Inspiring Innovation

Innovation is all around us at Waterloo. The Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) is poised to take a leadership role in generating new inter-disciplinary knowledge about social innovations and the social innovation process in Canada. The new Masters of Digital Experience Innovation (MDEI) will be offered this fall on our new Stratford Campus, and students who are part of VeloCity are living in an atmosphere that helps them develop their own innovative entrepreneurial projects and nurtures their creativity.  I was thinking about this recently after reading an article in my new favourite web publication by Fast Company, which focuses on innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical economics), leadership and design.  The article “You Can’t Innovate If You Ignore Your Real Problems” , made me think about how to foster innovation in our own work at the CTE (not that we have problems!) and how we all need to examine our attitudes, culture and processes if we want to be truly innovative. These can be hard things to change in any organization large or small.

Tomes have been written on the theory of creating conditions that help foster innovation and creativity in different fields.  My own brother is an academic in the field of public science and technology policy at SFU and thinks deeply about how public sector policies can allow for innovation in various environments.  Innovation is a “large tent”, he says, and we all want to gather under it. How can we create the conditions that will allow us to be more innovative in our teaching and in our support of teaching? What can we learn from the public and private business sector about this? Here are a few ideas that are prevalent in design, science and technology industries which should be applicable to fostering innovation in teaching and learning.

All members of an organization or teaching team should be able to contribute their innovative ideas irrespective of their role, and should be encouraged to spend time thinking about how to be more innovative. We need to set aside “thinking time”, book it into our schedules and then plan to share our ideas.  How these ideas are shared can have an impact on what comes forward – using technology properly can enable everyone in an organization or team  to have their voice heard, or putting people in a room to just talk about new ideas and nothing else can energize a group.  Once the ideas are out there some should be implemented, even if they may not all be successful. Taking risks is a necessary part of trying something new, so we have to be open to failure and run with ideas and plans that may be less than perfect.  Not every new idea will be successful, (which makes me wonder about the balance of “excellence” and “innovation “and how we can maintain both comfortably).  Innovation doesn’t always pay off in the short term; for businesses making money can’t be the focus initially, although it may pay off eventually. For those in the teaching and learning fields something innovative may not be welcomed by our students initially but may be beneficial to their learning in the long run.

Also of importance, being innovative keeps us engaged and excited about our jobs – although with the fall term only a few weeks away, the anticipation and possibilities of a new academic year are in the air and it’s not hard to feel excited about that.

The following websites helped me bring these ideas together:


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

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Jane Holbrook

As Senior Instructional Developer (Blended Learning), Jane Holbrook helps to develop faculty programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with Faculty Liaisons, CEL (Centre for Extended Learning) and ITMS (Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. She received her BSc and MSc from Dalhousie University but has also studied Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

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