Earlier this month King’s Online’s Instructional Technology Manager, Louise Bennett (@aestivus) spoke on the topic of building innovative teams in digital education at the Open Forum Events (@openforumevents) conference, ‘Technology in Learning: Reshaping the Educational Landscape’.
Here the King’s Online Blog brings you the second half of Louise’s insightful and engaging talk, touching on what we at King’s Online have learned about innovation, its pursuit and its implementation, over the last year or so.
So what have we learned?
- Innovation is expensive
‘Expense’ can mean a lot of things…and in this case we mean most of them. Innovation, you see, costs money. It also takes time (which also costs money). King’s Online use open-source tools almost exclusively, which means they are ‘free’ to use – free, however, as in puppies, not free as in beer. Yes, the software itself may be free, but everything else is not: someone has to maintain the product, install updates, keep the server running, manage backups, and resolve issues as they arise.
In addition to using and maintaining software, innovation can be expensive in terms of designing and building out one’s new ideas. It takes people out of their normal duties to spend time plotting out how to do new things. Sometimes, there are things we would love to create which, quite simply, aren’t possible based on the time and resource we have available – an inevitable part of the innovation cycle, alas.
- Innovation is exciting
One of the wonderful things about King’s Online’s focus on innovation is that everyone is excited to be involved in the process, with ideas for new developments and projects coming from all across the team. This too, of course, can be a balancing act: We don’t want our team tied down by the structures currently available; yet we can’t have them designing all their work based on tools and capabilities that don’t, in fact, exist (at least, not yet).
One thing we’ve had to work on is building a structure and workflow for new innovation requests. Ideas need to go through an approval process: Are they actually worth pursing (based on timelines, costs and ultimate benefits)? They will, after all, need to be fully scoped out before they go into development. It’s very easy to get over-excited about new ideas and rush them into development without stopping to think about what is needed. Therefore, while still great fun, innovation needs to be managed systematically.
- Recruiting non-traditional talent can be difficult
When King’s Online first started, we had a team that looked somewhat traditional: instructional designers, learning technologists and multimedia designers/developers. Eighteen months on, we still have a lot of instructional designers, but we have only one learning technologist and our multimedia has undergone some big changes. We also have a web developer, who writes code for us, and several web designers, who design UX and UI.
Instead of learning technologists, we’re now recruiting for a role that has been difficult for us to quantify: one part graphic/PowerPoint design, one part traditional content development, one part…well, everything.
It can, therefore, require a good deal of work to recruit on several different levels. Our content developers are often younger, relatively new graduates, most with a graphic design background. But we need more than graphic design – it takes an all-rounder, and finding them, and bringing them in to e-learning can be difficult. The same is true of web design/web development roles: these individuals potentially have a lot more experience, but most gain that experience in fields other than e-learning. How can we advertise in a way that encourages people to give a new industry a chance? I don’t have any obvious answers for this, but we’ve been very lucky in finding the people we have!
- Testing and review
It’s very easy to get excited about prototypes and rush them into production before actually making sure that they work exactly as they need to. Several times, we’ve had to roll out last-minute fixes to things to make them function properly – this is clearly not the way we really wish to work! Building testing into the process is, therefore, absolutely imperative. Nothing should ever be released without going through a multi-stage QA process. (Something we have yet to put into practice, but look to do in the future, is actual user-testing. One day!)
- Every project is different
We’ve built at least four different workflows in the past eighteen months, and the sad truth is that even the latest version – which is comprehensive and well-designed, building upon all previous iterations – is not perfect for working with all our stakeholders. Each of our projects involves different faculties (or individuals within faculties), and the relationships are different every time. It is up to us to adjust to get the best out of our academics (within reason). It turns out that being innovative also means being flexible, too!