This is the 2nd in a 3-part guest post series by talented contributor Jesse Langley.

What Should Education Innovation Look Like?

In education, we use the term innovation all the time. We may even be in danger of over-using it. Real innovation will always encounter resistance. I remember when I first had to start using an overhead projector in a high school English class. I resisted it intensely. Having to change from my comfortable routine frankly frightened me. And I’m no shrinking violet either. I’m about as extroverted as they come and I like to think that I’m open to change.

But I’m also a great lover of routine. My blackboard—I always refused the offer of a dry erase board—was part of my routine and the drifting of chalk dust onto my penny loafers and tweed coat was part of the magic. My well-planned (dare I say brilliant?) lectures delivered from behind the safety of an oak lectern and my chalkboard were all I needed. I found new technologies a nuisance and an unwelcome intrusion into the sanctity of my classroom.

But once I grudgingly began to use the projector and discovered the effectiveness of short snippets of Youtube clips to drive home a point, I jumped on the technology bandwagon. Every time a new piece of technology became available I always found a way to use it to make my teaching more effective.

When I got computers in my classroom we put them to use immediately.

I found that incorporating lesson plans into an interactive electronic model made the material that each class was covering somehow seem more relevant. And once I discovered Moodle I became its most fervent advocate. Moodle provided the ability to engage students in an individual manner, similar to an online education model. This worked much more effectively than teaching them as a single class unit.

I had all my classes begin work on their own private memoir projects with the stipulation that only I would be reading the memoirs. Classmates would never know what students were writing, so that took care of inhibitions. As long as they didn’t describe any involvement in felonies, their memoirs would just be between each student and me. This began strictly as a writing exercise to get their creative juices flowing.

I had no great intention or any kind of revolutionary plan in mind.

But the results were mind-boggling. Students wrote things in their memoirs that I had no idea they would be comfortable sharing. In retrospect, they may have been using their memoirs as a form of cathartic confessional. As a result, I began to know my students better than I ever had before, and I became a more empathetic and effective teacher. And using Moodle for additional writing exercises to test their knowledge of material just after I taught it gave me the ability to make course corrections in mid flight rather than discovering too late that a student who looked attentive hadn’t digested anything at all.

When you combine the innate human reluctance to embrace change with an entrenched education model in desperate need of a serious overhaul, it’s no surprise that there will be serious resistance. But nobody questions the fact that we have real problems. What we squabble over is what the problems are and who should be blamed. We need to have a serious national dialogue about what we’re going to do about our antiquated education system and get serious about making innovation an educational priority. If I can overcome my reluctance to embrace technological innovation in the classroom than surely we can all get on the innovation bandwagon. I’m still keeping my penny loafers and tweed coat though.