To the Editor:
A recent opinion essay by John Patrick Leary might lead one to believe that innovation and its associated efforts are responsible for many challenges (e.g., rising costs) confronting postsecondary education today (“Enough With All the Innovation,” The Chronicle, November 11). While Leary’s observations are valid, tying these trends to innovation is, we believe, misguided. As scholars and practitioners who research, study, and implement innovation-related practices, we offer three succinct responses:
Innovation and Entrepreneurship are Different: Who hasn’t had an idea and wished they could effectively roll it out to execution? Why shouldn’t college be the place where students learn these steps? Although part of Leary’s position hinges on lumping together innovation and entrepreneurship, these, in fact, are quite different. Innovation may be defined as being the process of generating and executing contextually beneficial new ideas. Entrepreneurship, meanwhile, is more explicitly associated with pursuing new venture creation. Given these parameters, shouldn’t postsecondary educators want all students to be involved in innovation?
Innovation as Measured by Student, Not Monetary, Outcomes: What do employers and industry leaders demand from newly minted college degree holders? Recent data suggest that hiring authorities desire students capable of creating positive change across many contexts. These “human skills” involve communication, comfort with ambiguity, synthesizing knowledge, and multidisciplinary teamwork. Innovation-related efforts must be seen, and often are seen, as educational and their outcomes developmental; if the goal were only to start profitable ventures, wouldn’t success be measured by the number of students who dropped out to pursue their ventures full-time?
Interventions Work: Our preliminary studies have measured students’ innovation capacities on over 10 campuses in the U.S. and abroad and have demonstrated that learning interventions (e.g., innovation-related coursework, curricular workshops, assessments, knowledge application) are effective. On a programmatic level, we highlight efforts such as JMU X-Labs that partner with industry, local communities, and stakeholders to solve actual problems. This semester, for example, faculty and students from multiple majors (e.g., biology, engineering, nursing, and kinesiology) are collaborating to address the opioid epidemic.
Scapegoating innovation for higher education’s persistent problems may in fact contribute to — or even worsen — the very issues that require innovative actions and solutions. Furthermore, knocking innovation and its associated educational efforts (e.g., design thinking) is, we remind readers, not particularly innovative. In closing, we ask: If you’re against innovation, what are you for, exactly?
Benjamin S. Selznick, James Madison University
Matthew J. Mayhew, The Ohio State University
Nick Swayne, James Madison University