Op-Ed: Integrating Innovation into Today’s Educational Experiences

Adam D. Fried | March 14, 2016 | Opinion
The future will demand an unprecedented degree of innovation and technology knowhow, from preschool to high-school graduation, and beyond

Adam D. Fried
It’s difficult to imagine an aspect of day-to-day existence in 2016 that hasn’t been touched or even transformed by innovation. It’s even more challenging to envision a future in which innovative technology won’t play a central role in every event, every career, and every life.

This is why it’s essential that our nation’s entire educational structure enhances long-term planning related to innovation, while quickly and consistently upgrading the advanced tools our students utilize. The new economy requires a previously unimagined level of high-tech knowhow, and our schools are responsible for cultivating it.

The process must begin in pre-school and continue up through high-school graduation. It’s a high-definition network that enables students in a New Jersey classroom to interact directly with peers in Finland, China, or other distant places. As we build learning communities, we’ll need to deemphasize the products we use in favor of an increased focus on how they’re integrated into educational experiences. Leading education strategist Steven Hodas often speaks of innovation needing to transform from a noun to a verb. Simply put, when innovation moves from a thing to an action, it evolves from training to learning — and enhanced teacher growth and student performance are the key outcomes.

At the recent Tri-State Innovation Summit at Ramapo College — sponsored by the Bergen County Association of School Administrators (BCASA) and EdSurge — my call-to-action was to begin to develop a common language that ensures innovation-readiness. From English to science, to mathematics, social studies, music, art, and every other educational experience in which students participate, we need to be prepared to initiate positive change. Have we created an educational ecosystem that allows innovation to evolve and grow? Our need for education-based innovative enhancements doesn’t conclude with students; we must also ensure that our faculty, staff, administration, boards of education, and communities at large all have access to the most advanced, innovative, and creative thinking available.

Our nation’s school districts work diligently to maximize innovation in each and every one of their classrooms. One of their most-effective tactics is direct, face-to-face connection with recognized innovative technology experts. Developing this critical common language around our ecosystems will be our next steps in this process. How do we develop robust lab sites? How do we speak about procurement? How do we know that what we did worked, so that our staff members are empowered to collect and utilize data? To begin our evolution as districts, we as educators will need to have essential, in-person conversations, not just with sales representatives, but with the developers as they begin their process to scale.

At the Innovation Summit, representatives from every Bergen County school district, plus hundreds of others from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and around the country, gathered to focus on and learn about how we lean into innovation integration. The summit focused on creating an environment for thought-leaders to engage with developers who are actively planning and designing the next phases of classroom innovation.

I believe that it is essential that we as thought leaders have this opportunity, and the Innovation Summit was the ideal venue. It provided for some extremely meaningful dialogue, both among individual educators and, most importantly, between educators and developers. It’s vital that developers get feedback, both positive and critical, from professionals who know how children learn. The summit gave attendees a chance to say, “That’s an absolutely terrific idea,” or “That just will not work with your target group.” And, most significantly, it allowed us to begin the process of developing a common language as thought leaders throughout our school districts.

Therein lies the benefit of such a dialogue. One emphasis of the summit was that this conversation can result in creating an effective learning tool that does not rely on legacy providers, but on the very people using the innovation. The structure of our current system often inhibits our best new ideas — technological or otherwise — directing them toward a single silo, without any benefit to students. Such situations are undoubtedly a waste of creativity and institutional credibility and also a lost opportunity to evolve into something better. With innovation technology in particular, the sharing of positive developments on a broad scale not only benefits an increased number of individuals, but also enables districts to identify wiser, more effective strategies related to a successful implementation.

For us to succeed at integrating the latest, most potent technology enhancements into our schools, it’s essential that we develop the habit of thinking far beyond just “my school” or “my district.” Instead, we need to cultivate a perspective that views this nation’s young people as a single group of essential individuals who aren’t segmented by income level, ethnic or racial background, or geography. The Tri-State Innovation Summit ignited that conversation.

For hundreds of education leaders throughout our region and beyond, this was an absolute game-changer, in terms of how they both employ and think about innovation. In turn, this will help them make significant improvements to their home districts and, by extension, to the educational experiences of the children we serve.