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WATE Reflections -- Rebecca Johnson, Warwick Medical School

In praise of innovation

I was once interviewed about pedagogic innovation by an extraordinary teacher here at Warwick (Phil Gaydon, if anyone is wondering). Since that time, I often think about what innovation means and where it leads. At the time of my interview I didn’t think my teaching was particularly innovative because many things didn’t originate from me. For a particular project I was awarded, all I had done was take an interesting way to engage students in a theory building group activity used in Open-space Learning (OSL), and translate it for my own teaching challenges with addressing difficult, abstract concepts in mixed methods research.

That was in 2015. With the clarity of hindsight, I see that Phil was of course completely right. The creative translation of an original idea has become a much loved and wonderfully illustrative activity on my mixed methods module. The bit I now see as innovative, was that the innovation was indeed in the translation of someone else’s excellent idea (Nick Monk’s original idea, by the way). The innovation required a rich understanding from me of the critical needs of my students, the desire to meet those needs, and the time to execute my plan. It required imagination to visualise how I could possibly address those needs in a way that my students enjoyed. The benefit of this simple innovation is in the transformation of the student learning experience. Thus, innovation can continuously evolve and change and continue to be innovative just as Phil believed in 2015. Every time I run this activity, new challenges arise and together we tackle those challenges in understanding things which are difficult to understand. It a kind of embodiment of the purpose of higher education in the first place. Innovative teaching provides the space for students and teachers to transform not only their thoughts but also their methods of thinking. And innovative teaching needs open-spaces to grow and develop and evolve just like Nick Monk’s original activity, and my translated activity, and I am certain that it will be translated again in various other contexts to continue to engage and enliven students. It is hugely rewarding as a teacher to be a part of that process.

A point of clarity. I mention this reflection in relation to WATE, because I continue to use and develop these materials and via WATE I have been able to print further copies and versions of said activity materials, as well as expanding my repertoire of creative teaching literature. The inclination to do teaching well, facilitated and expounded by opportunities for creativity, innovation and growth is, I think, what excellent teaching is all about.


Rebecca Johnson is a Senior Research Fellow at Warwick Medical School. She was a WATE Commendee in 2018.