While leaders in all sectors recognize the need for innovation in product, process, and services, the word innovation has many meanings. Everyone wants an “innovative business model” or an Innovation Center on campus, but what does it mean?
Here at Bryant University, we believe creating innovators requires more than teaching about entrepreneurship or differently designed products. It should be an education of the innovation process that enables graduates to make innovative advances in their future chosen fields, regardless of their major. And in that education about the innovation process, students will discover something that Walter Isaacson observed in his bestselling book, The Innovators, that even in technology, innovation is almost never a single person achievement.
Through creative collaboration, we crafted a definition of that elusive word, innovation: “The process of creating and implementing an idea that generates significant positive change that the user values.” The last part is crucial: Innovation must be something that the user values, not merely a good idea. We then identified five traits of innovators:
- curiosity and creativity;
- integrative thinking;
- perseverance and grit to embrace failure as a source of future success.
Our students are learning these defined traits as well as the core of academic courses. And, as we all know, in higher education we must develop tools to measure and assess. We have begun the process of determining how we will assess accomplishment in this area, including whether and why students learn more of the academic content through innovative teaching rather than the conventional lecture method.
We have not found, nor do we expect to discover, an all-purpose way of teaching that is optimal for all. That’s not realistic, nor desirable. The challenge of educational innovation is for teachers to think anew about their unique disciplines and how they might deliver knowledge in different, more effective ways. That challenge to be innovative invigorates our faculty. They are enjoying the creativity and freedom that inspired them to teach in the first place.
Innovation is a continuing journey, of course. There are countless steps ahead as we learn, teach, plan and build. But at Bryant we reflect on recent progress with satisfaction. I invite you to read the recently released Innovative Education: The President’s Progress Report to further explore our efforts.
Ronald K. Machtley