Some thoughts on innovation

The time between years and semesters is often a good time to take stock, reflect, and plan ahead. This year, the idea of innovation has come up again and again in my thoughts, for a number of obvious reasons, not least the clown show that was 2020 (and that continues into 2021, with COVID-19 cases rising, the federal government being AWOL, and fascist assholes trying to overturn the election). While the situation has required (and continues to require) lots of sudden innovation, I also work for a educational development center that has the word “innovation” in its name: I better make sense of what this means to me, and what it means in the current situation.

To me, the main take-away is that when people talk about innovation, they usually mean new technologies and use of new technologies, but that’s not where most of the innovation has happened and where most innovation is currently needed. Innovation often comes across as chasing the next shiny new thing (and throwing money into shiny new black holes), instead of thoughtfully exploring where we have to make new things—or make things new. (And by “things,” I mean not just things but also practices, ideas, institutions, and so on.) My point here is that innovation should be broader than tech, and the innovation that is currently needed is definitely mostly non-tech! In fact, I find that most innovation is needed in the support of the people who make academia happen, in the processes, norms, and habits of our work, and in the mindsets that support that work.

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