Yesterday I attended the Tertiary 3.0: Exploring Local Innovation in Higher Education event that was part of Sydney’s Vivid Festival. I enjoyed the day and the format of the sessions but after the event I didn’t feel the buzz I was expecting.
It has nothing to do with the speakers or what was said – it was high quality, interesting and engaging. I think the problem I have is what wasn’t said.
The people who work in education are, as you should expect, extremely intelligent. The speakers at Vivid had great ideas and shared many great things. What tends to happen at these events is that when the discussion starts to go beyond the theoretical into mainstream implementation it gets hung up on “the system”. The conversation starts to revolve around the problems faced and when it does it’s like the air that gives life to ideas gets sucked out of the room. Great things blossom and then quickly fade away.
What I came away with are some fantastic and amazing examples of creative and inventive thinking and practice – but they’re most often small scale and local solutions. They are that person and their work but they could be real innovations if they were adopted more broadly – but what happens is that we just spent an hour discussing why they won’t. Because “the system”.
Here’s the thing – You can’t call it an innovation until people have adopted it. Think about it. If you had created the iPod and it was only you and maybe your family who ever used it you’re not an innovator, you’re an inventor. You can only adopt the innovation tag once it’s in use and it’s changed the usage pattern beyond return. Changed usage patterns is also the differentiation between innovation and fad. A fad might get wide scale adoption but it lacks staying power and sees usage patterns revert back to their previous state. An innovation changes the usage patter so much there’s simply no way back. iPods changed music consumption so much there was no way back so the physical media was simply discarded, both the discs and the medium to play them.
What I was hoping from a provocative title like Tertiary 3.0 (even though I’m not sure what 2.0 means) was that the ideas would look past the constraints of “the system” or that it would actively engage with changing them. I really wanted to explore what’s on the other side.
The problem for me though is all this is retrospective. At the time I didn’t think or feel like this. I was in the moment and caught up with what I was there, not what wasn’t. In hindsight I wished I’d asked some questions that could have taken us down that road. Thinking now I should have asked something like
Are Universities too anchored and constrained by the ideology and notion of degrees and qualification rather than learning?
Is the big silo we need to break down the concept that learning is contained within the provision of a degree?
In the first session the argument was made that universities are obsessed with campuses being the organising model for everything. I’ve actually voiced this sentiment before and it would have been great to explore this kind of thinking with the fantastic presenters. It would have been great to put the components of “the system” on the table to debate – with budgets, academic culture, responsibilities, legislation, qualifications, learning structures etc.
Maybe we need to focus on innovation in “the system” rather than having it stomp on our potential to change and improve.
I want to thank all the speakers and presenters on the day and the organisers too. I got a lot out of the sessions and was personally challenged by some of the things I saw and heard. So this isn’t a critique of the day or anything anyone said as it’s more of a challenge to myself to rethink where my effort is going and how change can be achieved. It’s a reminder not to go down the rabbit hole of debating “the system” – if anything it’s to work on ways, to quote NWA, “fuck the police” and subvert the system 🙂 because this is where innovation lies.
PS – I purposely haven’t defined “the system” beyond a list of things like budgets, academic culture, responsibilities, legislation, qualifications, learning structures etc. because it’s amorphous and varies greatly. I think leaving it open allows it to be defined subjectively, but I’d be happy to have a discussion about that if people feel the need.