Educational innovation lives in practice

Good educational practice cuts a channel for the free flow of ideas, life, and transformation through the muck of cynicism, indifference, and greed. As higher education programs increasingly leverage online and digital technologies, higher education leadership faces the challenge of meeting its promise of quality education.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of cognitive, teacher and social presence in digital learning outcomes (see Garrison 2017). However, as the ed-tech market expands and offers an ever-growing array of tools, there may be a temptation to abdicate teacher presence with tools such as Turnitin rather than comprehensive discussions with students on principles of academic integrity or to use computerized teaching assistants to address the load of answering unsuspecting students’ inquiries (see Gose 2016). There may be a temptation to dispense with the social presence necessary to good learning outcomes in favor of teaching machines that promise personalized learning. While such temptations value innovative tools that ease the work and expense of teaching, they often overlook the students’ development gained through learning facilitated by the educator’s skillful wielding of just the right tool.

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed significant changes in the regulation of higher education that undercut current guidelines for accreditation, the credit hour standard, and online education (Education Department 2018). While it is worth revisiting the definition of “regular and substantive interaction” (Education Department 2018) in the developing medium of online education, credit hours and accreditor standards provide structure and some measure of confidence that higher education will keep its promise of a quality education despite financial pressures and corporate incentives for early adopters of new technologies.

To address the challenge of maintaining the quality of higher education as the content delivery and learning channels evolve:

  • Promote pedagogies that emphasize teacher and social presence in online and other digital education media,
  • Work to redefine what regular and substantive interaction is in digital learning environments,
  • Lobby for maintaining standards and measures that warrantee educational excellence while supporting innovation grounded in educational research and teaching practice rather than in corporate interests.

Innovation in education can focus on transforming our teaching practice so that we use our tools mindfully and creatively to redeem our promise of a quality education.


Education Department. (2018, July 31). Negotiated Rulemaking Committee; Public Hearings. Federal Register. Retrieved from

Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd Edition). London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Gose, B. (2016, October 23). When the Teaching Assistant Is a Robot. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

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