ERIC Number: EJ935372
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Apr-5
Reference Count: 0
Don't Sweat the Big Stuff: Academic Innovation in All Shapes and Sizes
Halfond, Jay A.
New England Journal of Higher Education, Apr 2011
Faculty don't give themselves enough credit for innovation and creative thinking within higher education. The soap operas of entrenched faculty, factions divided over trivia, professors protecting their sub-disciplines, lengthy and convoluted approval processes, and ongoing acrimony and melodrama all overshadow progress made without fanfare. The longer view of the history of the American college and university clearly demonstrates the responsiveness to changing societal needs and opportunities--with faculty often at the forefront of that change. Academics' very psyche draws them to tinker rather than stagnate. Faculty are innately restless. Even when they devote their entire adult life to one institution, faculty often reinvent themselves several times over the course of their careers. This is one of the undervalued appeals of the academic life and the malleability of the academic enterprise. Professional lives can change even when titles do not. Faculty can move in and out of various roles. In this article, the author distinguishes between micro- and macro-innovation--one a baby step and the other a major leap, one whispers and the other screams, the first overlooked and the latter overrated. "Micro" doesn't mean mini; introducing innovations in the classroom, reinventing course content, developing interesting scholarly projects each pave the way for even larger breakthrough events. What is micro today can lead to macro tomorrow--with the foundation, reassurance and wisdom that help to ensure success. Forecasting the future of various possible actions--or "inactions"--has inherent false negatives (thinking something looks safe, and it isn't) and false positives (fearing something bad will occur, and it doesn't). Potential risk should never paralyze an organization, but there are ways to mitigate that risk: seize concrete opportunities, take trial-and-error steps that minimize large investments or lingering commitments, select options that permit a variety of alternative paths, and avoid dependency on any set outcome. Academic innovators find ways for their institutions to be nimble rather than calcified, and avoid public megafailures. In the author's experience, the most successful innovations occurred through steps that wouldn't have been catastrophic if aborted, and worked out in ways, frankly, no one even predicted or planned. Academe benefits most by its disruptive pedagogy. Trying new things causes old habits and assumptions to be revisited. Strong academic leaders place themselves in the path of potentially good ideas and capitalize on them.
Descriptors: Higher Education, Educational Innovation, Course Content, Creative Thinking, College Faculty, Tenure
New England Board of Higher Education. 45 Temple Place, Boston, MA 02111. Tel: 617-357-9620; Fax: 617-338-1577; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: http://www.nebhe.org
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A