Suggestions on how to enable organisational creativity and innovation for the digital age

We need a radical overhaul of education to enable our learners to thrive in the connected age. Part of that overhaul should look at the organisational structure we use to deliver education. The structure and culture of an organisation determines its ability to be agile, innovative and creative. These, I believe, are the key attributes needed for the digital age. The same challenges face the corporate world and the education world – how to move from a mechanistic to an organic mode of operation. For more on this see organism not mechanism

Professor Richard Foster of Yale University suggests that the lifespan of corporations is dramatically decreasing. From 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today. If this is the case the challenge is to understand why and see what, if anything, can be done about this trend. Organisations that are agile, innovative and creative will survive longer than those that are not. I suggest that organisational structures are based upon an out-dated model which worked in the 19th and 20th centuries but which is becoming increasingly at odds in the digital age.  The top down culture and rigid hierarchy that worked well in the past does not work in the digital age. Crowd sourcing, social networking, knowledge workers and universal education are the key attributes that have made the older organisational models obsolete.

Compare small start-up companies to large corporates. Most small businesses fail but a few go on to develop new products and services which result in huge growth. There are many examples of this incredible expansion with the likes of Facebook and Youtube being among the more prominent.  Microsoft was seen as one of these innovative companies thirty years ago with its software enabling everyone to use a personal computer rather than leaving computing only to those with access to mainframes. More recently however one of the main means of innovation for Microsoft has been the acquisition of smaller companies. Indeed many Microsoft products stem from the technology of other companies. SQL Server was originally a Sybase product, Powerpoint was originally developed by a company called Forethought, Hotmail, Visio and Dynamics are all core Microsoft products that were acquired through acquisitions rather than internal innovation. I am not saying that Microsoft is not an innovative company but I do think that corporate structures, with all their resources, struggle to innovate in a way that the small start-up can. Should we not worry about this and leave the corporate world to swallow up its smaller, younger and more creative competitors or should we explore the possibility of new organisational structures that are more conducive to innovation? For more on Microsoft see this post about the resignation of Steve Ballmer

While we cannot predict the future, to go forward positively, we need to understand the direction of travel. Technology has replaced many of our jobs. Increasingly machines are becoming better than humans at mechanistic tasks. Their ability grows every day so that they can complete more complex operations. Where does this leave
humans beings in the work place?  Clearly there are many tasks that computers and robots struggle with. I would suggest that these are the more creative and artistic activities.  If we assume that this trend will continue then we need to think about this in relation to education. Education is where we prepare people for the future. The pace of change is such that those doing the educating have a significantly different experience of the world of work to that which their students will encounter.

Here are my suggestions for creating the new organisational structures needed for the digital age:-

  • performance monitoring systems in corporations and the assessment regimes in education need to be able to facilitate this new role for humans and move away from the ‘tick box’ and ‘one size fits all’ approaches that we currently see in place.
  • assessment of performance should be personalised.
  • managers and tutors should move toward a facilitator role rather than a gatekeeper/controller role
  • dissent should be nurtured and encouraged and used to spark creativity
  • ‘mistakes’ should be expected and used for learning across the organisation
  • decision making should be devolved downwards in the structure
  • college and corporate structures should be flatter
  • communication across the organisation should be open and focussed on solutions
  • staff should be employed for their energy, ideas and aptitudes rather than their complicity
  • tutors and staff who can be replaced with a machine should be
  • managers in education and the corporate world should focus on creating an environment in which their staff and learners can flourish
  • managers need to harness and apply the collective intelligence within their organisations
  • teams should be composed of as divergent talents and attributes as possible

Woolworths, Kodak, HMV, Blockbuster and Comet held strong market positions in recent years. They have all now gone or had to be bailed out to survive. If their structures were more modern perhaps they would still be with us today. A similar challenge faces UK universities – see some universities may close.   As we head toward the middle of the 21st century we will see the expansion of the use of technology into many more areas of our social, economic and cultural lives. The key human contribution will stem from our ability to be innovative, creative and artistic. Organisations that are able to structure themselves to enable their staff to be creative will be those that flourish in the future. Those that cannot will fail. The challenge for our educators is to mimic this new structure in their schools and colleges and in their teaching methods so that their learners are equipped for their future rather than their tutors collective histories.         

Engaging learners with augmented reality

What skills and concepts do today’s software design students need? What is the best way for them to develop these and how can their learning be supported most effectively?

These questions are of crucial importance to Barry Spencer, Computing and IT tutor at Bromley College. Some of his innovative approaches were showcased at a recent open day. I was delighted to be invited in to take a closer look.

Learning and Teaching

AR enabled quick reference cards

AR enabled quick reference cards

Barry, who teaches students computer programming using the ‘C’ language, showed me some quick reference revision cards that he is trialling with Level 3 and 4 students. These laminated cards come in two sizes: credit card sized and pocket sized. They are printed with summary information about fundamental concepts, such as ‘C’ function types and each has a distinctive heading. However, there is more to these cards than first meets the eye… Whilst the printed material is useful in itself, students with Aurasma app installed on their mobile device can watch the content come to life, line by line, through an augmented reality video. This adds an engaging and enriching dimension, providing deeper engagement with the content. The portable format enables learners to access the revision material in short bursts of time whenever they like. Students can reinforce their learning on the move or other short periods, outside any dedicated ‘desk time’ used for their learning. Building on the experience with the revision cards, Barry is now introducing AR triggers into his lecture note handouts. Whilst all the concepts are covered in the notes, students can use the AR application to view related videos that further elaborate on the topic, developing the same ideas in different ways.


In addition to using AR for teaching, Barry is also helping Bromley introduce AR elements into their new brochure.  They are hoping to draw in potential students with a more dynamic and engaging presentation than is possible in the traditional print medium.

The Future

Barry’s Computing and IT students are likely to go on to work in the software industry at a time when the use of apps and AR technologies is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society. It must be useful for them to have first-hand experience of both the use of mobile apps for learning as well as of AR technologies to help to develop an understanding of the mechanics of what’s involved.

Barry is asking all those involved in the pilot, students and staff, for their views and experiences of the experiments. The questionnaire asks what types of videos they preferred, what format worked best and whether they think it helped their learning. It’s great to see examples of AR technology being used to support learning and teaching as well as marketing.

Survey Snapshot

Survey Snapshot

Analysing results from the questionnaire and monitoring usage and progress will help Bromley College and the wider community to better understand what we need to do to make the most of emerging technology for the benefit of our learners and society in general.

I look forward to returning in the future to find out what Barry has found works best for engaging students using AR.

Related links

Guardian higher education network blog:
Augmented reality in education: teaching tool or passing trend?

Excellence Gateway case study:
Kendal College: The 2012 Prospectus Featuring Augmented Reality case study

Jisc RSC London event report:
Augmented Reality Workshop, 14th November 2012

Case study: West Thames College Creativity and Innovation in Learning and Teaching

West Thames logoA new case study from West Thames College: “Using creativity and innovation to drive cross-college improvements in the quality of learning and teaching”.

The decision to bring e-learning and teacher education together within the management structure has proved significant in helping to move pockets of innovation and good practice out across the whole of West Thames College.

A vehicle for this is “Creativity and Innovation in Learning and Teaching” (CILT), a curriculum and quality programme that is being delivered cross-college as a modular, continuing professional development (CPD) strand of the College’s ‘Towards Excellence: Improving Teaching and Learning Project’.

Read the full case study on the Excellence Gateway

Funding opportunity-Developing Pedagogy and Practice 2010/11

Funding opportunity from ESCalate…

Maximum per award £5,000
Awards per round  3
Deadline for proposal   Monday, 31 January 2011

Funding is intended to support innovative teaching and scholarship amongst teachers and lecturers from across the UK who work on higher education programmes within Education, Continuing Education and Life Long Learning. We are particularly interested in receiving bids from teams within the HE in FE sector.

Projects should directly benefit education students through developments in pedagogy and practice. Applications must demonstrate a scholarly approach to raising the status of teaching and learning. Applications must include plans for dissemination of outcomes both within the award holder’s institution and beyond, and include strategies for evaluation.

Successful projects will:

  • support the development of pedagogy and practice in HE;
  • allow award holders to develop their ideas, practices and resources in ways that directly support student learning;
  • actively promote and disseminate findings and outcomes both within the award holder’s institution and beyond.

Full details and online application available on the ESCalate website

Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review from JISC infoNet

This review has been commissioned by JISC to review the literature on the use of mobile and wireless technologies for learning and teaching in UK further and higher education.
The review will inform the development of a new ‘Innovative Practice’ publication to build upon earlier ‘Innovative practice with e-Learning’ publications from JISC

Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review is available in a number of formats at:

Final reminder for JISC Online Conference Innovating e-Learning 23rd-26th November

5th JISC international online conference 23rd – 26th November 2010

Bringing Innovation to Life: from adversity comes opportunity

Pre-conference activity and reading week opens on 16th November 2010

Delegate fee: £50 Continue reading