Innovation requires some risk taking, the accountability movement requires the use of proven practices and data to back it up. Innovation can help drive progress while accountability ensures a level of success. How do we reconcile the need to use innovative teaching with using teaching strategies that have been tried and tested?
How did educators manage to implement innovations like WoW in Schools in Pender County North Carolina and Suffren Middle School New York, the NOBLE project in Forsythe County Georgia, Minecraft at the Elizabeth Morrow School in New Jersey and the Games MOOC at Front Range Community College in Colorado? The programs were developed by educators who were convinced that the use of video games and 3D virtual environments would help students learn and supported by a leadership willing to take a risk. It seems the majority of us must wait until there is data to prove that the use of these technologies increases student achievement. We count on the risk takers to give us proven ways and means.
Empirical, clinical research is certainly valuable and in time, I am confident that there will be evidence to demonstrate levels of effectiveness in using immersive environments for teaching and learning. In the meantime, individual teachers can conduct action research. There is no control group, no withholding of services from one group to prove or disprove effectiveness. Action research is a way that a teacher/practitioner can explore an innovation, gradually improving his/her own practice. Action research is a method for professional development which may yield promising practices that can become “generalizable”.
It takes courage to try something new. The lucky students that are in classrooms with educators willing to do so will likely learn more than the intended curriculum. These students will witness thoughtful risk taking, commitment and problem solving. Proven strategies should be used, but not to the exclusion of innovation that show promise and potential.