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Community of Practice

Frugal Innovation—A DPL Reflection

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The week of July 30th, I had the great good fortune to attend the Digital Pedagogy Lab, hosted by the University of Mary Washington. It was a challenging and transformative learning experience in many ways. In one memorable keynote session, Dr. Jade Davis presented a framework for frugal innovation, which she defined as a means of “bringing meaningful and accessible digital innovation to the classroom” through an intentional simplification of one’s approach to digital technology integration. A frugal innovation approach follows 4 guidelines:

  1. “Simplify
  2. Make it fun (for faculty to learn and students to engage as part of the learning)
  3. Show relevance both in learning and beyond
  4. Goal is always small cost to students including time, equipment, stigma, etc.”

While this approach might strike one as counterintuitive to a typical bells-and-whistles approach to educational technology, in a blog post on the topic, Dr. Davis frames frugal innovation as a way of approaching issues of access and equity when designing digital learning experiences, and suggests that the approach is particularly useful for faculty who might have some reluctance around engaging with digital pedagogy and digital tools. As we move toward the beginning of another fall semester, the notion of frugal innovation and hearty innovation – small moves and big moves – resonates for me beyond the context of the reluctant technology user. Dr. Davis’ talk served as a reminder that we don’t have to do it all at once; innovation and transformation of our teaching and pedagogy is a process that is served by both small and big moves.

Furthermore, a small move isn’t somehow “less than” a big move; small moves are worth doing. I think of how many times as a faculty member I had grand plans to totally overhaul my syllabi over summer break – last summer, for example, I set the lofty goal of redesigning all of my learning activities using a connected learning perspective – only to face the reality in August that I had, once again, managed to leave myself too many things to do and not enough time in which to do them. Sound familiar? Once I got over the guilt and shame cycle, I realized that it was still possible to target a handful of learning activities in one of my courses, and these experiences – small moves, designed with frugal innovation in mind – would still be valuable to my students’ learning experience.

In this spirit, I invite us to think about how we might embrace the notion of frugal innovation and consider what small moves might be worth making in our own classes and in our work, and how we might support – and celebrate – these small moves.


Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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