On Innovation

I’m on my way to Inverness to speak to Highlands and Islands Enterprise STEM strategy group about how Glow might be used to support the teaching of science in some of Scotland’s most remote areas. To my mind this is exactly the kind of need that Glow was designed to (help to) meet. Glow is not just about making lesson content available online it can also facilitate remote teaching and enable the kind of wrap around personal support that will help our young people to succeed wherever they happen to live. Anyway more of this later.

I don’t do a lot of speaking at conferences but my award winning colleague Derek Robertson persuaded to me to take to the stage at the recent Handheld Learning 2008 conference in London. I decided that rather than talk about mobile ubiquitous learning I would try to say a few words about the thinking that underpins some of the work that we have been involved in over the last 7 or so years at LTS. The plan was to set out two different mindsets (I called them philosophies) and then give some examples of how the mindset we have adopted translates into practice. The movie of my talk is here and slides are here.

I was the last speaker of the morning and decided that the audience had probably had enough of PowerPoint/Keynote for the day and decided to show my first two slides and then busk for the rest of the session by taking questions from the audience. As usual the questions were much better than my answers and I didn’t get the opportunity to describe what our mindset translates into practice.

A key area of controversy was my assertion that ‘the let 1,000 projects flourish (and then die once the funding runs out)’ was not a model of innovation that I subscribe to. I argued that my definition of innovation was routed in the principles of scalability of practice (can it work in other classrooms?) and sustainability over time (does it need unrealistic levels of support, finance, inspirational leadership etc?).

I think I may have upset quite a few people so let me make my position clear. I am not against teachers and others experimenting with new ideas, techniques or technologies. I think teaching should be an action research based profession. What I am against is projects that from the beginning are destined to be successful for a couple of years and then die. I know that they bring benefits to learners and teachers in the short-term and often there are lessons that we can learn for the future. What frustrates me is that such projects lead to disappointment and are far too often driven by an agenda which is about more about making something (product) or someone look good. They tend to give a view of education that suggests cultural change can be ‘delivered’ overnight and they often act as a disincentive to others who might be doing great stuff that doesn’t look quite as interesting on the surface.

Enough of me on my soap box. Let me conclude by refining my argument. Let a thousand projects flourish. But before investing lots of time and money please be mindful of scaling them up and sustaining them over time – be your own judge of this based on experience. Change in education takes time so try to take a longer-term view whilst at the same time taking advantage of opportunities (gift horses) as they present themselves. Often all it takes is someone to tweak the specification, ask a few questions or think about the long term impact on learning and teaching. Most short-term projects can be subverted to longer term ends with just a little bit of creativity 🙂

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  1. Good to read your (clarified) thoughts on this Laurie. I have to say, I’m still a little uneasy with the scalability concept, for many reasons which I’ve already written about. John Davitt also appears to share these concerns, writting about ‘massification’ in the guardian earlier this year

    I’d hope that LTS resists the pressure to morph into a corporate behemoth duped by it’s own rhetoric in the way I fear BECTA has become in England and that open debate will continue to flourish. I think LTS is poised to play a pivotal role in Scottish education, more so than ever in its history, but for this to happen, there has to be the flexibility of approach rather than a one size fits all policy for innovation and initiatives. I hope I’ve managed to set out my views on this in the last few posts on my own blog.

  2. laurie

    Thanks again for your comments. Some further clarification from me required. Don’t think I suggested that scalability = one size fits all. If I did then my apologies. Also don’t think I suggested an inflexible approach to innovation.

    John Davitt makes some good points but it is interesting that he used TeachMeet as an example of the way things should be done – think you might find that Ewan McIntosh’s led this as an LTS employee with my full support. I think TeachMeet provides great examples of sustainable and scalable classroom based practice. I think scalability is important because I want the best approaches, techniques, technologies etc to be available to every learner and teacher in the country. It’s all about quality and equality.


  3. Laurie,
    good to read your blog – and great to see an educational leader in the public services sharing his thoughts using the blogging medium.