Yesterday’s post was a semi-serious attempt to synthesize the narrative around “academic innovation” in higher education. I say it was semi-serious because it presents a product of research that wasn’t particularly systematic, and also because I’m not sure we really need such scorecards. I just figured it might be useful for folks to see my current thinking on the narrative that I see and hear. If it’s useful to someone, then all the better.

What I didn’t say in that post (but probably implied to those who know me) is that much of what’s included in the grand narrative and, therefore, the scorecard, are concepts/ideas/practices that I don’t find particularly innovative. The word innovate derives from the Latin “in” which means into and “novus” which means new or “novare” which means make new. Thus, the definition of innovation from which I work is as “the exploration and exploitation of opportunities for new or improved products, practices or services, based either on an advance in technical practice (“know-how”) or a change in market demand, or a combination of the two” (Pavitt, 2006, p. 88). Many of the products/practices/services coded as innovation in higher education are not, IMHO, new or improved; they’re either old wine in new bottles or practices that are more likely to undermine learning than they are to improve it.

Fancy working definitions notwithstanding, I’ve long said that what interests me is working with faculty members to create new, awesome learning experiences. Full stop.

In that spirit, I’m glad to share a project that folks in VCU ALT Lab have been working on for a while. The great Molly Ransone was a participant in the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute where she had the opportunity to work with an amazing team of VCU-based educators to dream up a project called, simply, Artfulness. ALT Lab was, nominally, the sponsor of the project. The team came up with the concept, framed it out a bit, and made a presentation about the idea to the VCU community at the conclusion of the Institute.  But, whereas most projects die at the conclusion of the Institute, Molly and others applied for and received a VCU Quest Innovation Fund grant which allowed her and others to, in VCU terms, make it real!

Categorizing Artfulness is complicated. It’s a curriculum. It’s online learning. It’s an open educational resource. “It’s art, dammit!” (Groom, 2004) It doesn’t fit nicely into the scorecard I created yesterday. And, that’s what’s beautiful about it.

Today, our local public broadcasting station ran a great story about the project. A lot of people have been involved in making Artfulness happen, including ALT Lab’s Tom Woodward, Max Schlickenmeyer and Emma Gauthier. Please read the piece and listen to the audio and then go check out Artfulness.

I can’t wait to see what Molly et al. do next with Artfulness; there are so many beautiful possibilities.

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