Breaking the Mold: An Educational Perspective on Diffusion of Innovation/Preface

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The idea of creating a textbook on educational perspectives on diffusion and innovation arose from the challenge of teaching a graduate course in Technology Diffusion, Leadership and Change as part of my teaching load at Iowa State University in the context of an Instructional Technology graduate program. While researching about diffusion of innovation topics and planning the course, I came across two wikis created by colleagues from Indiana University and University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Niki Davis, Professor of e-Learning at University of Canterbury created a wiki on Change with Digital Technologies in Education. The core of that book is Davis’ ecological framework that is used to draw together and make sense of the multiple and complex theories, models, case studies and other research on change with digital technologies in education and training. Curt Bonk, Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University also developed collaboratively with his graduate students a Wikibook created as an aid to language teachers in their use of learning technologies and web based materials: The Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies (The WELT). Both innovative approaches to learning and teaching were an inspiration that fueled the inception of this writing project. Wikibooks provide an online platform for the collaborative creation of online textbooks.

Another inspiration came from Tim Brown’s book, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. The flexibility, freedom to experiment and emphasis on ideation shined a different light on traditional change theories. Design thinking offers a powerful approach to innovation by relying “on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that have emotional meaning as well as functionality, to express ourselves in media other than words or symbols” (Brown, 2012, p. 4).

When presented with the challenge of creating a WikiBook together as a class, my students felt simultaneously nervous and excited. The idea of becoming authors and contributors of an open content textbook was thrilling and at times seemed a tad daunting. No efforts were saved, both my students and I embraced this different way to learn and teach. Not only did we write this textbook collaboratively, but worked together on all the elements that go into textbook development, such as the table of contents, book cover, and title. The following paragraphs introduce each chapter of Breaking the Mold: An Educational Perspective on Diffusion of Innovation.

Under adoption and diffusion theories, Chatterjee addresses Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations. She raises important questions in this chapter related with the relevance of Rogers’ model in today’s information age. The information age is signified by the instant access to information, more stress on self-reliance, not bound by any geographic boundaries. Do we still have a strong sense of belonging to a community, the origin of the Diffusion of Innovation? Are we bothered by sanctions by the community? Is our value system influenced by the community? Do we associate a community with a physical boundary? How does all this affect the process of Diffusion and the Innovation to begin with? Chatterjee’s chapter reviews Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations, discusses the limitations and applications of this model, and examines the model's applicability to today's changing world.

Finken examines Ely's Conditions to facilitate the implementation of educational technology innovations. She recommends that once the climate of the organization is analyzed, a plan for how to address each of the conditions must be put in place. Ely's conditions provide a flexible framework to use as a guide in directing and analyzing the change process. The eight conditions all play a critical role in a successful implementation. But each situation and context is different, so Ely's conditions must be addressed thoughtfully and tailored to the needs of the organization. Finken’s chapter offers a summary of Ely’s conditions to facilitate the implementation of educational technology innovations, provides case studies and makes available a guide for the educational change agent. The chapter ends with a discussion on the limitations of Ely’s conditions.

Brown’s change by design (design thinking) is analyzed by Rivers. One of the most important aspects of any organization is a culture where employees are not only free to experiment, but are expected to do so. Indeed, from a design thinking perspective, any challenge is a chance to experiment. To get to that place, organization members must be provided with the time, space and budget to experiment, with the understanding that experiments often fail, or at least make mistakes. Rivers’ chapter discusses the principles behind the design thinking approach to support change. The chapter ends with an insightful reflection on how organizations, including schools, could incorporate some of these principles. As Rivers puts it, “Opening up our minds to innovative ideas of what ‘school’ means can finally take education out of the 20th century and place it in the 21st.”

Zhou offers a personal examination of Fullan’s Educational Change approach. In this chapter, Zhou starts by summarizing key points about Fullan’s New Meaning of Educational Change and then links her experiences with educational changes in China to Fullan’s approach. Finally, limitations of this approach are discussed in terms of differences between now and the past.

Lui introduces the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) as an instance of an adoption model. This chapter introduces Venkatesh’s original studies that conduced to UTAUT and discusses the four main constructs and mediate factors of this theory. The application of UTAUT to investigate the acceptance of e-learning in workplace and academic environments is discussed as well as UTAUT strengths and limitations.

When it comes to defining innovation, Moore revisits Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations model and Brown’s Design Thinking to discuss a definition of innovation. Innovation can cause a social change, or process in which change happens in the structure of a social system. Social systems can change with the introduction of new innovations. This chapter highlights Rogers’ and Brown’s stronger attributes (e.g., re-invention and ideation), but also discusses these theories limitations.

Christensen makes a significant contribution to the examination of change agents and education. She defines a change agent as a person who is advocating the growth and adoption of an innovation. This is not specific to a person that has been called upon to fill that role. In this case, the change agent need have no connection to the organization behind the innovation, save an interest in spreading the given innovation to their surrounding community. Using this definition, any person can become a change agent when focusing on the spread of an innovation for the benefit of the surrounding community. In Christensen’s chapter, she examines why a change agent is necessary and what a change agent does. She ends the chapter discussing educators as change agents. Christensen follows this analysis with an interview with Peter Korsching, Emeritus Professor at Iowa State University. In the past, Korsching collaborated with Everett Rogers and he is himself a change and diffusion of innovation scholar. His work examines public policies that affect rural areas, adoption and diffusion of new technologies, conservation of natural resources, and strategies for rural development.

On the other hand, Pardo interviews another important diffusion of innovations scholar and change agent: Ann Thompson. She is an University Professor at Iowa State University and has dedicated her career to developing leadership in technology in teacher education, and managing change with elegance and mastery. Thompson's research interests are related to the effects of technology in teacher education programs, as well as faculty development and technology mentoring programs.

In regards to change management, Kramer proposes strategies to diagnose and overcome resistance to change. As she puts it, "in order to help overcome resistance, change leaders need to realize that there are already strengths within the program or organization, and these strengths should not be ignored but should be celebrated and encouraged." She goes on to explain that there are also weaknesses that exist in every situation. To move forward, these weaknesses need to be changed and possibly even abandoned. In these situations, as change occurs, people must move through what is essentially a grieving process. Whether they realize it or not, people are having to part with thoughts or practices that they felt were working. Kramer’s chapter deals with change, types of resistance, and strategies to diagnose and overcome resistance.

Studies and examples that illustrate change theories, diffusion and innovation make up the last item in the table of contents. Gestrine uses the 1:1 student laptop initiative as one of these examples. She argues that there are many challenges to this initiative. Without long term planning, discussion about funding, proper administrator and teacher training, consistent resources and support for teachers, and positive support and willingness from teachers, a 1:1 student laptop initiative is not going to fail. The most crucial part of introducing laptops into education is making sure that they are being integrated correctly in each classroom. In this chapter, Gestrine discusses 1:1 laptop integration focusing on the concept of integration and diffusion, reasons behind this initiative, and offers her professional experience with 1:1 laptops.

Throughout this Wikibook the authors not only examine constructs, theories and models, but they also bring their insights and experiences while researching and learning about change and diffusion of innovation within educational contexts. With the creation of this Wikibook, I believe that my students and I took over Everett Rogers’ challenge presented in the fifth edition of his book, Diffusion of Innovations: “The challenge for diffusion scholars of the future is to move beyond proven methods and models of the past, to recognize their shortcomings and limitations, and to broaden their conceptions of the diffusion of innovations” (p.xxi).

Ana-Paula Correia
Ames, Iowa
December 21, 2012