What does a visual representation of the innovation model look like?
Innovation and technology
What technolocy changes constitute innovation? What forces are at play?
Key ideas embodied in the model
Multiple forces

Top-down, bottom-up and side-side interactions shape the activities in this model of innovation.

Field work
Three main phases are strategically informed by field work and reflection on actual experiences.

Three key phases
Stimulating, incubating and accelerating are three main phases throughout the process, each with its own focus and concerns.

People are key
Individual and team development is central to the model, which also recognizes different and changing roles played by teachers, educational leaders and policymakers.

Some factors in innovation settings can be manipulated, others are fixed – both powerfully affect the uptake and use of new ideas, at micro, meso and macro levels.
  Model origins
The main objective of Open Discovery Space (ODS) is to mainstream eLearning in schools and national policies of the EU member states. ODS supports Action 68 of the Digital Agenda for Europe through an innovation, as it offers: A web-based resource giving teachers access to teaching and learning materials.

The model for change that underlies the ODS work is relevant to other technology-rich efforts to achieve productive change in schools. The model was originally conceived to prescribe ODS project activities. After the project was launched, the model has been updated to reflect the lessons learned based on real world experiences.

The model presented in this chapter describes how each element has been undertaken in the ODS project. The combination of authentic examples and clear guidelines make the ODS model presented here a clear and accessible resource for educational leaders.

Click here to visit the ODS YouTube channel, which offers much more background and examples from the ODS initiative.

What is innovation? What is reform?
Innovation is characterized as a bottom-up/grassroots approach, based on internal processes; whereas reform is characterized as a top-down approach, either system-wide or anchored within several different institutions, based on external processes. The ODS model incorporates aspects of both innovation and reform.

Three characteristics of ODS illustrate aspects of innovation that are present in the underlying approach. First, there is a strong emphasis on stimulating broad involvement embracing all stakeholders at all levels: local/regional, national and European. Second, there is a hands-on approach to working with actors of change to ensure successful transformation – empowering teachers, school managers, and learners. Third, the approach explicitly supports excellence (centres of expertise and clusters), encourages dissemination of success stories (virtual eLearning communities and information portals), as well as promotes enhanced cooperation and experimentation. Across ODS (and thus, embedded in its model) is the central appreciation for human capacity and the need to share that across all dimensions of work, from the ground up.

At the same time, the formal, externally-based facets of change are crucial to success, particularly for within-country initiation. Classic elements of reform, these include the top-down pressures and incentives that pose powerful levers for change, such as: new assessment policies, new funding mechanisms, and revised curricular frameworks. Because sustainable change requires sound alignment between policy and practice, the connection with external agents (e.g. policymakers) remains an integral part of the ongoing process.

The ODS model of innovation and reform
An experience-based approach to technology-rich innovation in European schools

model stimulation

5 key components in the ODS model of innovation and reform
The model for change that underlies the ODS work is relevant to other technology-rich efforts to achieve productive change in schools.

This phase features the awakening of interest and the identification of promising pathways to technology- rich innovation. Needs analysis helps understand stakeholder concerns. Inspiration is sought by scanning the horizon. And innovators that can lead the work (from program champions to team coaches) are identified.

Field trials are undertaken early in the process to (1) engage key stakeholders; as well as (2) to learn important lessons that can inform the rest of the project. Like mini-innovations themselves, field trials participation often prompt creative developments, and are especially helpful for studying localized adaptations.

Incubation refers to the steady, supportive development of new learning, techniques or methods so that sustained development can occur. During this phase, innovation capacity is cultivated so that the change can become self-generative.

Whereas field trials fostered the development and testing of new ideas, scenarios portray the transition from small pilots to stable ways of working under regular teaching and learning circumstances. Scenarios are informed by the experiences to date, and lay the foundation for the final phase of acceleration.

Once technology-rich innovation is up and running in representative settings, attention is turned to issues of sustained maintenance so that they can continue. This includes exploiting the knowledge available within the change setting and establishing routines for continuous quality assessment.

How do innovation and reform relate to changing technologies?
About changing technologies in schools
Technology-rich innovation is a term used often, in ODS and elsewhere. This is an umbrella term for teacher and school led change involving any kind of technology. But these days, most people think especially of electronic technologies (e.g. computers, mobile devices) as well as the use of specific applications for learners (e.g. simulations, communication tools) and/or teachers (e.g. electronic access to lessons plans or assessment rubrics). The rationale and goals of technology-rich innovation vary tremendously. The range includes: increasing equitable access to resources for remote schools; fostering Europe’s cultural pluralism; serving the educational needs of all students; and stimulating active learning.

Many people may be involved in technology-rich innovation, and of course each setting is unique. But across most innovations, attention is typically required for at least three core groups of actors: policymakers, teachers and educational leaders. Policy makers are those positioned to activate top-down interaction in some way. This includes (national, state or local) representatives of government, as well as representatives of teacher associations, funding bodies, curriculum agencies and assessment boards. Here, we use the term, teachers, broadly – to represent all educational practitioners who interact directly with pupils. In addition to regular classroom teachers, this includes classroom aids, therapists, remedial teachers, special subject teachers and counsellors. This group is positioned to initiate bottom-up interaction. Educational leaders are those able to lead side-side interaction. This group includes, but is not limited to: headmasters, superintendents, department heads and instructional coaches. Educational leaders play critical roles in implementing policy. They also support the work of teachers both directly (e.g. by ensuring that professional development opportunities are regularly available) and indirectly (e.g. by creating a healthy and stably organization).

What forces are at play during change?
Various forces come into play during change, and the inter-dependencies between actors are central to the different types of interaction: top-down; bottom-up; and side-side. It is well understood that sustaining change requires a balance of pressure and support. Key activities in earlier stages of top-down reform as well as bottom-up innovation therefore frequently require processes that seek or enable alignment of priorities and goals across the key stakeholder groups. By later stages, the driving forces have typically shifted hands. Whether initiated top down (e.g. by policy makers) or bottom-up (e.g. by teachers), the sustained maintenance of change is greatly dependent on the educational leadership present.

School-school interactions were major factors that contributed to the successful introduction of a new subject in Dutch secondary schools.

When schools saw how others handled the new curriculum they were both inspired to participate and reassured that doing so would be within their reach.

boy   The importance of side-side interactions is comparatively less well documented as a force that helps initiate change, but is known to be especially important for developing change. Side-side interaction is therefore needed to enable schools to ascertain the degree to which a particular change is within their ‘zone of proximal implementation’ (ZPI). McKenney (2013) refers to the ZPI as distance between what teachers and schools can implement independently and what they can implement through guidance or collaboration. The ODS model designs for the zone of proximal implementation by planning for implementation scaffolding (e.g. externally-led coaches, workshops or subsidies) to fade away in a timely fashion, while simultaneously developing the ownership and expertise among practitioners that will engender the desire and ability to locally sustain change.


This booklet was produced via the Open Discovery Space project, partially funded by the European Commission CIP PSP Grant agreement 297229.