Into the Basement of the Higher Education Innovation Haunted Mansion at HAIL Storm 2018

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” I can’t say that I consistently live this teaching, but I value it. It is part of why I share candid, idiosyncratic, under-developed, rough draft ideas and projects online. Scan a random sample of my 1000+ online articles and you will find ample inconsistencies, false starts, over-zealous goals that fizzled before having something substantive to show for them, along with a few wins and accomplishments. Look carefully and you will find an article where I share what I called my un-resume, a long list of failures and underwhelming moments in life. Why would I share such things with the public? Be assured that there is even more that I don’t share, but as I gain the courage and weigh the risks, I strive to offer such a public record because it is something that I’ve long sought from others.

Growing up, I saw people who intrigued me, did what I wanted to do, reached a milestone that I hoped to reach one day, and/or who inspired me in some way. I saw their titles, feats, polished accomplishments, published works, and I read stories of their achievements. Only, I wanted to see how they got there. I longed to know the stories behind the stories, the struggles, fears, failures, and crossroads moments. I wanted to know about their flaws and limitations and how they managed them, how they pushed through the down times, whether they struggled with moments of doubt or depression and how they didn’t let such things consume them. I wanted to know about the hard times that also turned into important lessons. Then, amid all of that, I wanted to hear those stories of achievement once again.

Recently, I had a very brief visit to Disney World. A group of us went through the Haunted Mansion. In room after room, we saw translucent figures floating about. Many get that experience of the Haunted Mansion, but not what I saw next. Afterward, our guide took us on a second tour, this time a side door that took us into the basement of that same mansion. Walking in partial darkness between the carefully marked glowing lines on the floor, we were given a glimpse behind the scenes. I saw boxes stacked in corners, unimpressive plywood constructions, and other sights that resembled more of what you might expect in a storage unit or old barn. As we continued, we found ourselves beneath the public exhibit in one of the rooms, a behind the scenes view of the ghosts and ghouls. Only now we saw mirrors, lights, props, and human-like figures.

When I went on the first tour, I was impressed and amused. Walking out of that second tour, I was more inspired and informed. I could envision working with a team to creating our own haunted mansion. That is the same sort of thing that I longed for over the years as I looked at mentors, role models, and others from whom I hoped to learn. I can be impressed and engaged by the polish and public side of accomplishments, but that real and raw behind the scenes view is something that points me to more of a roadmap. While we sometimes face missions and challenges in life that do not seem to have much of a roadmap, getting the raw view of other’s journey can be used to build both competence and confidence.

I’m writing this as I sit in the Hollywood/Burbank Airport, leaving from a professional development experience that I would equate with a tour of the Haunted Mansion basement. HAIL (Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners) Storm was a small gathering of 35 people who are passionate about higher education innovation with a purpose. Only we didn’t gather for a typical conference experience. Instead, unlike any professional development experience in my higher education career, this was a time to hear the stories behind the story, to speak candidly about successes, challenges, developing ideas, and yes, even some of our failures. As such, I head home inspired and informed, a little more confident to pursue new possibilities, a bit more emboldened to persist through failures and challenges, and committed to lean even further into mission-minded educational innovation.

The Launch of an Academic Innovation Team on Augmented & Virtual Reality in the Higher Education Classroom

As some might recall, I choose three words to guide my work and thinking each year. For 2018, my three words are experiments, prototypes, and competitions. Related to the first two of these words, and amid my new role as Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, today I launched the first of what I hope to be a series of multi-disciplinary Academic Innovation Teams. Over the next six months this group will deepen our understanding of and experience with augmented and virtual reality. From there we will begin to create small tests, experiments, or prototypes that help us explore the benefits and limitations of these technologies.

It is a pretty simple structure. In the first session, we introduced ourselves, shared a bit about our roles at the University, and each explained what we hope to get out of the group. Then we established some shared goals and a bit of a timeline. As such, we will be spending the first two months familiarizing ourselves with more of the scholarly literature about AR and VR in higher education while also getting some hands on experience with current hardware and software, thanks to the leadership of two team members who are also faculty in our computer science department.

We had a good chat about how we want to deepen our knowledge together. As such, we agreed that our learning will take on the form of reviewing and discussing scholarly literature, getting hands on experience with the software and hardware, examining current and emerging applications beyond education (and considering potential educational applications), taking time to consider the important ethical and philosophical aspects of AR & VR, inviting in guest scholars/designers/practitioners who are already doing great work with AR & VR in higher education, and then quickly working toward learning by doing/designing/creating.

As we deepen our understanding in the first two months, this will also give individual team members a chance to clarify their goals and interests for the next phase, the part where we establish individual and/or shared design and development projects related to AR and/or VR in a higher education classroom context. Some of these will be more applied projects in a specific classroom or context, while others might be more formal research projects. Either way, it is my hope to see some good presentations and papers emerge from this group over the next year.

This should make for a rich, rewarding, and productive community. We have faculty from curriculum and instruction, business, computer science, physiology, anatomy, pharmacy, sociology, adult education, instructional technology, English/writing, and nursing. We also have staff on the team who represent student life, IT, and instructional design. Experience ranges from people who have never experienced virtual reality to others who have designed some pretty advanced educational applications. Together we will explore the possibilities, deepen our individual and shared understanding, and (most exciting to me) glean actionable teaching and learning insights through experiments and classroom/context prototypes across disciplines.

The idea of this team itself is an experiment, and I’m excited to co-learn and co-create with this wonderful group over the upcoming months! I’ll do my best to keep you posted of the progress and lessons learned along the way.

A New School Year Gift for Educational Innovators and Difference-Makers

Dear educators, administrators, parents, teachers, and other educational innovators and difference-makers:

Recently I started to think about the beginning of a new school year. In celebration of another year, what could I offer as a gift to teachers, administrators, policy-makers, educational entrepreneurs, parents, students, and others who want to make a difference in education? My first thought related to writing a series of articles that include tips for teachers and others who are starting a new school year. I may still do that this year or the next, but the more that I thought about it, I realized that I already wrote something for teachers. In fact, in addition to my 1000+ online articles, I’ve written five books in the last two years, four of which are written for those in education. So, why not give away one of my books as a new school year gift?

I sent a quick message to the publisher of my first book, Missional Moonshots: Insight and Inspiration in Educational Innovation, suggesting a crazy idea. As you might expect, publishers depend upon the money that they make from published books, so my idea was a radical one. My suggestion was simple.

“I want to give away unlimited free PDF versions of the Missional Moonshots book. What do you think?” To my delight, I received a literal thumbs up.

So, without further ado, here is my new school year gift to anyone who wants to be an innovator and difference-maker this school year. Simply click on the link below to download a free and complete PDF version of my book, a collection a short chapters, each of which offers you tips for how to effect positive change in a learning organization. This is drawn from hundreds of interviews and observations of innovative schools and leaders, over two decades of personal experience, and a good decade of focused research and reading on the subject. I hope and pray that you find this useful.

CLICK HERE to download a free and complete copy of Missional Moonshots: Insight and Inspiration in Educatioanl Innovation by Dr. Bernard Bull 

What Do I ask in return?

This is a gift, so there are no strings attached. Just enjoy. However, if you like what you read, here are two things that you can do.

  1. Share this gift with anyone and everyone who might be interested or can benefit from it.You can send them back to this page to download it so that I can track how many people are interested. All copyright is still in place for this book, so printing, distributing, or selling it to others is not allowed, but there is nothing keeping you from directing people to this article to download it.
  2. Tell me about what you learned, liked, or used. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing from readers of the paper version so far, and I would love to here from you as well.

Other Options for the Book?

If you really want a paper copy or a Kindle version, the book is still for sale on Amazon and other booksellers.

One Last Comment

I hope that you find this gift useful in this new school year. Thank you to the many educators, administrators, parents, students, and others who strive to create rich and rewarding learning experiences and learning communities, and for those with the courage and conviction to challenge the status quo in education, inspired by a clear vision and a compelling “why.”

I hope to get started with a semi-frequent Etale newsletter, occasional new articles on this blog, and new episodes for the MoonshotEdu Show in the near future. Stay tuned for news about that. Of course, I welcome your help spreading the word.

A fellow co-learner,

Bernard Bull

What is a Chief Innovation Officer?

Recently, I got a new title. I still have the old ones. I remain a professor and AVP of Academics. Now I’m also the Chief Innovation Officer. Of course, that begs the question. What is a chief innovation officer? As best as I can tell, it goes back almost twenty years, drawn out of the broader world of research and development, which I find helpful in thinking about the different expressions of chief innovation officers across organizations.

When it comes to research and development, there tend to be three emphases, all of which align with a central purpose. R&D units in companies and organizations have the task of championing and forming innovations that further the core mission and business of a company. Yet, those three emphases are important to recognize.

Sustaining Innovations

There are the sustaining innovations that some R&D units pursue. These relate to enhancements and improvement of existing products and services. This might been revamping an existing product or service to better serve existing users of that product or service. It might also involve reworking a product or service in a way that it meets the need of a new audience.

Another way of looking at sustaining innovations is to think of the learner, customer or end user. Many great sustaining innovations come from observing, learning from and listening to these end users. It is about finding out what is working, what is not, what needs are unmet, what expectations might be unmet or only partially met. Or, it might be about how the current products or services are just not accomplishing the end goals for the user. From that research, we revise existing products or create new ones.

In the world of education, this is where the majority of innovation work focuses. We are learning about what is working and what is not. Then we use that data to improve the student outcomes, student experience, student satisfaction, or a combination of these three.

Disruptive Innovations

Focus upon truly disruptive innovations is almost non-existent in the education space. A truly disruptive innovation creates a new market or disrupts an existing one. It might be a small market, not tapping into the audience served by the dominant and related products and services. Of course, this is speculative. It is heard to determine if a technology or innovation will be disruptive. Yet, we do know a few things. First, disruptive innovations are often ignored or belittled by the largest players in a domain. From a financial perspective, the return on investment might not even look very favorable. So, the small startup or grassroots effort has an opportunity.

Because of the speculative nature, the attempt to find and grow a disruptive innovation is almost certain to include multiple failed attempts. Of course, learning organizations are risk averse and have negative views of failure, which is why most learning organizations don’t venture into this world. Yet, those who do, and do so successfully, tend to create a culture of experimentation and pilots. They take a concept and try it out for different contexts and populations, perhaps a dozen until the right one is discovered.

Curiosity-Driven R&D

There is another category of work that sometimes involved a Chief Innovation Officer. This is heavier one the pure, curiosity-driven research. There are questions posed and research is conducted to seek answers to those questions. There might be my initial application of the knowledge pursued or acquired. This is much more exploratory and not necessarily even focused on a potential product or service. Yet, many great and practical ideas do come from this sort of exploratory work research. The one who conducts the research and the one who applies it to solve real-world problems might even be a different person.

CIO Roles

So, what does this have to do with the role of a Chief Innovation Officer. As I learn more about this role myself, I’ve come to define it this way. The role of the CIO is to champion innovative policies, practices, procedures, and programs that further the mission of the organization. This might come in the form of sustaining innovations. It might involve efforts to identify that right fit for a disruptive technology. It might involve supporting more curiosity-driven research too. At the same time, the CIO might be involved with promoting innovations and collaborations across units, promoting and pursuing that which is unlikely to take root in a single unit. So, someone living and working within the seams of these units might have what it takes to move things forward. In addition, this CIO might be the one to draw people together for shared accountability, all for the sake of innovation in pursuit of the organization’s mission.

The CIO is not necessarily the one doing all of the innovating. Sometimes he/she is, but the primary role is to promote and champion innovation wherever is arises or exists. This will result is a much broader range of innovations, far beyond what a single person or team could accomplish. At least that is how I plan to approach the role.