Editors note: Educating Innovation is a multi-part series about creating a more valuable academic experience. Here is the introduction to refresh your thinking!
Innovation isn’t easily defined and it’s hard to convey that to students. Innovation classes need to be very different from typical classes in high school, which teach students skills. (It should be noted, that I don’t think this is bad, but this method doesn’t work for the Innovation class.) To be an innovator, entrepreneur, different thinker, or just someone who sets out to change something for the better, there’s a very important requirement. It’s not tangible and it’s not easily taught. It’s a mindset. Just like audio technicians or programmers need a “troubleshooting mindset,” innovators need an innovation mindset. Innovation I teaches this mindset, so let’s see what that class is like.
“Welcome to Innovation I,” says the instructor during the first class, “just like the philosophical readings you encounter in an English or History class, this class is going to test the limits of your mind.” The instructor just did a fantastic job of establishing the class as a big deal, but we’re jumping the gun. The thought process for Innovation I must start long before day one. As most educators and students will understand, the majority of class curriculum is designed around tangibles, specifically memorizing facts. 2 + 2 = 4. Shakespearean sonnets have quatrains and a couplet. 1776 was the year the Declaration of Independence was created. It was also a leap year. You get the point.
Innovation I has no facts to memorize. It also has no tests. Stay with me, hyperventilating out-of-the-book teachers, it gets better! Innovation I eases students (and teachers) into the process as an interdisciplinary course. Let me explain by jumping back to day one of the class. Students, having written their interests on the board (which will likely become their companies later in the process), will hopefully be able to form teams around their interests. Assignment number one, here we come! Tell the teams to research a company similar to their interest. For example, if someone picks programming as their interest, they might want to research Twilio. If someone picks twenty-first century charity, they might want to research Charity: Water.
- Hint #1: The instructor should begin the process of “filtering” ideas here, because as I mentioned before, these ideas will probably become the students’ companies. So, if a student picks nuclear technology as their interest, as I imagine your school frowns upon nuclear testing within the building, this may be a good idea to filter and suggest they choose something more feasible.
- Hint #2: To keep the class interesting, keep the ideas current. A team’s idea should be current enough so they can research a company that is innovating now, not a company that was innovating twenty years ago and now they’re a massive company slowly dying. To (almost) ensure this, you could focus the Innovation classes on tech, but you don’t have to.
Before the students start their research, bring in an English teacher and/or a business teacher to teach them how to research properly. Then, once the research is completed, have the students turn it into a thesis-based paper. Encourage the students to have an opinion on the company they researched. It doesn’t matter what the opinion is, any opinion is fantastic. Don’t hand out a rubric. Does life have rubrics?
Hopefully you’re beginning to get the idea. I’m not including a full curriculum for the class in this blog post (though I will likely create and publish one soon), but from what I’ve said so far you can likely discern how this class is a bridge between a classic style of education and the not-so-classic idea of an Innovation class.
The purpose of the class is to bring students to a mindset where they can understand how and why companies and products are developed. Through projects, papers, games and whatever else you see fit, students need to begin to realize that companies are not formed overnight. They need to see how to turn fun ideas, or passions, into realistic products that benefit the marketplace, or better yet, products that benefit humanity. Students need to be brought together with other like-minded students spanning the gamut of skills needed to bring an idea to life. The Innovation classes facilitate this, but once the students are brought to a tactical understanding of how “creating something” works, the class must allow room for the students to expand their minds and become true innovators on their own. Say hello to Innovation II and Innovation III.
In the next post in the “Educating Innovation” series, I’ll write about Innovation II and Innovation III.