higher education innovation

Zones of Innovation: How Education Must Adapt


To keep pace with the changing world around us, it is vital that School Districts andUniversities delegate time and opportunity for the best ideas to be developed, tested, and expanded upon.  

Many practitioners view innovation as a product or integration of the newest technology craze. However, those are simply manifestations of the innovative process that precedes them.  Long before any product is created or any system goes live, innovation begins. It originates with the creative thinking process that is cultivated within an organization.  Sir Ken Robinson says “A culture of Innovation is when having creative ideas and acting on them is routine.”  The key is to establish an environment that both encourages and cultivates innovation, making it part of an organization’s culture.  

Organizations must also be adaptive when incorporating innovative ideas.  The business world has been contending with disruptive innovations for decades, if not centuries.  There were many that doubted telephones and automobiles when they first arrived, but despite this, innovations sweep the nation and the world over and over again. 

Just recently all major television networks joined together to air a special production focused on the need for innovative high schools.  The program, “XQ Super School Live,” took a detailed look at the “As-Is” and “To-Be” status of education today. Programs that prepare young people for the future by incorporating new models of education were highlighted. 

High Schools and Higher Education institutions must embark on a path that substitutes lecture for interactive and experiential learning.  The time is now to integrate all forms of media into the learning experience: video, photography, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, as well as gaming and collaboration facilitated through technology, just to name a few.

Incorporating the innovations of today will provide students with the learning they need to solve the problems of tomorrow.  

The Team at Curtis Strategy recognizes that harnessing creative thinking is a vital part of any organization making progress. We have created an Innovation Canvas as a means of tapping in to that creativity that is present within an organization but is often underutilized.

This series of steps is just one way that Universities and School Districts can establish zones of innovation within their organizations: 

  1. Create the i-Lab:  Innovative ideas can come from a variety of sources. The i-Lab is a place where people can share and develop their ideas into a prototype to share with organization leaders. 
  2. Selection Panel:  Establish two-four times per year that people can bring their ideas to a panel of peers and leaders who evaluate their innovative strategies.  The panel will select the most promising proposals to advance to the next stage.
  3. Testing Tank: Now that the idea has been selected, the designer, with support from the school, organizes an opportunity to test the idea/product/system in a real-life scenario. It is during this stage that the viability of the concept will be realized. 
  4. Expand or End:  The designer is now given time and resources to further develop the innovation.  This provides opportunities for reflection, modification and improvement.  If the designer is able to show positive results and real opportunity for expansion, they receive additional support.  If the innovation does not prove to be sustainable, then it is back to the drawing board!

This activity can be utilized within any Educational Organization, using our strategic planning tool, the Innovation Canvas. For more information concerning the canvas or our approach in building strategy to prepare schools or Universities for the future, please contact Eric Curtis, at eric@curtisstrategy.com


Higher Education as a Hub of Innovation

Change in education is here, and more is on the way in the future.  From the political shifts in Washington to the recent large investments in educational technology, signposts of change are visible all around us.  Globalization, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data Ö these are just a few of the recent innovations disrupting industries around the world.

We have been supporting colleges, universities, and K–12 organizations to engage in a process that ensures success as you meet these changes now and in the future.

For colleges, this means staying relevant in a world that is changing rapidly and requires young people to forge new skill-sets during their higher education years.

The question is how will Higher Education prepare young people to engage in new fields of study?  According to the AACU survey recently published in Inside Higher Ed, only 37% of employers think current students have the skills necessary to work together in teams and only 21% believe that current students are up to date on developments in science.

We at Curtis Strategy believe colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to lead change.  With improved strategy, partnerships, and outcomes, they can meet the needs of the changing post college employment landscape.

Recently EvoLLLution, an online newspaper focused on innovation in higher education, surveyed thousands of current university Presidents and higher education leaders.  The three top priorities that emerged as the driving forces of change were the integration of new technology, serving adult learners, and the effects of declining budgets.

There are many universities and colleges embracing the new landscape and leading the way.  These schools grow niche programming and expand their outreach toward high schools as well as prepare students for work in organizations with global reach by providing more opportunities for students to study abroad.

One state college recognizing the need to broaden diversity among its student population to reflect the surrounding demographics is Zane State College, a two-year state school in Ohio.  Zane decided to develop a pathway for success by building partnerships with local high schools and creating opportunities for students to learn about and enroll in college.  New services range from courses advising high school students on college applications to early acceptance and enrollment into the college for high school students enrolled in a special program that identifies students with promising futures who would not typically attend college.

Clark University in Worcester assists students by developing a pathway for success starting in high school and ending with employment at Unum, a large insurance agency that is one of the major employers in the city.  Often, the students who participate in this program face a myriad of obstacles that may range from homelessness to English being a second language.  But Clark, the Worcester Public Schools, and corporate sponsors provide the support students need to succeed.

In recognition of employers, who responded to the same AACU survey mentioned above stating they believe only 14% of college students have adequate awareness or experience of cultures outside of the US, some colleges and universities have invested in opportunities for students to spend time abroad on campuses in Europe, North Africa, and beyond.  Jason Lane, professor of education at State University of NY–Albany and his team of researchers found that the number of US colleges and university branches abroad nearly doubled, showing an increase from 82 to 162 over a period of eight years between 2002 and 2010.

At Curtis Strategy, we recognize the pressures facing the higher education community as well as the opportunities that colleges and universities can take advantage of right now.  When you embrace the concept of an educational pathway that starts in grade school and continues through employment, colleges and universities become the fulcrum.  Schools that develop effective programs that meet the needs of incoming students, as well as companies looking for competent employees, will stand out and become the desired colleges for the future.