It was on this very day 10 years ago that markets woke up to a problem when French bank BNP Paribas halted redemptions, or funds claimed by investors, on three investment funds. It was this act that triggered what has become the UK’s most recent and largest financial crash, but conversely, it was also exactly ten years ago today that Apple launched its first iPhone. Both of these anniversaries, though not intrinsically linked, have given me cause to think about where we are a decade later, and have prompted this post.
From 2008 onwards, the word recession became a part of our everyday life and language, and as budget cuts began to take hold, so the educational zeitgeist – be it around compulsory or post-16 teaching and learning – started to be re-framed around two key words: innovation and enterprise. It makes practical sense to think in these terms if the country’s economy is flat-lining and the need to do more with less (innovation) along with the need to try to make a living at a time where the financial ground is barren (enterprise) become survival. I've written about innovation in education before, so if you want to check my earlier post out before continuing, do go ahead.
If I were to link these two words with cognitive processes, then creativity of thought, lateral thinking, and imagination, would be fundamental.
A decade ago, the iPhone was the epitome of innovation. It was, and still is, the 'must have' smartphone, it's still ubiquitous, it's rather beautiful, it has, effectively, replaced the office, but now that it's ten years old and developers' ideas are running out, each brand new iteration becomes less groundbreaking and certainly less innovative.
As a member of the conference panel for the next International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation in November (ICERI 2017), I’ve been reading through a selection of papers that have been submitted from educators, researchers and technologists from around the world. Though it has been a genuinely interesting and rewarding experience, something has been niggling me, and I can't shake it off. And it's not just something that's coming from some of the submissions I've been reading: I've noticed it locally too. Things that are being mooted as being innovative are, on closer inspection, no more than the re-hashing or re-branding of concepts, methods, and processes that have been around for ages. At the risk of sounding like 'Irritated of Nantwich', I'm going to suggest that filming clinical skills procedures and then making them available for students to view online is not innovative, asking teachers to curate and then reflect upon their CPD by way of an online portfolio or blog isn't a new idea, and recording audio feedback to students rather than typing assignment feedback isn't enterprising. These are all genuine examples of practice that has been labelled as being innovative and enterprising and that have been on my radar for a few weeks. The thing is, they are also all examples of practice that were on the same radar a decade ago.
So have we run out of ideas?
I don't think so. I'd like to think that our collective imagination is limitless. But I do think that because we live and work in a daily state of emergency – where our day in the office amounts to little more than fire fighting, and our home lives are increasingly fraught and lived in the shadow of political unrest, inequality, lack of resources and a race to he bottom – it can be hard to find the space, the time and the right frame of mind in which to be innovative or enterprising. And so, because we are told that we must be enterprising and innovative in order to raise our institution's profile and remain relevant, but we can't reasonably be inspired on command, we re-package, rename and rebadge projects that have already been done, hoping that our audience likes the emperor's newly-tailored suit. Maybe if we had time to breathe, and vitally, to be allowed to take risks and make mistakes, we would be able to be truly innovative. Sadly, I can't see a time when this will be allowed to happen.
But I am determined to finish on a positive note. A cafe down the road from me not only makes the best coffee in Cardiff, it has been innovative and enterprising by doing one small thing. You know those cardboard coffee sleeves that you get in Starbucks and Costa? Visit the cafe, buy one of their fantastic coffees, then for one pound, you can buy a reusable coffee sleeve made from material. Simple. Brilliant. And it saves trees too.