It is not enough to have the right people for innovation to happen. It takes method, passion and new mindsets. This is Gustavo Severo Borba’s idea, postdoctoral fellow at the Boston College School of Education. Gustavo is co-author of the book “The School of the Future: What Students, Parents and Teachers Want (and Need)”, professor of the Graduate Program in Design and leader of the research group Strategic Design for Cultural and Social Innovation at Unisinos , besides having been ambassador of TEDx in Brazil.
In this interview, we talked with Gustavo about the elements and agents of educational innovation, as well as prominent initiatives in Brazil and around the world. Check it out!
What does it take to actually innovate in the educational environment?
According to the research we are doing at Unisinos, we have to have an appropriate environment for the learning process, which is an environment that connects active methodologies, innovative curricula, infrastructure that is thought to build connection, design. innovative, and technology, which can be digital or analog. The main technology I see today is the possibility of writing on the walls all the time. It is a technology that demands nothing digital, which is easy to build. But without proper methodology, even this simple technology can be misused.
When these elements are connected, there is a proper environment for learning. So if teachers and students are engaged in this process, we have a different activity or model.
Educational tools are a support nowadays. There are many online learning tools, but I would say the highlight are games. Learning by gamification helps to build knowledge from the mutual interest of students and teachers. When we gamify an activity, it becomes more interesting.
What are the challenges that Brazilian schools face today in the process of educational innovation?
In Brazil there are several initiatives that stand out. Each school has some kind of initiative that is connected to its DNA and that makes a difference to that community. The challenge for Brazil today is to have the attributes that a good school needs – full school, bilingual, etc. – but that connect the perspective of soft skills to those of hard skills. That is, they work in a connected way with art, music, literature and do not have as instrumental teaching as we end up seeing. Schools have been changing this for a longer time, and universities are now beginning to realize that there needs to be transformation that leads to a new place.
21st century skills, which are more closely linked to transversality and non-linearity, train people in a different way. They become more prepared to go beyond the profession, to interact in the community. That’s the key: interact and transform the community and make a difference socially.
How to turn innovation into a continuous process in schools and educational institutions?
A main point in the whole education debate today is that the innovation process is not strictly technology-based. For example, an innovative curriculum that develops activities in a systematic manner, not separating them, or that is project based – as many schools already do – is a kind of central innovation to educational institutions, schools and even universities.
In my opinion, the continuous process of innovation is linked to innovative practices that enable teachers, students, parents, the school community (in the school environment) and students (and in a broader university environment) to find processes and ways to build innovation.
For me, it is important that we listen more to students. The education process has to be more like a dialogue. We see several authors talking about the importance of the teacher-student connection today. In order for that, we have to give up on having only the teacher with the information and build a environment for discussion and collective construction of knowledge. So, to be innovative, the classroom space must be a space for conversation, for exchange. Obviously the teacher delivers content that is appropriate for that activity, but there is a knowledge exchange among students and among students and teachers.
What have you seen as the most innovative in education in the world? And in Brazil, what are the outstanding initiatives in your opinion?
It is quite difficult to talk about something innovative. There are some examples that have already been portrayed by Caio Dib, for example, who has done a very important job of seeking innovative initiatives in Brazil. There is Green School, a school in Bali that welcomes visitors from around the world and works with a perspective of interaction with the environment and nature, something very strong today too.
There is a project carried out by the staff of Coletivo Educação, which has traveled around the world in 13 schools. There is also an OECD report called Teachers as Designers of Learning Environment, which presents some innovation trends in teaching environments. He speaks, for example, of creativity and emotion, that is, of the connection of learning with the body. It also talks about experiential learning and the theory behind this methodology, which comes from Dewey, an American pragmatist. Two of the authors who deal most with experiential learning today are David Kolb and Alice Kolb, a well-known couple in the field of educational psychology. Computational thinking is another very strong point in terms of innovation. Blended learning, which we are already seeing and should arrive much more strongly in schools. Gamification and the perspective of different cultural groups, interaction and diversity in education.
The acceleration process of startups involves inserting them in an innovation ecosystem, where they will get funding, partnerships, mentoring, access to research, among other things. Gradually, companies are also becoming aware of the importance of being embedded in an ecosystem and working as hubs.
And how can schools benefit from an innovation ecosystem? Which agents do you think can work in partnership with schools to accelerate innovation and transform education models in them?
Education startups are very relevant and there are also have ecosystems, which are an increasingly interesting way to build innovation. Schools need to build exchange banks between school teachers and between schools, social spaces and exchange spaces because, generally, the main innovations are very close to us. This is an important point and there has to be a change in that in the connection of schools.
In all environments and in the school space, qualification depends on the management and methodologies that teachers use. The space is relevant, but it works as a connector between the institution’s project, the teacher’s methodology and the students. And students have to collectively build classroom activity. This is fundamental. I’m just reading a 2017 book of the couple I commented on, the Kolbs. This book talks about the idea of learning from experience and is called “The Experiential Educator”. In the book, the authors apply all aspects of experiential learning to the teacher. They state that the teacher’s role changes over time and that this must be understood to somehow change classroom activity.
So we have main elements in this book that point out that innovation is basically connected to teacher-student interaction and a qualified space for building innovation. Obviously, for this to happen, there has to be management. That way, we would have a process of innovation in schools.
Watch the TEDx where Gustavo Borba talks more about innovation and education:
To continue reading more on the subject, understand how to put innovation into practice by measuring the level of innovation in your school with the free APEI-50 tool.