|We often think of technology backwards. The history of the last fifty years is littered with failures. Many of these failures were necessary but many could have been prevented by simply understanding the role of technology in our lives. As Douglas Engelbart said, technology should first and foremost “augment human intellect”. What that means is more complicated than it sounds and sets a high bar.
Technology should never be looked at as an end. It is only a means to an end and most technologies that are introduced as an end to themselves do not end up changing the future because they fail to take into account the human element.
|Engelbart, Douglas, “Augmenting Human Intellect”
Schlender, Brent and Rick Tetzeli; Becoming Steve Jobs (New York, Penguin 2015). @ becomingstevejobs.com
| My computing history started in 1981 with my family’s purchase of an Apple ][+. I played around with programming a bit but my favorite app was the word processor because it changed the way that I wrote. It actually defined it. Instead of writing in a very front-end organized way like you would have to on a typewriter, I learned to write by just throwing ideas down on the screen and putting most of my effort into the editing part of writing. This was far more natural to me.
My experiences with the Apple ][+ taught me the power of being a user of technology and that has conditioned my response to technology throughout my history with it. I’ve always wanted to get past to the technology what it will let me do. I want to use the technology, not be used by it. This is at odds with how many people approach technology. They either see it as enslaving them or are fascinated with the technology itself, not what it will do for you.
My approach to technical support always starts with the user and as I have designed technological systems over the last decade, culture and user behavior have always topped my list of challenges. Compared to those issues, the actual technicalities are relatively easy.
|In 2008, I published an article in Educause Quarterly called “The Three-E Strategy for Technology Adoption.” At that time, my primary concern was very much focused on getting people to use all of this technology we were putting into the classroom.
I posited at the the time that for technology to be accepted: 1) it needed to be “Evident” – in other words, people needed to be aware that it was there; 2) it needed to be “Easy” – in other words, barriers to entry for its use needed to be as low as possible; and 3) it needed to become “Essential” – in other words, it needed to become an essential part of the user’s life or work existence. The final point speaks to the logic of the technology. It can be the coolest technology in the world but if no one sees the point to it, it’s just a toy.
|Haymes, Tom, “The Three-E Strategy for Overcoming Resistance to Technological Change,” Educause Quarterly (V. 31 #4, December 2008).|
| In 2011 we started to develop the concept of the West Houston Institute and I had the opportunity to put together lessons learned from teaching and my work on technology adoption to develop a comprehensive strategy for an environment specially designed to stimulate creativity and innovation. This was the genesis of the IdeasSpaces idea.
It incorporates ideas from a wide variety of sources including literature on what kinds of environments stimulate creativity, the Lean Startup concept, and our own experiences with creating creative experiences for our students and faculty. In short, you have to create physical SPACES designed for creativity, you have to give people TIME to reflect on what they are doing, and you have to develop STRUCTURES that facilitate creative activity and scale it to the organization.
|Johansson, Frans; The Medici Effect (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 2004).|
|We are now in the programmatic phase of the West Houston Institute design and are starting to think very specifically about how to get people to think differently about what they are doing. Most people are amazingly willing to follow even the most uncomfortable road in many cases without complaint. They are willing slaves to their environment and by environment I mean that in the broadest possible sense to include their physical space, their technological space, and, perhaps most importantly, their cultural spaces.|
|Technology gives us the opportunity to break them out of those environments and allow them to dream again. Augmenting their physical and technological spaces is just the first step here. We have to provide a shift in their cultural space. The trick to make them look up see what’s possible. Technology can help with that but it’s not sufficient. Going back to the Three E’s it’s not sufficient to just put a technology in front of people. You have make it an essential part of their lives. Furthermore, it should augment what you are doing and give you the power to follow your passions.
A good example of how this works is to look at how HCC’s D-Lab has worked over the first six months of its operation. The D-Lab is a mini MakerSpace with some 3D printers, some 3D scanners, and boxes of electronic knickknacks including Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s. The important element here is not the tech (although that gets them through the door). The important element here is the culture of Making that is so antithetical from much of what we do at our institutes. It’s a spirit of open-ended enquiry. People can come into this space with no restrictions and we will help them execute their ideas, not impose on them our ideas. We’ve had lots of workshops but they are fundamentally about demonstrating what is possible with the technology, not telling people what to. This space is about cultural change and I’m shocked myself how effective it has been in the short time it has been in operation.
|In 2005 Scott McCloud did a TEDtalk in which he said, “Learn from everyone; follow no one; look for patterns; work like hell.” While I loved this quote for years (I had it printed and stuck to the wall in the D Lab), it is only recently that noticed how closely it dovetailed how we have successfully executed innovation projects.||Scott McCloud “The Visual Magic of Comics;” TED2005, February 2005.|
|In 2003, we began a project that has grown out of all proportion to its original idea but which, at its heart, retains the original mission. Jordan Carswell, now my Senior Developer, but at that time our Web Designer, was constantly besieged by faculty wanting him to build web pages, which he had to do from hand using the tools available in the day. He hit upon the idea of using a content management system customized around the needs of the faculty. Using Plone as a basis, he developed the first iteration of the Learning Web and it soon became of the most popular sites on our college website.
In 2009 a mandate from the Texas Legislature suddenly required all courses to have syllabi and other key material posted online on the open web. The Learning Web seemed like the logical place for this information but we had to quickly scale up participation and make it a districtwide platform. We entered into a partnership with Enfold Systems to scale the system and add simplified tools specifically geared toward the legislative mandate. By the end of 2010 and at a cost of less than $100,000 we had a working system in place. With practically no training, we had close to 100% of our syllabi online within six weeks. What was even more encouraging to me was that in the process we opened a whole new door to HCC’s faculty. Within that same time period over 20,000 pieces of non-required content was uploaded into the system and our students benefitted from a much richer online experience because of it.
This success was fundamentally predicated on McCloud’s dictum to “learn from everyone.” It was first and foremost developed for the faculty’s needs in an iterative process. We still pay Enfold around $20,000 each year. $10,000 of that is for hosting but the other half is for developing the Learning Web even further. As a result, it is a living project that is constantly adding features at the request of faculty. It is the second-most visited site at HCC after the homepage and one that often attracts the least attention because it works and it does what the users want it to. We have used it to successfully change the culture of our interactions with the web (in this area at least). Our Kaltura implementation built upon this learning experience.
The lesson we learned from the Learning Web is that generating an iterative PROCESS is critical to the vitality and success of innovation projects. If successful, the process of evolution never end. Our goal with programs in the West Houston Institute is to build further upon this concept of receptive iteration.
|HCC’s Learning Web|
|I have detailed our development journey in classroom technology extensively in a series of blogs on the New Media Consortium site. Over the last decade we have applied the same iterative process we applied to the Learning Web to our development of classroom technologies.
It sometimes surprises me how unthoughtful a technical process like this can become. “Best Practices” rule the day. Best Practices are usually just copying from another place without an understanding of whether, much less how, the systems installed work for the users of those places.
The big lesson here is that DETAILS often matter a lot. Users will focus on the one piece of the system that doesn’t work and ignore all of the things that work much better than the previous iteration. This is helpful because you know what to focus on fixing but it detracts from the perception of the utility of the product. People will find excuses not to use innovations, whether that innovation be technology or innovative furniture.
|99% Invisible: Technology, Design, and Communication|
|All large organizations struggle with communication. Processes are meant to improve communications but they often get more complicated to suit the needs of the bureaucracy rather than the user.
In order to streamline and bypass parts of our bureaucratic systems we implemented a simple WordPress form system at the college. It seems very simple but it has had a significant impact on our day-to-day operations at the college. In its first iteration, it was a way to get tickets to our technicians more quickly by immediately sending the team at each campus an email from the form instead of the ticketing system. They often get a notification before the ticket arrives and can respond that much more quickly. The form also forces the user to input critical information rather than relying on a phone operator to ask the right questions.
Like the Learning Web, the true power of this innovation is how easily it was adapted to other uses. These web forms have proliferated and have provided a SYSTEM for simplifying people’s jobs. They have quickly become essential to many people’s jobs.
|In 2010 I started facilitating Gardner Campbell’s New Media Seminar at HCC. This seminar has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my current role. Faculty meet once a week for 90 minutes to discuss readings on new media, technology, and pedagogy dating back to 1945.
This seminar has been a labor intensive process for me over the years but it has been critical to a number of successes we’ve had. This is all the more remarkable because of its open-ended nature. There is no fixed outcome. It is an exercise in CULTURAL change an the effects are often subtle and take months to register. I have faculty come up to me months later and say that they changed something or got some idea based on a discussion we had in the seminar. Most importantly, it establishes a culture of enquiry at the college.
Since I have run about half the college’s faculty through the seminar this culture has spread widely and is providing a basis for our new projects such as the D-Lab, where seminar graduates are heavily involved, to the programs we are developing at the Institute.
|The West Houston Institute’s mission is to act as a blender for new ideas. In much the same way I see it has blending the four concepts of creating iterative PROCESSES for innovation, adapting DETAILS of what we do, creating SYSTEMS that facilitate innovation, and providing a venue for CULTURAL change across the institution.|
|The principles of the Lean Startup and these innovation cycles will be applied to the programs at the West Houston Institute. They will inform how we teach but also inform how we design and iterate the programs themselves.|
|In order for people to feel safe stepping off the rutted road they know so well you have to establish a “safe zone” of enquiry that is analytical, yet nonjudgmental, and adaptable both programmatically and environmentally to their changing needs. You have to lay the groundwork so that they can pivot easily and safely for this work.|
|We can apply the lessons learned from The Learning Web, Smartforms, Multimedia Classrooms, and the New Media Seminar to establish a baseline of programs and expectations for participants in the Teaching Innovation Lab. At its root (The Soil), we have baked a foundation of IdeaSpaces into the environments we have created. At a higher level (The Garden) we create a continuous loop of adaptation and improvement that extends throughout the entirety of the program and beyond. This is how you take a good idea and turn it into an innovation.|
|Supporting the Teaching Innovation Lab will be a series of programs and workshops to help participants acclimate themselves to a culture of change. We will be applying IDEO Design Thinking Workshops across a broad range of activities within the Institute and the TIL is no exception. A new iteration of the New Media Seminar will also create a touchstone of shared knowledge for all participants. Finally, a broad range of activities around Making and experiential learning will provide opportunities for cohort participants to exercise their creativity outside of the pedagogical program.||Kelley, Tom, The Art of Innovation (New York: Doubleday, 2001).|
|One of the missions of the TIL is also to generate a mechanism for cultural change across the institution. It will do this both inside and outside the cohort structure. It is our hope that the cohorts will create a community of practice that will drive change when they return to their regular campuses. Also, a series of events will be designed to attract faculty not in the cohort to the activities surrounding the TIL. As Ruben Puentedura pointed out in his talk at the 2016 NMC Summer conference it was only through communities of practice that institutions were able to advance rapidly up the SAMR ladder.||Puentedura, Ruben, “Applying the SAMR Model”|
|One area that is often viewed as a fixed variable is the environment in which teaching takes place. It is often treated in isolation from the other parts of the pedagogical puzzle. Our AV project illustrated that DETAILS matter a lot. The Teaching Innovation Lab will explicitly test a broad range of learning environments and technologies with a goal of maximizing potential in this area. We will apply the same iterative experimentation to this area as elsewhere in the program.|
|One of the other challenges that we often face is that good ideas are not always preserved and shared out. We therefore need a systematic PROCESS for growing knowledge. Part of this will developing systems for collecting a broad range of data and observations from the teaching experiments we will be conducting. In addition to data collection we will create a wide range of programs designed to share both inside and outside of the Institute. The goal is to create an environment of transparency designed to critically evaluate everything we are doing both inside and of the program itself. As Peter Morville says, “Double-loop learning in organizations is rare. Defensiveness in cognition and culture makes it hard to question basic beliefs. Successful people and organizations are the worst, as they’ve never learned to learn from failure. Experts and executives alike deny the problem, shift blame, and shut down; and the organization runs efficiently off a cliff. We can get better, but it takes commitment. We must confront the assumptions behind our ideas. We must surface conflicting opinions and recast them as hypotheses to be tested in public. And we must be willing to critique and change our goals, values, frameworks, policies, and strategies. “||Morville, Peter; Intertwingled: Information Changes Everything (Ann Arbor: Semantic Studios, 2014).|
|While the Teaching Innovation Lab is our most developed concept at this point, this Innovation Loop framework can be applied to a broad range of programs. Another program we envision for the Institute is to provide venues for K12 students and teachers to experience the unique STEAM environment we are developing at the Institute. In this context, we plan to introduce them to the CULTURE of what we are doing through Design Thinking Workshops, iterate DETAILS of experiential labs within the Institute in support of the program, create PROCESSES of outreach to local schools, and facilitate a SYSTEM of innovation through a series of integrated competitions.|
|The Institute represents much more than a series of spaces. It is a complete programmatic effort with a central of facilitate innovation and creativity. In this context we hope that will provide a unique incubator for HCC as well as the community at large.|