Richard has been investigating the concept of innovation in education institutions. His study has taken him back to religious innovation in the Middle Ages, political innovation of the French revolution, social innovation during the 19th century industrial revolution and to where we are today, what is commonly known as technological innovation.
Richard says that while it was thought these developments occurred sequentially, as elements of the impetus to be innovative, they actually existed simultaneously. This latter understanding should change the way we understand what makes it necessary to be innovative.
“There’s a belief that you need some sort of qualification to innovate rather than accepting that people can innovate at any age,” Richard says. “Innovation is stifled if students believe they aren’t qualified to innovate. They are already innovative if they want to be.”
He says children need to believe they will be innovative throughout their lives “because that’s how they make changes in their own lives”, which is to say by changing meanings and practices for themselves and among themselves.
Richard thinks changing the composition of classrooms, will inspire creativity and innovation. He says by replacing the hierarchical teacher-student relationship with a structure that fosters both greater autonomy and greater individual and collective responsibility, relationships will be more fluid and new networks will be created.
“And with Artificial Intelligence and digitalisation of the educational experience, we will see open and social innovation taking us into a whole series of new networked and collaborative activities. Innovation is about shared learning; it’s creative and collective, learning through doing and experience, and it’s about being reliant on each other. What is more, students will demand more participation in the design of their learning experiences.”
Richard grew up in the tiny mill town of Waimiha in the King Country and completed his schooling in Hamilton before going to Massey University to study agriculture. He found that wasn’t for him and transferred to the University of Otago, but when illness interrupted his study he decided to start working and see the world. He did several jobs, travelled extensively and didn’t pick up tertiary study again until he was 44.
He completed bachelor and masters degrees in education at the University of Auckland where he formed a strong connection with education professor Michael Peters. His masters mark enabled him to win a Bright Futures Scholarship and do advanced research studies at the University of Barcelona, after which he returned to New Zealand, and worked for a private tertiary provider.
“By this time Michael [Peters] had moved to Waikato, and I began my doctorate … I sort of jumped in blind. Luckily Michael and Associate Professor Jayne White – my supervisors – understood the complexity of the task before me and were generous supervisors. What’s more, they encouraged me to work outside the immediate topic and provided me with a lot of opportunities to research and publish in related areas. During this time, I worked for Michael as a research assistant in the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research on three 600-page volumes – two of these volumes on The Idea of the University are soon to loom large on the shelves and as EBooks.”
Richard is curious to know innovation will lead us – Artificial Intelligence is about to present us with an anthropological problem we have never faced before. Perhaps just as innovation in the late Middle Ages challenged those who governed the church, innovation will need to “involve conflict, provocation and subversion”.
“We’re talking disruptive innovation here, changing what exists so as to improve our common experience and make the sustainability of life sustainable for everyone,” he says.
Richard will graduate with his PhD in April this year.