Handling Disruptive Innovations in HE : Lessons from Two Contrasting Case Studies

For a long time we have been thinking about why our curriculum innovations in higher education institutions (HEI) take off or not, and this is our attempt at an explanation; ‘Handling Disruptive Innovations in HE : Lessons from Two Contrasting Case Studies‘.

We examined our experiences in two different HEI of implementing the same curriculum innovation of the work-focussed model of learning, one successfully and the other, more recent, far less so. In brief, the work-focussed model is: an undergraduate degree; has curriculum focus determined by the student’s inquiry focus; uses action research as teaching/learning approach; is support through online communities of inquiry; and has academic tutors in the role of facilitators.

Clayton Christensen theory of disruptive innovation was used as an analytical framework, and we conclude that there was strong evidence for the proposition that institutions “have strong inbuilt filters that weed out any innovation proposals that do not directly enhance the current products or services they offer to their existing markets.”  In our first successful incarnation of the work-focussed model, we operated from a semi-autonomous sub-unit and has such had a high degree of flexibility and control over our business processes and functions (marketing, technology used, teaching practices, etc.), whilst in the second case these were far more geared towards institutional norms and we found that these severely hampered the development of the new provision as the existing products win the resource battle and seek to maintain established ways of working.

The take away lesson is that for curriculum innovations to be successful, institutions need to “put in place the appropriate structural and governance arrangements that will enable them to flourish rather than get killed off.”

In response to Chrissi’s 3 plus one #blimage challenge…

My choice from the 4 images offered and my thoughts around the question “What do your eyes and/or mind see? How do you connect with one of these pictures?”
14924253780_47eedc4faf_zI heard on the radio this morning that this weekend will be the busiest for channel ports of the year.  When I look at this picture I see nothing profound, but I do feel a strong sense of wanting to be on that warm beach in the warm sun doing nothing but messing around in the sea and the sand with my family.  With some imagination I can see the red chord and parasol as a flying stunt kite, something that we love to do when there is a strong enough breeze blowing. This is a quiet sea, but of course that can change quickly and there is nothing like dancing in the waves of a rough sea when they are smashing onto the beach – even the North Sea off the coast of Scarborough is fine with a 4mm wetsuit! I have a friend who swears by the value of the Learning on the Beach unconference.  I haven’t been to an unconference, but the next time I hear about one on a beach like this I think I might try it out!

Reflections on day 1 of Flex

Although I have had a twitter account since April 2007, I have still only tweeted just over 100 times! One day into the FOS course and, although I only added half a dozen tweets, I feel that I have improved my understanding of twitter significantly.

The focus of yesterday on was digital literacy and identity and I managed to read a good number of the resources in preparation for the evenings TewwtChat #FOSchat which I accessed through TweetDeck mostly.

Undertaking activity 1, which was about reflecting on my current practices and what could help students and colleagues, I was left with a feeling of unease that we are, once again, overcomplicating higher education by adding a further ‘wish list’ of what higher education should be doing.

In principle, I am convinced and have been for years that to be effective in most work contexts it is essential to proficient with digital technologies and the uses to which they can be put.  However, the myriad of frameworks  show how we have managed to create a new industry out of something, and my fear is that we exclude the non specialists from this conversation, thereby reducing the likelihood of bringing about meaningful change for our students.

Reflecting upon my experience of the approach of using Twitter, I am not sure that I learned a great deal about the subject of digital literacy and identity.  However, I did have a good time practicing my digital literacy skills, becoming far more familiar with twitter.  Maybe this evening when I can focus less on the process, I will be able to think more about the topic at hand.


LEGO Serious Play


I have just finished a 3 part, 3 hour LEGO SeriousPlay course run by my colleague Chrissi Nerantzi. This is what the LEGO people say:

“The idea of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® originated in 1996 when the two professors Johan Roos and Bart Victor at IMD in Switzerland and LEGO Group CEO and owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen were exploring alternative strategic planning tools and systems. They developed an understanding about the value of employees and the concept of evolving, adaptive strategy that included using LEGO elements as three-dimensional models of business issues and challenges, which later became known as LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.”

What we did (briefly)…

The sessions format was for an initial discussion around resources provided (the homework) and then most of our time spent using LEGO bricks to build models and discuss them as a group.  The applications for this technique that we experienced were as a reflective tool (from personal to focussed on an external issue) and also as a tool for creativity and ideas generation.

18500504013_66262552a1_nTypically, we, the LEGO players, built models from different perspectives, and then explained ourindividual models to the group (6 in total) at which point the strength of metaphors becomes apparent as an important vehicle for conceptualising and exploring issues.  This was sometimes taken a step further by requiring players to then combine their models resulting in a higher level of abstraction about the particular issue or topic at hand.

For example, one task required us to: 1. build three models that show, a) how do other people see us professionally, b) how do we see ourselves professionally, C) what would be like to become professionally?  We were then asked to place a green block on which of the models was most important to us and then explain ourselves in turn to the group.  A discussion then followed with the aim of creating a combined model that represented how we saw the attributes of an effective academic.

What I learned (tentatively)…

  • when there is a high degree of trust in the group, a high degree of disclosure about personal feelings can be quickly arrived at
  • when questions address topics that an individual has though extensively about previously, there is a temptation to explain a position rather than develop new thinking
  • to be effective the play activities need locating in a wider process that captures ideas and insights and moves on to use or implementation.  Depending on the purpose, just being creative in the moment doesn’t feel valuable enough!
  • the poorer the ‘quality of model’ the greater the use of metaphor and the need for imagination by all, this may be an advantage
  • as players become more practiced there is a greater need for more thoughtful structuring of activities and asking of questions.  If this ins’t the case, the sessions run the risk of being superficial
  • there is a fine line between enthusiastic participant and disengaged outcast, this requires skilled facilitation and awareness by all participants of the risk posed by dominating conversations – listening skills are very important
  • participants need to be clear about why they are playing with LEGO, what is the purpose behind it


In my mind, there is a connection between these workshops and the kinds of learning we see in early years in schools around Continuous Provision in that they are based on the principle of structured and purposeful play.  I am also reminded of the work of Ultralab where we used the loosely defined concept of delightful learning as a benchmark evaluative term to apply to our projects and activities, and Richard Millwood’s analysis of the work of John Heron on delight is particularly useful as a framework for thinking about approaches such as LEGO play.

What I plan to do next…

I enjoyed my time on the course and can see that there are applications in my own work.  I will sign up for the next series of workshops that explores this and other approaches to play in learning further, and use these experiences towards a negotiated learning module (FLEX – LEGO play) using the conceptual framework developed by Millwood, based on the work of Heron.

Congratulations to Dr. Fox

roz thesis coverA recommended read for any action researchers out there and those interested in communities and regeneration “Transformative Community Engagement for Sustainable Regeneration.

Selections from the abstract:

…The aim of this research is to provide a critical examination of community engagement through the development of practice and strategy of a UK housing association to deliver neighbourhood regeneration in a deprived neighbourhood in North West England.

…An action research approach using interlinked inquiry streams was undertaken with residents, senior managers and practitioners. The findings were used to develop community engagement strategy, articulate a model of engagement practice and enable the residents’ lived experience and views on service providers to be heard.

…The first contribution is the adaptation of Andrews and Turner’s (2006) Consumerist and Participatory Framework for the analysis of community engagement in a housing association context.

…The second contribution to knowledge is the creation of a model of transformative community engagement practice, based on an extended definition of neighbourhood sustainability, the literature review and research findings.

…Findings can be transferred to other housing providers or agencies looking to engage residents to achieve sustainable outcomes that will improve their lives and local neighbourhoods.

Revisiting our ‘MOOCs and Open Education Timeline’

MOOC evolutionIn 2012 we published a diagram that gave a view of the evolutionary process behind the development of MOOCs in our white paper (MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education, p.6).  Recently we revisited this diagram (I know you shouldn’t try to re-heat a Soufflée!) in a paper (Partnership Model for Entrepreneurial Innovation in Open Online Learning) where we made an analysis of what, if any, impact MOOCs have had over the past 3 years and what the trajectory of development might be in the future.

We identify four key ideas/trends:

  1. I. Most MOOC content is not openly licensed so it cannot be reused in different contexts. However, there is a trend for MOOC to be made available ‘on demand’ after the course has finished, where they in effect become another source of online content that is openly available for use to support blended learning courses or a flipped classroom approach in face-to-face teaching.
  2. New pedagogical experiments in online distance learning can be identified although It is likely that they will evolve to more closely resemble regular online courses with flexible learning pathways.  However, a range of paid-for services, including learning support on demand, qualitative feedback on assignments, and certification and credits will develop.
  3. The disruptive effect of MOOCs will be felt most significantly in the development of new forms of provision that go beyond the traditional HE market such as professional and corporate training that appeals to employers.  these will be backed by awards from recognised institutions.
  4. The development of online courses is an evolving model with the market re-working itself to offer a broader range of solutions to deliver services at a range of price levels to a range of student types. There is great potential for add-on content services and the creation of new revenue models through building partnerships with institutions and other educational service providers. As these trends continue to unfold, we can expect to see even more entrepreneurial innovation and change in the online learning landscape.

Deliverology: Assessment & Teaching Methods

deliverology diagrammeJohn Seddon is a UK based systems thinker working primarily in the public sector.  One of his core arguments is that when targets are imposed (a command and control managerial approach) on a system , it results in de facto purposes being created which, in turn, constrains the methods being used to undertake the work at hand (Seddon 2008, 82) – this is critique of Michael Barber’s Deliverology.  I think that there is a lot in this simple analysis for educators when trying to innovate teaching in educational institutions.

One example of this in a higher education context is the use of learning outcomes for management and to make uniform the way in which curriculum are described, offering the prospect of a common student experience and a way of standardising evaluative judgements about achievement.  This has lead to a way of authoring course/module specifications that severely restrict what and how students are assessed.  Successfully meeting learning outcomes (coupled with assessment criteria) has become the de facto purpose of the educational system.   As a consequence, educational methods (teaching practices) are severely constrained so that the purpose is met; learners and teachers work tirelessly towards successfully completing the assessments for a course.

Working this way severely distorts the students education in a direction imposed from the outside by what are often poorly constructed requirements in the first place.  Little attention is payed to the needs of the students and there is limited scope for teachers to innovate in their practice as the risks are too high of students failing to meet the targets.

It doesn’t have to be like this.  I would argue for putting the target setting back in the hands of the teachers and learners to identify their local needs (their purpose) and set their own targets thereby enabling teaching methods to be liberated.  This doesn’t have to be a free-for-all approach, but a redressing of the balance back towards the professionalism of the teacher and sharing responsibility for learning with the student will I think improve the outcomes.  In practical terms, there is a place for well crafted learning outcomes that focus on the capabilities we are seeking to develop in learners but that allow for significant negotiation of how to achieve and demonstrate this.