Part Three: The Culture — Becoming Deliberately Innovative
The Georgia Tech Commitment and the initiatives proposed to achieve it are bold. They must be supported by an underlying culture of educational innovation that is robust, agile, and adaptive to disruptive forces and a rapidly increasing rate of change in technology and society.
An academic culture, like other organizational cultures, is often composed of unspoken and unwritten rules regarding working together. This culture reflects the shared underlying assumptions, values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of a group of people. The mindset of the members of the community, curricular structure, organizational structure, and administrative processes all work together to sustain an academic culture.
Georgia Tech’s current culture of educational innovation has produced internationally recognized innovations. But the Commission also recognizes that the success of the initiatives outlined in this report depends on systematic and deliberate innovation of a kind not common in academic institutions.
Despite many successes, educational innovation is still not systematic. Inventions germinate and successfully change the way education is delivered, but success or failure seems to depend as much on luck or circumstance as on merit or need. Critical to the vision outlined in this report is a rethinking of Georgia Tech’s innovation culture to make it more deliberate. The innovation process needs to become more repeatable, targeted in its actions, and more inclusive of a larger community of people.
The Commission recognizes the importance of new aspirational goals for an improved, sustainable culture of educational innovation. Building upon its successes as a technologically innovative research university, Georgia Tech should promote a culture of intellectual curiosity about education—actively seeking and rewarding individuals who are willing to experiment.
Risk-taking and intellectual agility should be valued and supported. However, good ideas are not enough. Educational innovators must be able to identify a pressing demand and tackle ideas that meet that demand. Innovation of that sort is not haphazard. It results only from a deliberate effort to be developmental—to systematically improve the way that innovation is carried out.
A deliberately innovative organization should make it possible to reflect on the conditions that led to a success so that it can be repeated with new ideas that address new needs. Embracing a developmental culture allows people to deliberately practice the art of innovation and to improve upon their approaches based on their experiences and those of their colleagues.
The Commission recommends a systems approach to becoming developmental and growing Georgia Tech’s capacity for educational innovation. A systems approach means three things: first, understanding the parts of the Institute—the organizations, teams, individuals, and processes—that are essential to sustaining innovation; second, determining how to manage the relationships between these parts to get better outcomes; and third, examining innovation processes and taking deliberate actions to improve desired outcomes over time.
Two Cultures for Educational Innovation Georgia Tech’s successful educational innovation initiatives have their roots in two cultures, one grassroots and bottom-up and one institutional and top-down. On one hand, support in schools and colleges for experimentation and individual invention gives rise to grassroots projects and pilots that greatly expand the Institute’s capacity to be agile in addressing the most pressing problems. On the other hand, institutional leadership that is willing to support and reward risk- taking creates an atmosphere in which the pathway to adoption of novel inventions is much smoother than it is at a university with a less collaborative culture.
A Grassroots Culture Aligning these two cultures will create a more agile and sustainable environment for innovation. The grassroots successes started with individual faculty members who had the determination to pilot their visions and spread them across campus. Some examples include the Invention Studio, Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program, and CREATE-X program, among others,which are described in the CNE Report Supplement Learning By Doing (Georgia Tech 2018e). The conception and launch of Georgia Tech’s OMSCS, was also a grassroots effort that was propelled forward by a small group of faculty members, together with the enthusiastic support of the dean within Georgia Tech’s College of Computing.
Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U), a laboratory for experiments in higher education, started with an individual and later became institutionalized. Some of the most noteworthy experiments that originated in C21U have included the production of more than fifty MOOCs, flipped classroom experiences in courses enrolling hundreds of students, at-home laboratory experiences for online students, AI-assisted education, and Georgia Tech’s subsequent launch of MOOC-based courses to nearly two million new learners.
An Institutional Culture
The 2015 establishment of the Education Innovation Ecosystem (EIE) in the Office of the Provost was a substantial step toward defining a campus-wide entity to solicit and incubate new educational ideas as well as to seek new pathways to pilot these ideas. The current EIE offers communities of practice for faculty who wish to incorporate new methods, seed grants for research projects, and support for developing and testing innovative methodologies. The EIE is composed of members from five campus entities:
Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) is Georgia Tech’s living laboratory for fundamental change in higher education. C21U was established in 2011 as a think tank designed to seek and promote innovation in higher education, conduct pilot projects, and build prototypes without the need for cumbersome committee approvals.
Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) focuses on STEM readiness and achievement (especially amongst underrepresented student groups) through education advocacy and leadership programs. CEISMC works with early learners—those in pre-K through grade 12—as well as postsecondary learners.
Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is a research-based innovation diffusion laboratory. CTL assists educators from a broad cross section of Georgia Tech academic units in using and adapting pedagogical and technological tools that improve learning outcomes.
Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE) is a separate unit of the university. GTPE offers courses and programs that enhance professional skills in disciplines closely related to Georgia Tech’s STEM mission, including online post-graduate certificates and degrees—programs that are essential to the Georgia Tech Commitment.
Office of Information Technology (OIT) is the Institute’s information and computing services organization. OIT has operational responsibility for all educational technology in use at Georgia Tech.
Among the most visible successes of the EIE is a pipeline of affordable online master’s degrees modeled on the success of OMSCS, the launch of microcredentials, and the award-winning University Learning Store.
Systems Approach for Becoming Deliberately Innovative
The systems approach to create a deliberately innovative organization retains but improves on current successful models by emphasizing cohesive and thoughtful plans and interactions among academic and administrative units. An institutional and deliberate shift in the campus-wide culture would grease the skids for the creation and adoption of new ideas, whether they are bottom-up, top-down, or from a vertically integrated participatory activity.
This seems like a dramatic shift, but the Commission believes that such an approach can be successful if done with deliberate and targeted actions addressing all parts of the system. For example, implementing the Commission recommendation for an Academic Master Plan would tie long-term educational priorities to financial resources needed to support innovation initiatives.
All types of innovative organizations seem to share common characteristics. For example, a shared vision of the importance of innovation is invariably built into the fabric of an innovative organization. An innovative organization encourages open discussion of ideas, has a reward structure for creativity, an embrace of experimentation, provides incentives for risk-taking, and learns from failure.
Innovative organizations also have infrastructure that eases the development of new ideas, even when that means overcoming organizational barriers. For example, agility is important for innovation and is enhanced when individuals can self-organize into effective teams to pursue special initiatives, even though those teams may cross organizational boundaries. Creating this kind of infrastructure is often a challenge for research universities.
Because research opportunities are often unpredictable, successful universities tend to have an agile research infrastructure. Academic operations, however, are more encumbered by slow- moving processes. Even simple changes like modifying curricula or updating textbooks can involve buy-in and approval from multiple, often redundant, committees and are therefore often difficult.
Not only is there a natural resistance to change, as there would be in any culture, but shared governance of academic matters means that the prevailing academic culture at most universities favors slow and consensus-driven change as a safeguard of the integrity of academic standards. Yet structuring the academic enterprise to behave more like the research enterprise would create a more agile environment for educational innovation. The goal should be to agree on an innovation infrastructure for the academic enterprise that does not detract from the integrity of the academic mission.
An important first step is to have a vision that is shared among academic leadership and distributed across academic units and the many committees that make up shared academic governance. Leaders of academic units may act locally, believing that is the best pathway to improving a unit’s reputation or resources. Academic and curriculum committees may put the brakes on change, believing that limiting the amount of risk that is inevitable in educational innovation is the best pathway to preserving academic quality.
A shared vision for innovation among these leaders would require the alignment of their beliefs with the long-term goals of educational innovation. Unit heads report directly to the provost, who controls incentives that can reward actions that increase alignment with the desired vision. On the other hand, there is no corresponding direct line of authority for committee chairs. Change in their behavior is indirect and is the result of influence.
A key governing principle might be that academic committee chairs meet jointly at the beginning of each academic year to discuss the campus vision, examine their committee charters, and receive instruction on ways to run their meetings effectively, including ways to accommodate change without sacrificing the integrity of the academic processes. The Commission believes that such measures can be systematically introduced to create a culture of educational innovation in which alignment with a shared vision is deeply ingrained in the academic enterprise.
“A consequence of this deep alignment is that ongoing innovation is woven into the daily fabric of working life, visible in the [university’s] regular operations, dayto-day routines and conversations.”
(Kegan and Lahey 2016)
Building on the work of Kegan and Lahey at Harvard Business School in “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization,” the Commission recommends that Georgia Tech create an infrastructure to develop innovation skills by committing to become a deliberately innovative organization, that is, an organization in which the innovation processes are explicit and can be deeply aligned with the motives of individuals to solve problems. A consequence of this deep alignment is that ongoing innovation is “woven into the daily fabric of working life, visible in the [university’s] regular operations, day-to- day routines and conversations” (Kegan and Lahey 2016).”
As a step to becoming deliberately innovative, the Commission recommends establishing an immersive cohort-based training program. This program would also provide a facilitated mechanism in which individuals within the cohort could help each other create, evaluate, evolve, and pilot their educational innovations.
To find out whether this would be feasible, the Commission conducted a year-long experiment with such a program to determine its potential for more widespread use at Georgia Tech. Beginning in early 2017, a cohort of ten Commission members established a project to develop and pilot such a program using methodologies that were developed to help business entrepreneurs become more reliably and deliberately innovative. The results of the pilot program are described in the CNE Report Supplement Formative Leadership (Flashpoint): One Georgia Tech-born Approach to Deliberately Innovative Education (Georgia Tech 2018d).
The Commission further recommends that additional organizational transformation and change management strategies be used to help adopt or spread educational innovation. These strategies are plans and programs that are directed at easing the changes for the stakeholders and improving the chances of success for an innovation.
As an example, the innovative methods could be piloted in alternative pathways that are optional for both students and faculty. Faculty members who are interested in changing are freer to explore innovative solutions. Students can choose either pathway. If the innovation is well conceived and executed, then the demand for the piloted program will outpace that of the existing programs.
Evolving the Educational Innovation Ecosystem
The Commission recommends that the current ecosystem evolve into a broader, more coordinated ecosystem whose scope would range from coming up with ideas to institutionalizing them. The EIE should continue to serve as a “sandbox”—a space to run educational experiments with new courses, course formats, and educational products—but increase its collaborative interactions with other academic units and offices through new or stronger mechanisms and incentives.
Such collaboration will help support the new initiatives of the EIE, provide feedback on needs and growth areas, and help spread successful pilots across campus. The new EIE should continue and even expand it efforts in outreach and development for foundation, industry, and research funding as well as seed funding for new ideas. The EIE should establish a structure that supports and encourages partnerships with existing and new stakeholders (students, faculty, alumni, industry, K-12 collaborators, etc.) for creating innovative ideas.
The research mindset should be extended to educational innovation by encouraging curiosity and intellectual pursuits in education among a large and diverse community of scholars through programming, networking, and building an infrastructure. The overall support for the community of researchers and innovators that is currently provided by C21U, CEISMC, CTL, GTPE, and OIT organizations should be expanded and made more cohesive so that it forms a widespread and continuous spectrum of support that is transparent to the user regarding where to go for what support. This indicates that the current EIE should be made more collaborative and coherent.
Enhanced Teaming by Bridging Organizational Silos
Teams made up of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives can be a fruitful platform for forming new ideas, but policies, procedures, and even cultural differences can be barriers that inhibit free interaction. These barriers are responsible for the organizational silos that stifle innovation.
Academic disciplines, for example, are the most common organizational silos in a university. Such silos make interdisciplinary programs hard to create and even harder to maintain. Bureaucratic restrictions on course registration, long chains of prerequisite course requirements, and complex accounting rules for allocating a professor’s time make it hard for students to take courses outside their major field of study.
To provide an academic culture where both students and faculty can interoperate across disciplinary lines, educational units need to operate more along the lines of interdisciplinary research units. The Commission recommends that new organizational and financial models be examined that would help break down disciplinary silos.
Breaking down stakeholder silos by encouraging partnerships in education is another way of promoting a more integrative culture for academic innovation. Currently, the stakeholders in education generally have distinct roles: faculty teach, students learn, and companies hire. This segmented view seems to run contrary to the significance that is placed by educational institutions and the workforce on teamwork and collaboration.
Partnerships in education forged between these different stakeholders, as well as alumni, can improve the overall educational experience while possibly decreasing the burden on faculty to implement educational innovations on their own. Current examples of successful partnerships at Georgia Tech include education-themed VIP teams, maker spaces, advisor-supervised peer-to- peer mentoring, and student-designed course resources for either pay or credit.
Motivating Individuals in the Innovation Process
Institutional goals for educational innovation must be matched with appropriate levels of individual motivation for faculty members and unit leaders to adopt, create, and promote innovative educational methodologies. To achieve that motivation, the Commission recommends a two-pronged approach: increase the value of the initiatives to individuals through incentives, and increase the ability of individuals to undertake the initiatives through development programs. A summary of this approach is described below, with a more detailed description available in the CNE Report Supplement Building a Culture to be Deliberately Innovative in Education (Georgia Tech 2018b).
The Commission recommends initiatives that acknowledge, reward, and incentivize faculty and department leaders to pursue educational innovation. For example, there should be an Institute- level award for the scholarship of teaching and learning and another for educational innovations within a department. School chairs and deans can incentivize a culture of educational innovation through awards, evaluation and reporting, hiring, and flexible faculty workload models.
For example, annual faculty evaluations that have categories such as “Report on the Use of Evidence-Based Instruction” add weight to the topic. Deans can incentivize school chairs, making them responsible for educational excellence and innovation in their schools’ annual reports by asking for details on topics such as improving the quality of instruction, to the use of evidence-based teaching, and how experimentation in education is encouraged.
The promotion and tenure (P&T) process is often cited as the main tool to incentivize faculty members to engage in innovational educational activities. While educational activities are important factors in the evaluation criteria, the implementation of the P&T process varies by school and college, especially the scopes and roles of the educational activities.
The Commission recommends that the P&T process be used to identify and share best practices for evaluating educational contributions. Possible examples include piloting alternative metrics for assessing teaching excellence and developing methods for assessing candidates who would like to use the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) in their creative contributions.
An outgrowth of the P&T process might also be the creation of faculty development programs to foster innovative work in education. This might include expanding existing programs to cover a wider range of topics, such as the Flashpoint program as a teachable model of educational innovation, organizational transformation, and change management. Motivation for faculty to participate in these development programs will be enhanced because the basic methods learned will not be limited to educational innovation and can be applied to other areas such as research, technology, science, and policy.
Becoming Deliberately Innovative
The predicate for the Commission’s recommendations is that the educational world of 2040 is rushing at us, and it does not look very much like the world that has guided Georgia Tech since its founding in 1885. The Georgia Tech Commitment is an expression of the Institute’s seriousness in preparing for the future, but the recommendations by themselves do not illuminate the specific steps that should be taken. That is because there is no algorithm or formula that leads inevitably to success.
The complex pathway to the Georgia Tech Commitment will be a series of inspirations, experiments, and projects that either take the Institute a step closer to the vision of lifetime education or demonstrate that the current approach will not lead to success and should be discarded so that work can begin on a new approach. In the twenty-year time frame of the Commission’s charter, there is room for learning how to improve this basic process of innovation.
Development practices, shared frameworks, and a common way of identifying gaps that must be filled should be explicit. Based in science and tested many times, the innovation process recommended by the Commission is a repeatable way of focusing resources on important problems and addressing barriers like resistance to change. There should be a clear explanation of how innovation aligns deeply with everyone associated with Georgia Tech. The rules of innovation should be part of the fabric of education. That requires an approach to innovation that is deliberate.
In the longer term, the innovation culture should be immersive, and every important aspect of education should be steeped in it. Hypotheses should be tested, and academic governance should weigh the results carefully. Becoming deliberately innovative is an opportunity for community members to grow by leveraging what they know while being honest about what they do not know and thinking through worst-case scenarios.
The Commission recognizes that getting buy-in from a substantial fraction of the Georgia Tech community for this kind of deliberately innovative activity requires constant exposure and reinforcement. No training program or boot camp will be sufficient, but a slow building of innovative capacity might enable the kind of changes outlined above.
Incentives for taking educational risks, equivalent rewards for both pedagogical innovation and research, as well as supportive home organizations, are attainable steps if Georgia Tech’s leadership drives these changes. Big goals, like the Georgia Tech Commitment, require the Institute to rethink how the work of the university gets done. This is the first step in becoming a deliberately innovative organization.