Over the years, education has been viewed as the light that shows an individual the correct direction in life. Education should not only make a student literate, but also make him or her a rational, strategic and creative thinker. The least that the school system should be able to do is to stimulate creativity that would facilitate solving the challenges of modern society. Curiosity and imagination are essential characteristics that have been suppressed in today’s traditional education systems. The students should not be merely storage objects of information obtained during the lectures to be retrieved through tests. Learning has evolved from memorization-based one to multiple choices, and now, to the commonly used project-based learning. The project-based approach denies students the opportunity to identify the problem. Students repeat answers since the problem are the same over the years.
Advancement in technology has resulted in the emergence of new socio-economic challenges. Office work is more limited today than in any other time in history. Automation increases industry efficiency and significantly reduces the number of employees. All these realities only mean one thing: society needs job creators and not job seekers. The innovative mind will be more than helpful in making the new economy thrive. Here, it is important to understand what innovation is. Innovation is the ability to identify a problem, think of original ideas on how to solve the problem and apply the ideas. According to Wagner and Compton, “Innovation is the process of developing original, valuable ideas and insights and implementing them in a way that they are acceptable and usable by a significant number of the society members” (181). Innovation has two essential elements: creativity and application. Any idea lacking one of the two components is simply not innovation. There are many ways innovation can be applied in education.
Constant collaboration with colleagues characterizes innovation in education. It involves an aggressive lesson plan that keeps changing as the lecturer tries new ideas, changing class direction since the learners influence the curriculum. Innovative learning is real, relevant, student-centric, personalized and enjoyable. Application of technology in learning does not necessarily leads to innovative education. The technology has to stimulate students to be lifelong learners and create agents of change through creativity able to resolve any problem. Innovative education must spark curiosity and make the students ask right questions and desire a deeper understanding. Collaboration is paramount among the students, as well as the teachers; individuals learn from others with different perspective and expertise. Innovative learning discourages independent thinking and promotes integrative or associative thinking. It is hugely biased towards experimentation and action (Wagner and Compton 186-190). The students in schools where innovative learning has been adopted mainly learn on their own and apply the knowledge in new ways. Olin College provides a good example of what innovation looks like in education.
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What makes Olin’s approach successful is not only the fact that it was designed to inculcate capacity to become innovators in young people, but also the academic culture of the school. Olin’s culture differs from the one of other institutions in five fundamental respects. Collaboration has been known as an essential factor in the promotion of the innovative learning culture. It is unfortunate that today’s education systems continue to celebrate individual achievements while ignoring achievements that became possible due to genuine collaboration. Such a culture develops passive learners who depend on particular individuals to do even the group work assignments. There are different perspectives that the students are denied, which minimizes the chance that they will be able to develop a creative solution to a challenge in the future. At Olin, collaboration is inculcated from the very first day of learning. Students do group projects that form a part of the interview. Communication enables sharing of ideas, which characterizes innovative learning (Wagner and compton 193).
Multidisciplinary learning is the second factor that influences a learning institution’s ability to develop innovators. Most of the challenges that people seek to solve today are connected with the different disciplines. It is natural that most of the successful innovative companies are founded by a collaboration of individuals with different skills. While appreciating the need for specialization in a certain career, multidisciplinary learning enables the students to look at a problem from multiple perspectives (Wagner and Compton 194). Problems mostly have a very complex nature, which makes it difficult to solve them using a single discipline approach. Traditional schools encourage and even enforce specialization. Such an approach deprives the student of the opportunity to acquire skills needed in multi-perspective assessment of a problem. The students sometimes appear to specialize in something that they are not passionate about due to lack of the opportunity to explore different disciplines.
As indicated above, experimentation characterizes an innovator. Creativity involves trying completely new procedures in problem solving. The traditional schooling system teaches students how to avoid or minimize risks. Wrong results obtained as a result of trying a new approach are often penalized. The students, as a result, memorize what the teacher wants and show the respective knowledge during the exam. The teacher defines the problem and expects a fixed solution. Students are denied the opportunity to define the problem; hence, they become passive learners. Olin’s approach requires a student to identify a problem and develop the solution (Wagner and Compton 195). Assessment is not based on the right and wrong answers, but instead, it relies on the creativity of the method adopted in resolving the problem (Mathewson 71-72). Correct identification of a problem is appreciated, just as solution development. The teachers refine the curriculum constantly as they reinvent their courses. Intellectual risks taken are celebrated even if they result in failure. Risk taking and trial-and-error approach form the spirit of innovation.
The conventional learning approach proves to be profoundly passive. Modern culture teaches the students to consume information, and they join the college with a knowledge-consumption mentality. On entering a college, all they do is listen to lectures and memorize as much information as possible. The real-world application of the information consumed is often not appropriate for the majority of the learners. Much, if not all, of the information consumed cannot be remembered a few days after the test. Contrary to such a schooling method, innovative learning suggests that students should be creators of information, not mere consumers. Olin’s approach emphasizes the development of a set of skills rather than knowledge consumption. Students exercise significant control over their learning. Self and team grading is emphasized here, unlike in the traditional grading where a teacher does all the grading. Compulsory real life projects ensure that the students do not just consume information, but apply the knowledge acquired to solve problems in the society (Wagner and Compton 190).
The unfortunate issue with the traditional schooling is the extrinsic incentive drive and motivated learning. Students go to class so that they can get a good grade. The motivation originates from grades instead of the desire to gain a new set of skills to solve problems. Students hate issues and challenges instead of viewing them as a learning opportunity. On the contrary, innovators are intrinsically motivated. Good grades do not excite them as much as learning new skills does. Innovative learning cultivates curiosity in learners (He, Pi and Wang 2668-2671). Unlike students who learn to get good grades only, innovators are lifelong learners. Olin adopts play, passion, and purpose techniques to provide intrinsic motivation. Motivation that originates from within ignites curiosity and questioning leading to innovation. An extrinsically motivated student stops all the efforts immediately after an experiment fails, while an intrinsically motivated student reevaluates the procedure to see where they went wrong.
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Technology is of paramount importance in attaining the much-needed change in the learning environment. It transforms the pedagogical practice, as well as improves the student’s engagement and motivation. Extensive evidence shows that technology increases and provides intrinsic motivation. Tech-rich classrooms also demonstrate greater collaboration with other learners, as well as intense interaction with technology (Mani and Romijn 17). Students work in team to explore simulated challenges and teach one another hence improving their communication skills. Collaboration provides a deep, meaningful learning for all students and builds an innovative culture in the learning environment. Technology facilitates the system that conforms to the learners, which is not the case in the traditional schooling system where a learner has to conform to the system. The learning is personal and flexible. ICT investment possesses a tremendous potential to create an innovative learning environment, but it is not automatically or directly correlated (Scheuermann and Pedro? 3-4).
In conclusion, people need to switch to an innovation-driven learning to be abreast of the dynamically changing socio-economic challenges. The modern world needs an innovative approach to learning, while continued consumer-society approach will only lead to bankruptcy. The five fundamental respects discussed above must be inculcated into the learning system. Technology has an enormous role to play as a tool that leads to new forms of schooling and offers rich potential for learning beyond traditional schools. People have to set the pace for solving different kinds of problems in different creative ways. To achieve that, the special education and teaching vision is needed to promote creativity and application of new ideas to real life situations. The challenges need to be addressed with a sense of urgency, and it is important to remember that asking the right questions matters more than what people know.