Innovating Your Teaching? Grow Your Collaborative Project with the ASSETT Innovation Incubator
By Blair Young and Irfanul Alam
Change is hard. We grip to the routines, formulas, and practices we hold most sacred: from brewing our morning cup of coffee to preparing a beloved family recipe to how we teach. Yet we are all asked to “change things up” on a daily basis, like unexpectedly rerouting a drive due to road construction. When there really is no other option, we all have the capacity to pivot. And, what at first seems difficult can often lead to invigorating discoveries.
The ASSETT Innovation Incubator was designed to tap into our individual and collective drive to innovate. As an experimental pilot that launched three years ago, the Innovation Incubator encouraged faculty, staff, and students from across the College of Arts & Sciences to take a brave step into challenging long-standing teaching and learning traditions in higher education. Four interdisciplinary teams assembled to tackle active learning projects focused on teaching with technology including: Gamified Learning, Inclusive Data Science, Metacognition & Wellbeing, and Multimodal Participatory Publishing. Participants were called to work collaboratively across disciplines, breaking free from siloed course design, traditional assignments, authoritative knowledge production, and more. And, they each signed onto this deal before being faced with the biggest pivot of all — living, teaching, and learning through a global pandemic.
As the three-year innovation incubator pilot comes to a close this fall, the ASSETT team, along with incubator participants, are reflecting on the successes and areas for improvement emerging from this great experiment. We are doing so with gratitude for the creativity, perseverance, and faith — three qualities that are essential to any innovative endeavor — demonstrated by the incubator community. What did we learn about how to effectively experiment and innovate the ways that we teach and learn with technology? Take a look at the five key findings from a recent ethnography conducted for the ASSETT Innovation Incubator pilot. We hope that you will find insight here to apply to your own teaching evolution.
1. Innovation proliferates in a community setting.
To build a diverse, multistakeholder community we must meaningfully engage participants ranging from undergraduate students to non-tenure and tenure faculty to campus leadership using a community of practice model.
2. Experimentation and risk-taking need a framework.
From a detailed and transparent request for proposals to collaboratively setting expectations to openly communicating and getting feedback on pivots, teams can best experiment within a flexible, community-designed framework.
3. Break down hierarchies to enable collaboration and capacity building.
All participants have valuable contributions to make and new skills, tools, and knowledge to learn. When titles are left at the door and collaboration is the focus, creativity and growth can flourish.
4. Capacity for growth and experimentation expands and contracts.
Participants on innovative teams have different capacities that change over time. Acknowledge, support, and resource those changing capacities — how this happens should be an open conversation on collaborative teams.
5. Community thrives when a neutral facilitator(s) holds the space.
Someone needs to stand outside the process. A neutral facilitator, or team of facilitators, can support innovative collaborators to maintain perspective when their project feels too big and can ensure that there is room for diverse perspectives on the team to be considered with equal weight.
With this community feedback in mind, we are iterating the Innovation Incubator and adopting it as a permanent program at ASSETT and in the College of Arts & Sciences. Moving forward, we will implement a fresh cycle of the incubator every three years, providing opportunities for new interdisciplinary teams of faculty, staff, and students to grow their innovative ideas for teaching with technology to improve the undergraduate learning experience in A&S.
Are you motivated to join an experimental, innovative community of collaborators? In the New Year 2023, we’re releasing a unique request for proposals to participate in the next Innovation Incubator — be sure to look for the call in an upcoming ASSETT newsletter!