The word innovation has been thrown around the education community as a key attribute for success in modern times. Many educators are ‘innovating’ in their classrooms. Design thinking and genius hours are being developed under the umbrella of innovation and deemed necessary for the education of the whole student. Innovation labs are popping up in well-funded schools equipped with 3d printers and iMacs loaded with AutoCAD. The idea is that students are facing a world where innovation is necessary for success.
No argument here with the general definition of innovation.
The issue comes from the overuse of the word innovation in the classroom. There’s still a very gray definition of what actually constitutes innovation. Is it inventing something new and exciting? Is it updating an existing technology to make it more efficient? Is it 3d printing a Darth Vadar egg holder? Is all of these ideas?
We need to tread very lightly when talk about the value of innovation in education. If we teach a student to use AutoCad to 3d print an object they’ve designed, we’re only providing a map for innovation and not engaging in the process itself. When we give someone a map, they usually follow it without wandering too far off course.
Real innovation comes from within. It’s comes from the recognition of a problem that needs to be solved. The most important innovations in history were born out of conflict, disasters and impossible situations (see microwave, printing press and nuclear energy). The greatest achievement of the human brain is it’s ability to work with less to achieve more.
We do students a disservice when we hand them expensive tools with step-by-step instructions on how to use them and call it innovation. Instead, we need to teach students to look for interesting problems to solve and let them figure out how to do it.