There was a time when the term “innovation center”—at least for me—reflected one of the world capitals described by author/thought leader/researcher Richard Florida in books including The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?
But that was before I arrived in Portland, Oregon earlier today, a full day before the 2014 New Media Consortium (NMC) Summer [ed-tech] Conference formally begins with preconference workshops; by the time I was having dinner with several conference attendees earlier this evening, I was learning from one of them—Lisa Gustinelli—what innovations centers have become. As director of instructional technology at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Boca Raton, Florida, she has the fascinating challenge of helping familiarize her colleagues at a newly-opened innovation center with what the center means to the school, the faculty, and the learners it serves.
Listening to Gustinelli, I realized that what students, faculty, and the school librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas are beginning to encounter is a perfect example of a disruptive technological change that combines elements of several tech developments we have been following through the NMC Horizon Project (e.g., smart classrooms, telepresence, and collaborative environments) along with a few we haven’t yet encountered (e.g., classrooms with glass walls upon which learners can write). Teachers not only must learn to incorporate new technology into their day-to-day work, but must deal with the repercussions of working in a classroom that is, through its glass walls, visible to those passing by rather than being the more self-contained onsite or online space in which so many of us have worked during our entire training-teaching-learning career. Furthermore, the school librarian is going to quickly have to cope with an environment where books are in storage while digital resources are in the forefront of faculty-librarian/media specialist/learner interactions.
And lest any of us think of this as someone else’s challenge, let’s not forget that the sort of transformation Gustinelli was describing is not going to remain behind the glass walls of a private high school for long if it leads to learning successes in that environment; those learners—and many more like them—are going to graduate into our college and university settings sooner than later, join our workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts, and use our libraries to support their lifelong learning endeavors.
There’s an even more interesting—but rarely considered—aspect to the challenges we all face as our learning environments quickly change to reflect the rapid rate of technological change that is all around us: we literally don’t have the words to describe what we are doing in a world where our old labels (e.g., teacher, trainer, learning facilitator) are simply not broad and rich enough to capture the nuances of all we are doing. It’s as if we’re facing a vocabulary deficiency that is every bit as challenging as the attempt to define digital literacy has become. We see this as school librarians struggle to not completely lose that term to the more contemporary “media specialist” appellation. It’s the same struggle we see happening in workplace learning and performance as ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) transforms itself into ATD (the Association for Talent Development). “Talent Development” may be where industry jargon is headed, but “training” is still the far-from-adequate descriptor that is most familiar to trainer-teacher-learners.
And yet that sort of wicked problem—not only dealing with the changes coming our way, but also finding the words to define and describe what we do—is a large part of what attracts us to attend the 2014 NMC Summer conference. In fact, NMC CEO Larry Johnson addresses it directly in his “Welcome” statement in the conference program: “The NMC was founded on the values of collaboration and sharing, and every year, new projects are born from the conversations that take place here. Every year, I look forward to the chance to learn from some of the very best minds in new media anywhere, and judging from the program, I will learn a lot this year from all of you.”
So it’s probably no surprise that as our pre-conference dinner was breaking up and someone wondered aloud when the conference formally begins, I didn’t miss a beat before responding: “Oh, that’s easy; it started the minute we sat down together this evening and started talking to each other.”