Educating for innovation

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Citation: R. Keith Sawyer (2006) Educating for innovation. Thinking Skills and Creativity (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/j.tsc.2005.08.001
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/j.tsc.2005.08.001
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/j.tsc.2005.08.001
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Educating for innovation
Tagged: Education (RSS) constructionism (RSS), education (RSS), innovation (RSS), learning (RSS)


Sawyer's article is framed with a version of the popular refrain that "our schools" are not adequately training students to innovate and are instead focusing on rote memorizations. Sawyer argues that as developed economies switch to a knowledge-based economics (see Quinn's (1992) Intelligent enterprise: A knowledge and service based paradigm for industry), this focus on training for innovation is increasingly important.

Sawyer argues that innovation is based not on the model of a lone inventor but on collaboration and that training for innovation should involve a focus on increased collaborative training. Building on studies of innovator designers like IDEO who use extensive brainstorming, Sawyer argues for an improvisational approach.

Sawyer's other research has focused on improvisation and improvisational theater in particular. This piece builds on that work to argue that improv may provide a way to build support for innovation in schools to support collaborative creation. Building on the same body of research, he also argues that improvisation creativity can be thought and that teaching can be made improvisation by moving away from a didactic model to one where students can collectively build knowledge together, engage in an inquiry process, engage in "productive argumentation" and externalize their knowledge as it develops.

Sawyer quotes an example at length of an improvisational teaching exchange where students work through an an answer and a teacher provides support, but without directing them in a heavy-handed manner. He calls this model of leading, disciplined improvisation: "collaborative discussion in which students build knowledge together" (pg. 45).

Sawyer makes an argument for a strongly constructionist style learning environment and suggests that teachers should be trained in improvisational theater, but does not cite (and perhaps does not know) about the constructionist stream of literature spearheaded by Papert's (1980) Mindstorms.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Sawyer's piece has been cited more than 20 times since its publication 2006 years ago. It has been cited by Mitch Resnick in All I really need to know (about creative thinking) I learned (by studying how children learn) in kindergarten as an example of how constructionist skills can teach innovation skills which might be carried over into later life.