21st Century Teaching and Learning General Posts News in Education

Disruptive Innovations and Creating a Culture of Innovation

In their book, Living on the Future Edge, Ian Jukes, et.al. use the term disruptive innovations. They devote a chapter (chapter 9) to this concept which they argue is at the heart of why we need to rethink our structures for educating students in the 21st Century. They reference a number of works, most notably, Christensen, Horn, and Johnson’s book, Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovations will change the way the world learns. For more on the work of Christensen, et.al. there is an interview in the most recent edition of Phi Delta Kappan conducted by Joan Richardson, Disrupting How and Where We Learn.

An example of a disruptive innovation is the cell phone. The evolution of phone communication followed this sequence: wall phones that had to be cranked; rotary phones that had to be manually dialed; sleek, push-button phones; large, cumbersome cellular phones; and sophisticated cell phones that take pictures, surf the internet, handle tweets, and serve as GPS guides. “Each one of these phones progressively expanded the way we communicate with one another and were disruptive.” (Jukes, et.al.) The newer versions made the old ones obsolete.

Christensen et.al. write, “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that transforms the complicated, expensive services and products into things that are so simple and affordable that you and I can use them.” They make the case that online learning and other types of free curricula, which are relatively low cost, when made available to facilitated networks where people can access, use, and evaluate them may transform how we educate our children. They sight the Florida Virtual School where students only pay for a course once they have mastered the curriculum. Think of how traditional schools would have to change if they needed to compete with virtual schools employing this logical practice. Adapt or parish!

In their book and interview, Christensen et.al. make the point that their principles related to disruptive innovations, which were developed for business, apply to education. Schools, like businesses, are places where people work with other people, where ideas are exchanged, where technology is deployed to aid in the work, and where people’s motivation carries them through the work.

Jukes, et.al. site other disruptive innovations than the cell phone, such as the way we listen to music, the way we prepare documents, how we get around using maps, the way we buy and sell things, or the way we do our banking. New innovations disrupt our old ways of doing things. They discuss how these disruptive innovations have totally altered our way of living, the landscape in which we operate, or the priorities that guide us. The increasingly rapid rate of change that is occurring requires us to be highly adaptive, but for many of us the pace of change has “outstripped out capacity to cope.”

From this perspective, they argue that the way we educate our children must adapt more readily to the disruptive innovations that are unfolding before us.

When answering the question, what is the job of education, Jukes et.al. outline three mandates for public education. I think we could argue these are roughly the same for private education as well.

1. Acculturation of individuals.
2. Cultivate the appreciation for the social, moral, aesthetic, esoteric, philosophical and ethical. We want students to develop the skills that will allow them to be socially functional, good, and productive citizens.
3. To leave school being prepared with the 21st Century skills that allow them to learn to work, work to learn, deal with their career.

If they are correct, they point out that a school with these mandates must adapt to the innumerable disruptive innovations confronting them. We are educating our students in a world where the lines are blurred between work, play, learning, creating, collaborating, producing and distributing information and ideas. Students can do these things anytime, anywhere. For example, online video games can be played between people collaborating, playing, and learning across the globe. Harvard Education Letter, December 2010, published an article by Robert Rothman, that looks at the influence video game technology could have on building more effective classroom assessment that measure the complex skills required to manipulate a video game. Another example of how disruptive innovations could alter how students learn is Khan Academy. It is possible for a student anywhere in the world (who understands English) to take a math course or have math concepts explained by an online teacher using video instruction. Jukes et.al. write, “we can’t just pretend that for education and educators it continues to be business as usual in our schools.” We will become obsolete very quickly.

Frank Levy and Richard Murane write in their book, The New Division of Labor, that we are seeing a decline in manual and routine work, but a rise in nonroutine cognitive work. This type of work requires people who can apply and integrate knowledge from diverse disciplines. People who can think critically and creatively with knowledge and technology to solve complex problems. Nonroutine cognitive work requires the skills of the 21st Century. Nonroutine cognitive work is not part of a traditional school’s curricula, especially the curricula that is mandated by state standards or external standards like the College Board’s AP program. See a recent blog entry by Quantum Progress about getting rid of the AP program.

Jukes et.al. write, “There is no way to sugarcoat it. The bottom line is that the current school system is just not built for a global digital age and the digital generation.” A teacher-directed classroom that has the teacher in total control of the flow of information does not fit the kind of learning that students of the 21st Century want to engage with. “There are highly disruptive times for education.” So are we going to sit back and wait to become irrelevant or are we going to adapt to the disruptive times we live in, trying to design an education that is engaging and relevant?

9 comments on “Disruptive Innovations and Creating a Culture of Innovation

  1. Nice post. What would you consider to be the CFT’s three most profound edu-innovations? Or what three edu-innovations is the CFT most interested in promoting and how are we doing so?


    • Bo:

      I would consider the following initiatives to be innovative.

      1. The work with the elementary school to shift their assessment practices/grading to a new model. The new report card, as well as their willingness to begin two PLTs around assessment in the 2nd and 4th grade. If they continue to move in a direction that incorporates the rich perspective from the research AND challenge the parents who will push back, I think this is an innovative move.

      2. I think the support of the robotics program at Drew, along with the effort through NSTA to support science teachers is innovative in many respects. We sent four DREW science teachers to NSTA in Nashville, TN about two weeks ago. They are jazzed about STEM and hopefully will carry the torch towards more innovation of Drew’s science program. The CRCTs will stand in their way somewhat. We’ll see.

      3. I would say another innovation that the CFT spearheaded was layered. Initiating the work with SMART technology at Drew, investing in Donya Kemp becoming SMART certified, promotoing Donya’s leadership of 4, 5-2 hr workshops with different groups of faculty, and promoting the initiative to get SMART boards in every classroom. While the jury is still out on the total effect this work is having on faculty development and student achievement, I think the atmosphere at Drew is one of learning how to implement and incorporate SMART technology in every classroom. Using it in many dimensions of a teacher’s life. I would say on a scale of 1 to 10, they are at a 7.5 (having come from zero). I think this has been an innovative program.

      4. I would say the fourth idea that comes to mind is the support of the Singapore Math program at Drew Charter. It is really doing a very good job of getting the faculty to reflect on how they teach math, and we think helping student achievement. Some benchmark testing suggestions the improvement is there. While the program does not answer all questions, it is supplementing GPS curriculum and adding interesting tools to a teacher’s toolbox. I find it to be innovative because it is transforming the culture at Drew with regard to the teaching of math.

      5. I think the facilitation of the work on Faculty Evaluation and Supervision with the principal group about 3 years ago was very good work that planted a seed for innovating faculty annual review and assessment. The CFT helped orchestrate the initial work and laid a foundation for the school to invest in a “faculty committee.” I think this work has been very slow and laborious (almost too slow is my gut). However, it has been good work on the part of the school and has the potential to innovate the way we do business.

      Those are probably five that come to mind right now. I feel we could be doing more, but we need to get the leadership of each school (mostly Westminster) to use the CFT more effectively. Drew is using the CFT in very effective ways, primarily due to the leadership of Don and Boon.

      It is interesting that 3 of the 5 ideas that came to mind are happening at Drew.

      I intentionally am not mentioning things happening in the JHS because it strikes me that you are driving those initiatives on your own and not necessarily using the CFT as a resource. However, we are starting to collaborate with you on the JHS Assessment Study Group. I think that work has already been transformative with teachers like Jill, let’s hope it is infectious. What are your thoughts?

      Future work that promotes innovative thinking:

      1. The CFT (me) challenged Westminster’s thinking on the effectiveness of the AP program–early blog exchange with Bill’s blog. That died a quick death because key leadership did not support asking the hard questions. There is work to be done and I think could help the school transform its approach to advanced curriculum. English Department has taken this work on.

      2. I would like to see the CFT promote a model for the 21st Century classroom–Assessment, Professional Development, Learning Environment, and Curriculum. I think we have the ability to get the research in people’s hands, we have some faculty on the ground who are doing the work, and we have the tools to construct some classrooms that are 21st Century—TEACHING LABORATORY. However, the leadership needs to get behind something like this.

      3. I would like to continue to support a transformation to Common Balanced Assessments. However, there are many roadblocks in the way. In my work with the Science Department, I am concerned that there is an unwillingness to collaborate around ideas like learning targets (essential learnings), common assessments, science projects or labs, etc. Without collaboration, there is probably a tough road ahead on this one.

      Those are some ideas that come to mind, while also continuing to promote the five listed above.




  2. Let’s talk about those bright spots! In your comment to Bo, you said “I am not mentioning things happening in the JHS because it strikes me that you are driving those initiatives on your own and not necessarily using the CFT as a resource.”

    What are the disruptive innovations that you see in our JH? I really want to know. And then, I want to know how you see the CFT becoming a contributor to such innovations.

    i think that there are faculty that are willing to sit back and wait. Skeptics want to see proof that new methods are effective. We all know and agree that changing habits can be difficult and takes time and experience. Time is not on our side; things are changing so fast.

    I know that there are others interested in designing learning experiences that are engaging and relevant but feel handicapped by lack of resources. Just last night I heard Chris Lehmann discuss how difficult – not impossible – this type of learning is without (at least) a 1:1 program for all learners.

    You should know that the fear or unwillingness to collaborate around ideas like learning targets (essential learnings), common assessments, projects, etc is not limited to one department. We see it in several places.

    Even in the JHM PLC where we have developed concrete essential learnings that we all embrace, we are not in agreement about essential communication skills, representation of data, and how to differentiate to meet the needs of all learners. If you listen to what is said, you could become discouraged. If you watch what is actually happening, you would be very encouraged.

    I see a disruptive innovation in JH math with leveled assessments and 2nd chance tests. I am striving for more in the form of cross-curricular work. Again, time is an issue.

    I believe that one of the best things the CFT could do for faculty is to organize a PD day where the bright spots are highlighted, where we can share what we are learning, experimenting with, and implementing. I want a day of TED-like talks for teachers by teachers. How about 4 “TED” talks, a panel discussion, mini-workshops, lunch and then repeat? That is the edu-innovation I am looking for.


    • Jill:

      Here are some observations of disruptive innovations in the JHS that I see. By the way, I am totally disappointed in myself for not seeing Synergy 8 classes.

      1. Syngergy 8 if it becomes contagious.
      2. Some interdisciplinary work, Shakespeare or Science Energy project as examples. Hopefully, this becomes contagious.
      3. The assessment work that you and a few others are doing. Mastery learning by letting students learn and demonstrate their understanding on more than one occasion.
      4. Technology integration that seems to be happening in a number of areas–you are a leader here.
      5. PLC work that has been instrumental and is becoming contagious with Foreign Language this year.
      6. Collaborative work with PLC facilitators, etc.

      These are some examples of disruptive innovations in that they are causing the traditional methods to be challenged.

      As I wrote to Bo, I think the JHS has a significant number of administrative leaders (Bo and Leslie Ann) and many teacher leaders (Ted, Kristen O., Peyton, Kim, and probably others.) who are providing the spirit and work in key areas. I think the CFT can be helpful, but is probably not needed when all those folks are somewhat self-starters.

      I totally agree that leveled assessments and 2nd chance tests are disruptive innovations. We MUST challenged the teach–test–teach–test–PASS or FAIL–move on culture of assessment. It is a dying breed.

      I do think you day of TED talks by teachers for teachers is a great idea. I do want to work on that with whoever has an interest in making it happen.

      By the way, Donya could meet on the 30 or 31st.

      Merry Christmas!



  3. CFT should support what is working, not just try to fix what is broken…don’t you think?! See Switch and story of Dr. working on nutrition abroad. He found what was already working and promoted more of those things. Integrated and collaborated with community bright spots. JHS wants and needs CFT integration and collaboration. CFT IS NEEDED!


    • I would say that our work with:

      Assessment in ES
      Assessment in JHS
      Assessment Summit over the last two years
      Science education at Drew
      Using data to advance student achievement (DATA WISE Improvement Plan) at Drew
      SMART Board at Drew
      Teaching fellows and mentors-although the CF Foundation will stop funding this.
      The Cohort program in general
      21st Century teaching and learning–fits and starts
      Singapore Math at Drew
      Math tutoring program–WMS/Drew–Tom Pomeroy and Ellen Vesey

      All of these and probably a few others that I am not remembering right now, represent the CFT’s investment in “what works.” Or maybe it is the investment in the future of what should be.

      I too think the CFT is needed, but I do wonder whether the people on the ground doing the work and people leading the work can afford to invest enough energy into the CFT to keep it relevant. There still is the issue of time. So often I hear that there is not enough time. Not sure that is actually the issue, but the way we use time in “traditional schooling” does not promote investment into something new. PLC structures may be the answer to some of the time issues, but we will have to rethink our model for scheduling and a financial commitment to implementation of the model.

      Wouldn’t it be interesting for the CFT to work within a PLC structure at Drew and Westminster. We could accomplish a great deal I think. Thanks for the good input.

      Center for Teaching


  4. I agree with Bo, Bob. I want to know more about the good things that are happening in the JH, at Westminster, and at Drew. I believe that teachers like me, Ted, Kristen, Peyton and others need the support of the CFT to help sustain our work.

    The CFT should support the work of our natural learners. Not all of the natural learners are self-starters.

    I wanted to learn more about alternative assessment. The CFT created an Assessment Study group in all three divisions. The bright spot assessment work from the JHM PLC is supported by our still-standing Assessment Study Group in the Junior High. The ideas have a place to be shared, critiqued, and applauded. There are teachers in other departments talking about what we are doing and working to learn more about rubrics because of the opportunity to share ideas. The CFT, through the Assessment Study Group, mixes teachers together providing us time to think and learn together.

    I think you should promote what is working, support what is working; do more of what is working. Create a “club” that will motivate others to actively join.

    Logo us! Athletics does this. Brand us. Celebrate every successful member of a faculty cohort with a framed symbol of learning from the CFT. Commission a piece of art – a poster. Make it so beautiful and inspiring that other teachers will want one. They will ask where it comes from and how they can have one too.

    Or, create a plaque with the CFT logo, the learning experience, and the year and mount plaque(s) on the wall outside these teachers’ classrooms. Advertise the CFT’s good work by advertising the good learning of the teachers.

    Self-starters need the CFT to support and sustain our work when we grow weary and run-down.
    Be our vitamin C!


    • Jill:

      I think you are right. Need to know the good things that are happening in the JHS at Drew and Westminster. There need to be more ways to circulate the good things, tell the stories. We use the online newsletter, but that is not sufficient–comes out to infrequently and is one-dimensional. It’s good but not enough.

      I think the CFT does support the work of those who want to learn. I think of all the people (Carol Hollis, Brooke Snyder, Tom Powanda, Jill Gough, Agnes Matheson, Laura Pattison, Donya Kemp, Sharon Mangum, Henok Tadesse, and many others) who ask for advice, resources, professional development opportunities. These people are being impacted in important ways.

      So I guess what I meant about the JHS at Westminster is that there are people on the ground who are doing good work. I think the rest of the faculty needs to identify some of these folks as being “representatives of” or “being recipients of” the good work of the CFT. As only one person, I can’t get around as much as I would like, especially having to work between two very different schools (different needs). Therefore, the CFT needs “soldiers” on the ground who are seen as advocates of the work–stewards of “advancing the teaching profession.” I think that is happening, but we probably need better mechanisms to get the word out. In that way, more folks will ask for help, advice, etc. (at least I hope so). It is really more about your club idea. The one problem is that there is only ONE of me. So like you have said, a kind of TED talk piece to promote the ideas being advanced at Drew and WMS is a good idea.

      More later.



  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention Disruptive Innovations and Creating a Culture of Innovation | Center for Teaching News and Information -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: