G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)
Learning to develop innovations. Individual competence, multidisciplinary activity systems and student experience

List of Authors: Hero Laura-Maija
Publisher: University of Turku
Place: Turku
Publication year: 2019
ISBN: 978-951-29-7611-9
eISBN: 978-951-29-7612-6


This dissertation studies learning to develop innovations in the context of universities of applied sciences. The aim is to increase theoretical and empirical understanding of the phenomenon that can be used in tutoring, planning and organising the multidisciplinary innovation development collaboration between education and working life. Research related to innovation development learning has mainly focused on organizational perspectives, even in the context of education. Earlier research has not focused in depth on learning from multidisciplinary perspective. To this end, three qualitative sub-studies were conducted that focused on aspects of learning; namely, the learning outcome as individual innovation competence, the characteristics of activity system and students’ learning experiences in the activity. 

Innovations are needed to benefit business, solve difficult problems faced by society and to ease the everyday lives of ordinary people. Although there is a long history of innovation defined as disrupting technological novelties with a business benefit, innovations are important in all professional fields. An innovation is a useful novelty that is made concrete and implemented to convey value. The value innovations create is tied to novelty values, but also the benefits for the user, but it can also be tied to more widespread areas of value-creation (e.g. economic, wellbeing, sustainability, or social). Multidisciplinary collaboration is related to the development of innovations, as the need for new solutions springs from complex problems in societies or from the underlying needs of people. Complex problems benefit from diverse perspectives and complementarity of competence in complex systems and processes. 

Sub-study I was a systematic review that collected 10 years of research article material on individual innovation competence based on extraction criteria formed based on a preliminary scoping review. Sub-study II was an activity system analysis of one year’s video material of teachers’ meetings while they were planning and piloting two new types of multidisciplinary innovation project courses. Sub-study III was a phenomenographic study of student diaries (N = 74) written during three multidisciplinary innovation project course implementations. The data was analysed through data-driven content analysis (sub-studies I and III) and part-to-whole deductive content analysis based on an activity system model (sub-study II). Several methods to enhance the rigor of the research were applied (e.g. a blind cross-review and threeauthor- bias assessments). In the general parts of the dissertation, the main research question could be answered by combining the results of the sub-studies. 

The findings from sub-study I suggested that personal characteristics such as flexibility, achievement orientation, motivation and engagement, self-esteem and self-management, future orientation, creative thinking skills, social skills, project management skills and content knowledge and making skills are all required for collaborative innovation processes. Sub-study II found tensions and solutions in teachers’ development collaboration that concerned the subject to be learned and community formation, as well as in the tournament object formation related to tasks, ways of working, assessment methods and the challenges from work organisations. The study also found solutions for tournament-based multidisciplinary innovation project rules, the division of labour and tools such as processes, methods for choosing the winners, prizes, assessment criteria and the technical tools. The findings from sub-study III suggested that students understand their learning experience in relation to solvable conflicts and unusual situations they experience during the project while becoming aware of and claiming their collaborative agency and internalising phases of the innovation process. The competences that students could name as learning outcomes related to content knowledge, different personal characteristics, social skills, emerging leadership skills, creativity, future orientation, social skills, technical, crafting and testing skills and innovation implementation-related skills such as productisation, marketing, sales and entrepreneurship planning skills. However, future orientation and implementation planning skills were weaker than the other variables in the data were. 

The dissertation concludes with the factors related to learning to develop innovations based on the sub-studies. First, the factors related to individual innovation competence based on sub-studies I and III are personal characteristics such as self-esteem, selfmanagement, achievement orientation, motivation and engagement, flexibility and responsibility, future orientation, creative thinking skills, social skills such as networking, collaboration and communication skills, development project management skills such as leadership skills (e.g. actively building team competence, encouraging and coaching others), one’s own and other’s discipline content knowledge, and concretisation and implementation planning skills such as making, productisation, sales, marketing and entrepreneurship planning. 

Second, several pedagogical development phases and assessment opportunities were suggested in a theoretical model of a pedagogical innovation process: orientation and theory, creative idea development, future orientation, concepting, prototyping and testing, and implementation and entrepreneurship planning phases. Multiple assessment phases are integrated in the model. Organising an authentic, explicitly- or implicitly facilitated pedagogical innovation process may promote more complete outcomes as it pursues implemented novelties and provides for more transparency in terms of learning. In multidisciplinary innovation projects, the most important factor for learning seems to be the journey, not the actual outcome or whether it is or is not an innovation in terms of the mere definition of the word. By acknowledging the strengths, weaknesses and competence development needs of the participating students in multiple phases, it is possible to discover the opportunities provided by the complementarity of knowledge and to support individual student learning in teams. The competence model is suitable for steering peer discussions and for developing practical collaborative tools for assessment.

Third, in addition to competence factors, several factors related to individual participants were highlighted for teachers to recognise while tutoring multidisciplinary teams based on sub-studies II and III. Those include the levels at which students can take responsibility, students being dependent on teachers’ guidance (which is related to student motivation), and how much conflict and how many contradictory situations students can handle without losing motivation. 

Fourth, while organising for learning to develop innovations, several preconditions can be recommended based on the findings. A multidisciplinary activity system may support innovation learning if it allows for optimal conflict and contradiction, new networks and teams, and opportunities to recognise competence. The multidisciplinary composition of teams allows for the complementarity of competence and enables students to recognize their own expertise. Competence shows in authentic contexts and it should have an intention related to action. The intention can be an open task to develop an innovation in terms of the definition. An open task from working life or other real-life context that allows for a novel solution with implementation planning is thus needed to guarantee an authentic learning experience, networks and a need for students from different disciplines. A multidisciplinary team composition can allow for the shift from “I” thinking in learning to “we” thinking. Students reported on how they had learned to encourage and coach others, to consciously change their attitude for the benefit of the team’s wellbeing and even to deliberately give up leadership positions to help others learn management. The individual differences between people and the heterogeneity of the participants in the collaborative action were noted as leading to a positive breaking down of barriers, thus catalysing competence development and innovation process internalisation. Multidisciplinary innovation projects are pedagogical ways to connect schools to the practices of society, as already suggested by Dewey. 

Based on the sub-studies, the teacher’s role is not to make him or herself not needed. Teachers should promote deep comprehension of the innovation process, monitor and ease the pain of conflict if it threatens motivation, offer assessment tools and help in recognising gaps in individual competences and development needs, promote more future-oriented, concrete and implementable outcomes, facilitate the solution development networks and facilitate in bridging innovation and entrepreneurship planning if this opportunity emerges. Using a competence model as a tool to frame the peer-assessment discussions instead of absolute quantitative proof of learning may allow students to immerse themselves fully in project work experience, but still discover their learning needs in the beginning and achieve learning outcomes during and after. 

Innovation seems like a useful concept to be applied in educational conditions when the outcome of students’ work is not required to be pre-determined, when the students are encouraged towards creative outcomes with original novelty value and empowered to reach for their full capacity and exceed it by learning, when the importance of aiming at concrete and useful outcomes such as products, services, processes or other concretised artefacts is emphasised, when the students are encouraged to plan the implementation (commercially or otherwise) to be taken into use to convey value, when the value in authentic experiences is required to be grasped by students’ working as part of society (not only inside school buildings) by learning together with their potential future employers and in real networks. Innovation pedagogy seems to be a useful and a valid term to be applied when the aim is to define and practice innovation development activities as purposive cultural interventions in networked and multidisciplinary collaborations for human development informed and shaped by the real values and history of the society, and when the target is to develop a novelty that is made concrete and implemented to convey value.

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Last updated on 2019-21-08 at 21:40

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