How to organise educational innovation with IT?

Educational innovators who wish to help lecturers bring about educational innovation with IT will find inspiration and decision aids here. A number of higher education institutions have investigated how they enable instructors to innovate their teaching.

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5 points of attention for organising educational innovation

From the interviews with institutions, the following 5 points of attention emerge.

1.           Support lecturers where possible

Lecturers in higher education see that digitisation offers all kinds of new possibilities for making education more effective, but they often lack the time. Overloaded instructors are the rule rather than the exception in higher education. Higher education institutions that are committed to using technology to improve education must offer lecturers space and time and support them wherever possible. This means that the institutions must invest in excellent guidance, in good facilities, take work off their hands where possible, create awareness of the facilities, show appreciation for the end result and organise knowledge sharing. The approach to this differs from institution to institution.

2.           Focus on the educational vision

All the institutions interviewed have an educational vision as a basis for redesigning education. An educational vision can, for example, indicate why the institution expects blended learning to improve the quality of education as an educational concept. Often, an educational vision is an elaboration of the strategic plan, focusing on education. A redesigned education is more likely to be a success if everyone is clear about why the institution is committed to it. It also serves as an anchor point during the redesign process: am I doing something that is in line with the educational vision?

It is therefore essential that everyone within the institution is familiar with the educational vision and that it enjoys broad support. Is there no educational vision? Draw one up yourself. Communicate your vision as widely as possible, also to the management. Who knows who will inspire you?

3.           Free up an innovation budget

How much money should your higher education institution invest in supporting lecturers? And how do you spend that money wisely? That depends, among other things, on the size of the institution, the number of students, its equity capital and the strategic objectives it pursues. It also depends on whether the budget is distributed centrally, for example via tenders, or whether faculties have their own funds for educational innovation. This makes it difficult to compare innovation budgets. When it comes to the distribution of the budget, it is difficult to make a clear distinction between the innovation budget and money for current affairs.

One conclusion can be drawn: the institutions invest mainly in people. Approximately half of the innovation budget (40 to 70 per cent) is spent on support staff in all shapes and sizes. Investment in facilities, licences, and tools is lower; between 15 and 40 per cent, depending on the institution. The institutions spend between 15 and 25 per cent of the budget on professionalising their instructors.

4.           Ensure communication and knowledge sharing

A good support organisation alone is not enough for an institution. Instructors must first of all know that the institution encourages educational innovation or even makes it compulsory. They also need information about where they can go if they want to innovate their teaching, what the benefits are, how much time is involved, how they are supported, and what forms of appreciation they receive for it. Communication and knowledge sharing therefore form an important part of organising educational innovation with IT. One of the choices that an institution faces is how it will structure that communication and knowledge sharing.

Many instructors prefer to be inspired by innovative colleagues rather than by external trainers, for example. Colleagues inspire more confidence because they discuss, from the educational context and subject matter, what a tool can contribute to education. The institutions therefore make a lot of use of ambassadors. These educational innovators speak out during lunch sessions, workshops, and education days to inspire their colleagues.

Institutions devise all kinds of creative ways of bringing instructors into contact with innovators from within and outside their own discipline. This often takes place in an informal context, such as a lunch or an innovation café, but educational innovators are also frequently deployed at symposiums and during professional development programmes. The institutions share information, experiences, tools, and tips online in blogs and videos. SURF Communities and SURFacademy, for example, are used to share knowledge between institutions. The formation of communities is valuable for communication and knowledge sharing. The institution should pay attention to and support communities. Every community needs a "leader". Ensure that that role is fulfilled.

5.           Offer opportunities for professionalisation of lecturers

All the institutions interviewed believe that professional development for lecturers is important for achieving quality improvement in education. To some extent, that professionalisation takes place during the innovation process itself (learning by doing): presentations by educational innovators or blogs within the context of knowledge sharing contribute to informal professionalisation of lecturers. In addition, every higher education institution offers its lecturers opportunities to improve their own teaching skills. Lecturers can obtain the Basic Teaching Qualification (BDB) and the Basic Teaching Qualification (BKO). Ensure that the use of IT in these courses is small, even though they are more useful when teaching large groups: practise what you preach.

Institutions decide for themselves which skills are included. There is therefore no general quality requirement for lecturers in the area of IT skills. The institutions also offer all kinds of workshops and varied forms of knowledge sharing, enabling lecturers to improve their knowledge and skills in the area of IT and innovation.

The professionalisation of teaching staff is a broad topic that requires further elaboration. SURF has made a start by publishing the report 'From teacher professionalism to educational development. A review of the status quo of IT teacher professionalisation' and a related discussion paper with seven recommendations.