MAET: Wickedly Investigating Innovation

Education, MSU MAET

Our #Innovation group has explored the nature of innovation these past couple weeks, and while our discussion at times went in many different direction, this reflected the wicked nature of the problem: how do we have schools value innovation in their students? Wicked problems were proposed by Rittel and Webber (1973) as problems that are so large and complex that they cannot be completely described, can be seen through very different yet equally valid viewpoints, and have no definite solutions.

Education certainly has its share of wicked problems. The push to further develop the ability of students to innovate in their lives and future careers has even been addressed by President Obama with Educate to Innovate. Yet this initiative appears to only address encouraging students to enter STEM fields, not developing innovation skills. Part of the wickedness of this problem is there is no consensus on whether innovation can be taught, or if so, how to do so. Innovation has long been valued in American culture (if I can broadly generalize, or even define what American culture is – again, wickedness). In order to compete internationally, the United States will not have the largest workforce, nor the cheapest, nor even the most highly technically trained, so innovation remains a strength. Yet it’s largely not developed in K-12 schools.

We considered many reasons why this may be the case, including not engaging students in trans-disciplinary learning, not often permitting students to define and pursue their own project ideas, and schools being risk-adverse. One issue stood out above others: the emphasis on high-stake, standardized testing that emphasizes content recall and abstract problem solving. This impacts what is taught in schools, how it is taught, what schools value, even how standards are developed, as Diane Ravitch points out in her criticism of Common Core.

As we explored what alternatives to standardized testing would allow schools to value innovation, we again ran into many examples of wickedness. Ideas such as using performance assessments or developing student portfolios also had their own problems, particularly in an increasingly data-driven field such as education. Many of the ideas we considered have been proposed before, yet seemingly found little traction. The notion of a “best bad idea” came up repeatedly. In the end, we proposed the idea of broad guidelines that could be used to track the development of creativity and innovation skills, but based of feedback from our whole-class hangout, decided not to create a rigid rubric since it may end up contributing to the problem. We still feel there are ways to quantitatively assess innovation in a classroom setting however, so did not abandon the idea entirely.

Another suggestion that came up from Zak below and other classmates during the hangout was the idea of getting stakeholder buy-in. As with any monumental change, this would be difficult. Our group discussed this and added some our points to the whitepaper. For teachers and parents, increased student engagement may be enough to get people on board. If students are able to define the problems they tackle rather than having prescribed problems, we see this as being a powerful way to engage students in authentic learning. For politicians and testing companies, these changes could be a tougher sell. I feel that including industry from STEM fields in discussions would be enough of a kickstarter to create change at that level. I was able to attend a STEM conference at Grand Valley State University earlier in the year where Governor Snyder spoke as well as leaders in industry who were looking for ways to compete in a global economy, and it appeared that their goals were closely aligned, yet again the problem was considered primarily at the content level, not encouraging thinking skills for innovation which we are pushing for.

Our exploration of this wicked problem includes a video log of our discussions and related videos, an annotated graphic that explores what’s needed to develop creativity and innovation, and a white paper focusing on our proposal to change how K-12 schools assess students. I would love to continue to explore these ideas as I proceed through future classes at Michigan State.


KETVideos. (2014, May 22). Diane Ravitch on problems with Common Core standards [Video file]. Retrieved from

Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy sciences4(2), 155-169.

One thought on “MAET: Wickedly Investigating Innovation

  1. I really like your ideas here about assessments being the bigger issue. I feel that the assessments are never for the student but only for the state to say that they put emphasis on schools. I feel that the more wicked problem here isn’t finding as assessment that would work for innovation but the idea of convincing those at the state level that removing the assessment is necessary. One thing I’d like to ask about is you focus on creativity and innovation but the one thing that kept coming up for me was the idea that experience also create innovation. The more experience students have with an idea or opportunities they have the more likely they are to find different options (innovation). I’m not sure if you found this in any of your research (I saw one mention to experience in the white paper). I guess my biggest question is how will you convince the stakeholders to make such a change. Everyone in and out of education who have taken the state assessments know that they are unnecessary and do not effect learning or prove learning has taken place. So how do we make that major shift in the governmental side of things. It seems as if we are going even further the other way with more memorization and multiple choice type assessments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *