Tag Archives: higher education reform

Adding a Little STEAM: On Risk, Failure, and the Quality of Higher Education

doug-fullsteamahead(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

On Thursday, Morgan and I attended the first meeting of the Congressional STEAM Caucus on Capitol Hill… “a briefing on changing the vocabulary of education to include both art and science – and their intersections – to prepare our next generation of innovators to lead the 21st century economy.” STEAM seeks to promote creativity and innovation as key elements of Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) education. The “A” in STEAM reflects the growing awareness that art and design can be effective enablers, catalyzing the kind of creative thinking and openness to risk-taking that is critical for success in STEM. Although initially conceived by John Maeda of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the idea is catching on, and there are now many supporters scattered across the country.

Why is STEAM gaining steam? As expressed by the panelists at the Caucus, many now recognize that students just aren’t being prepared by our educational system to be creative, independent thinkers who are willing to take risks and experiment. On View from the Q this month, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski raised the same issue, citing the recent ASQ STEM careers survey of young adults: students know that you have to experiment (and sometimes fail) to be successful in STEM, and yet they admit that they’re afraid to take those risks.

Paul asks:

I want to know how you— the quality professional — handle failure in the workplace. Do you try again until you find a solution? Are you penalized for failure? Or do you avoid it altogether? How much risk are you willing to take to find solutions to quality challenges?

One of the reasons Morgan and I started the Burning Mind Project is that we wanted our students to feel comfortable taking risks, and accept full personal responsibility for the evolution of their own learning process. We use techniques like “choose your own grade” and “grading by accumulation” to encourage risk taking, eliminate penalties for “traditional failure,” and shift the focus to understanding and embracing quality standards on a personal and visceral level. We like what STEAM represents because the approach embraces divergent thinking, and thus innately supports the development of positivity and emotional alignment in an educational setting, which (a la Fredrickson) broadens the ability of students to see new opportunities and possibilities

That is, to invent (and ultimately – by understanding how to create value for others – innovate).

Your weaknesses may actually be the keys that reveal your secret strengths. As educators, it’s up to us to help facilitate this process of discovery, not to fail our students for engaging in it. As business leaders, this can be more difficult because many of us have convinced ourselves that we should only have to pay for those things that “pay off.” However, the lessons learned from traditional failure are often the most empowering, even though our ability to honor them may be weak.

Stimulating Innovation Culture through Higher Ed Reform (Part I)

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could create an innovation culture in your organization by just bringing people in who have already been enculturated into that way of thinking and being? I think it’s possible. (I propose one potential design in the follow-up to this post, Part II.)

Pretty much every week I read articles about how the higher education system in the U.S. is broken. (That is, how it needs to be overhauled and reformed, how the educational system is not enhancing our competitiveness as a nation, or how it’s too expensive compared to the value it provides graduates, especially in a down economy.) This week, I read Wildavsky & Litan’s Huffington Post article that outlines how bureaucratic processes and accreditation are getting in the way of implementing innovative educational business models.

I also see a lot of articles bemoaning the struggle to create a culture of innovation in many organizations, and every one of these seems to tie back to processes and practices that could potentially derive from a student’s experience in the higher education environment. For example, Edward Hess (currently an Executive in Residence at UVA’s Darden School of Business) recently wrote an article in Forbes encouraging organizations to adopt a culture that supports innovation:

Innovation is the result of iterative learning processes as well as environments that encourage experimentation, critical inquiry, critical debate, and accept failures as a necessary part of the process…

…innovation requires a mindset that rejects the fear of failure and replaces that fear of failure with the joy of exploration and experimental learning.

So the solution is EASY: we need to 1) model iterative learning processes in education, and 2) enculturate our students to accept – and appreciate! – failures and false starts as a totally necessary part of the process. Only here’s the problem: the message we’re reinforcing as parents, as educators, and as citizens is that failure is bad. Work hard, study hard, press forward, get A’s! Don’t use your education to learn more about what turns you on and what you want to contribute to the world. Just make us proud of you, and bust your butt so you can get a high paying job. Whether you like it or not.

This is not productive and not enjoyable for many, many students. It promotes fear and drains out a lot of natural love for learning new things.

Click here to see my imaginative and utopian proposal for a new system –>