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Innovation in Higher Education Contested: do we need a new lexicon for positive transformation in universities?

Friday 5 July: Conference day three, 10:30am – 11:00am parallel session



Room 2 – 303-G14, Sem



Dr Andy Wear
Deakin University, Australia



Innovation is no longer simply the brand-defining practice of industry disrupters and outliers; it is now a central headline strategy of governments, used to position key economic ideas. Malcolm Turnbull, as the newly minted Australian Prime Minister, staked his leadership on the notion of Australia as an ‘innovation nation’ which led to a series of widely publicised initiatives and the introduction of a cabinet-level innovation minister. Notable among these initiatives are a series of university-industry collaborative growth centers in key areas such as manufacturing and cyber security, and when the national Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation strategy was unveiled early last year, Universities Australia was quick to note the crucial role universities will play in this agenda.

Innovation and change are ontologically inherent in both education and research, so the expectation that universities provide leadership in this space is more than reasonable. While, in economic terms, this is especially crucial for a university’s research function, identifying as innovators in learning and teaching is proving increasingly important for universities in both economic and symbolic terms.


The issue

The dominant language of innovation is an amorphous hybrid borne of technology and entrepreneurship. At best, it is at odds with the language and culture of higher education. At worst, it misleads, alienates and infuriates teachers and learners alike.

The issue was highlighted by undertaking a content and thematic analysis of the teaching and learning innovation strategy documents/sites of every Australian university. This revealed the wholesale adoption of a language of innovation that amplified this incongruity, and presented divergent projections of what learning and teaching innovation is and therefore how its benefits should, or could, be measured.


Intended outcome

The round table will be structured as follows:

  1. Introductory contextualisation based on definition of keywords: innovation; lexicon; positive transformation.
  2. Introduction to the presenter’s position statement concerning the current status of the use of the terminology/conceptualisation of innovation (using the content and thematic analysis project as backdrop).
  3. Open roundtable for remainder of the session:
    • How is innovation defined in your institution?
    • Are you comfortable with/able to articulate this definition?
    • Does it align with/have meaning in the context of your role?
    • Does your organisation’s definition align with your role and understanding of innovation?
    • Conclusion with a summary of differences and distinctions, and scope for ongoing discussion and research.


Presentation topic

Academics – Changing Academic Practice

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