Difficulties and ways to innovate in pedagogy


Designing new ways of teaching is an imperative if we want to help students to understand the upheavals brought about by societal and technological changes, and to teach them how to adapt to a world that is changing very quickly. Moreover, from MOOCs, to inverted class attempts, educational innovations often spur much experimentation and investment in our higher education institutions. Yet, on the ground, their implementation does not always flow from source.

First, it is necessary to convince the colleagues to embark on a process of change then to appropriate a pedagogical device of a new kind, like a serious game or the simulation of a professional environment. On the institutional governance side, it is a question of supporting an agile approach of experimentation, while betting unconditionally on the creativity of the teachers. An approach that involves an investment and a certain risk taking. Finally, the resistance can also come from the students: how to encourage them to engage in modes of formation of which they had never previously supposed the existence?

Change your posture

In 2015, the conference “Questions of pedagogy in higher education” questioned the difficulty to innovate and the means available, around three issues, summarized by Denis LemaĆ®tre: how to report on what innovation is? What justifies it? What are the goals? The questions we saw all the news by developing FlashTel, a simulation device for a call center-type professional environment, to introduce Grenoble School of Management’s freshmen to the main managerial theories.

Whether it is a break with individual or local practices, or it totally breaks with the traditions of higher education, pedagogical innovation faces a whole series of pitfalls that can be grouped together. four main categories:

  • The pitfall of meaning: For students accustomed to the mechanics of the lecture, it can be destabilizing for example to have to do research by themselves upstream of a module or animate a course time. Some will judge that “everything would be simpler if the professor took charge of the presentation of knowledge to acquire”, without perceiving the skills that the new approach allows them to forge. For teachers, it is difficult to accept changing pedagogical approaches when the assessments of previous years were satisfactory.
  • The cultural pitfall: “Is it really serious to ask us to play a role of manager in a call center? “May ask the student unfamiliar with the scenarios. For teachers, calibration meetings and the multiple reflexive steps to be planned for each round of simulation can also be confusing.
  • The pitfall of spatio-temporal planning: “To whom to explain this year that it is necessary to review the course rhythms so that I can assume the challenge launched with two other schools, in reversed class, knowing that I will have a group to distance and another with me? The teacher will question. As for the student, he may have trouble reorganizing his working time, between class, fablab and other new spaces of work independently.
  • The pitfall of becoming: In the face of the research he has to do and the restitution of group work, the student may wonder to what extent he is still a “learner”. As for the teacher, he must also change his posture and focus on the regulation of interactions rather than on the presentation of content. A redefinition of roles that requires a time of adaptation and a projection capacity.

Foster dialogue

The analysis of the innovative FlashTel device has identified a number of levers to activate when these pitfalls arise.

On the part of the teaching team, it is a matter of staggering the dialogue throughout the process of setting up the innovation:

  • by promoting the co-design approach with all the stakeholders to optimize the acceptance of the scenario steps, and the appropriation of the technical elements, as the case may be
  • by providing time to explain the process and theoretical references that underlie the choices
  • by arranging a training or support period upstream by the pedagogical support unit
  • by integrating regulation and debriefing times throughout the module run
  • finding ways to value each other’s investment, such as prices or publications

On the side of the student, it will also be necessary to privilege the explanation and:

  • pass with him a pedagogical contract clarifying his place in the architecture of the device
  • introduce during the scenario a time of regulation on the innovation process itself, allowing everyone to express their comfort or discomfort, their questions
  • promote innovative devices in line with students’ values, and help them to register in an authentic situation of life and the professional world.

Such resistance can emerge in our institutions, our teams, our student groups, but responding to it by activating simple and shared levers is essential, as the pedagogical innovation must be driven by a collective dynamic, if we want the deploy and integrate it into practices. So, let’s continue to question these feedbacks, methods and tools, as well as the innovation process and the levers to be mobilized, often specific to each context. Valuing this challenge in the eyes of students and teachers, it is surely the promise of its renewal within our institutions of higher education.

Author Bios: Emmanuelle Villiot-Leclercq is a Teacher-Researcher in Education and Teaching Practices in Higher Education and Lionel Strub is a Teacher-Researcher – Mindfulness Chair, Well-being at Work and Eco-Economic Peace at the Grenoble School of Management (GEM)