In education, all that glitters is not innovation


At the beginning of this century, it seemed that digital whiteboards were going to revolutionize the educational system. Its potential, interactivity, would allow transforming teaching approaches. In 2014, an ONTSI study consulted teachers about the use that was made of digital whiteboards at that time. 87.1% used it to explain and ask questions in class. Something we could already do with chalk boards.

Almost a decade ago the data collected from this study, but it is very useful to exemplify that, if the technology is not accompanied by a methodological improvement, there is no real educational innovation. After the digital whiteboards came other resources: educational robotics, augmented reality, gamification applications, etc. Various tools that have a lot of potential, but that we sometimes use to do the same old thing.

The image of @yo_runner exemplifies it very well. The years and technologies go by, but if the activity we do is basically the same, we cannot call it educational innovation. As some experts warn , we are focusing on applying the latest fashionable technology, leaving aside the foundations of Educational Technology and the analysis of why to incorporate these media. That is to say, we do empty innovation, which, rather than improving, is useless or even harms the teaching and learning process.

Let’s identify empty innovation

  • Hint 1: one resource is substituted for another.

    Recently a father complained on social media that his daughter hates the digital textbook as a study tool, to the point that they have tried to get printed textbooks so that she could do it. If we have a technology as powerful as a tablet or a laptop and we use them as a traditional book is used, for that it is better to ask the students for printed books, since we are replacing paper with a screen, but to do the same as always.

  • Hint 2: focus only on the tool.

    In education there is no magic recipe or educational resource that can be used in all situations. However, in empty innovation we usually find people who focus only on the tool. There is no talk of teaching strategy, there is no question of whether to do a master class, collaborative work, projects, etc. Technology and pedagogy are confused. Efforts are directed to training at a technical level, but then it is not questioned how to introduce it in the classroom, if it makes sense or if it is necessary.

  • Hint 3: It is assumed that if it is new, it is good.

    Empty innovation is based on using the latest fashionable tool, becoming experts in it and forgetting about pedagogy. In other words, starting the house on the roof, and having to adapt the entire educational process (students, content, tasks …) to what that tool allows or not, justifying its incorporation, simply because it is fashionable.

When innovation becomes the enemy

The same is happening with innovation as with other concepts today, which lose their meaning after being beaten so much. We see in the networks various edu-influencers (some with little or no training in Didactics and Educational Technology) talking about a type of teaching innovation that is actually meaningless innovation. The concept of innovation is emptied, and those allergic to educational change are served on a platter.

There are certain teachers, the so-called professors , who consider that the best school is the one they lived in decades ago, therefore, it is advisable for them to reproduce that model. Empty innovation gives reasons to this group that defends immobility in education, and to those who indicate that innovation is bad, that technology is bad and that the good thing is what has been done “all your life”.

Spain is the second country with the highest dropout rate in the EU. Immobility is not justified. The need for real innovation is evident, which is associated, as specialists say , with the improvement of teaching and learning processes. In addition, it is necessary to improve the professional conditions of teachers and adequate training for their professional practice.

Between the edu-influencers who sell smoke and the believers that the best school is the one they lived 40 years ago there is a whole world of methodological strategies. Teachers who innovate pedagogically use all kinds of resources, from the textbook and printed cards to augmented reality and robotics, because they understand that the potential of the teacher is to use a diversity of media in teaching.

study from the universities of Oviedo and Oxford indicates that most teachers include different methodologies and tools and combine both traditional and innovative conceptions of teaching. Therefore, it is in the diversity of strategies and tools that teachers find their innovative potential.

Innovate in a real way

We must take into account other contextual, educational and organizational elements in schools to achieve meaningful innovation. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the EU’s Digital Education Action Plan envisages fostering the development of a high-performance digital educational ecosystem including digital equipment, and improving digital skills.

The key right now is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The technological endowment is essential, and the incorporation of certain resources can help the teacher to rethink their professional practice. Still, providing resources is extremely necessary, but not sufficient. We are at a crucial moment to improve professional conditions and the training of teachers around an educational and innovative use of technologies. A real innovation.

Author Bio: Maria del Mar Sánchez Vera is Professor of the Department of Didactics and School Organization. Member of the Educational Technology Research Group at the University of Murcia