Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall: (Figuring Out) Your Institution's Appetite for Innovation

Workshop Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

If encouraging teaching innovation is the goal, how do we identify strategies that help initiatives gain traction and drive cultural change within our institutions? Participants will be guided through a design thinking framework and evaluation model to address challenges and generate better solutions, while encouraging a flexible and iterative approach.


Alyssa Dyar is a Learning Engineer at Northwestern University, providing curriculum and course design services for the Master of Science in Law (MSL) online program at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. She studied Educational Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and completed her master's degree in Educational Technology at Loyola University Chicago. Her goal is to help instructors integrate technology in ways that increase meaningful learning by incorporating principles of cognitive psychology, education, and instructional design.
Heather Haseley currently serves as a Learning Engineer at Northwestern University, with a focus on solving instructional design challenges and promoting teaching and learning innovations for in-person, online, and blended courses, ranging from small classes to MOOCs. Heather has been at Northwestern for seven years, previously at the Feinberg School of Medicine managing medical education faculty development and research. Prior to Northwestern, she has served in a wide range of management, program design, and instructional design positions at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Extended Abstract

We all want to encourage innovation in our schools, but how can we identify the right strategies to help initiatives gain traction and drive cultural change within the institution? At Northwestern University, the Teaching & Learning Technologies team, part of a centralized IT department, has explored a number of approaches to support strategic and innovative projects. In this workshop, we will discuss our “spaghetti at the wall” approach, sharing which strategies worked well (and not so well) and how we regularly evaluate and revise our programming.

Geared toward anyone looking to drive innovation at their own institution, this workshop will give participants an opportunity to work through how they can use a similar approach to find innovative solutions, whether at the classroom, department, or university scale. We anticipate this workshop will be useful to faculty, administrators, and instructional designers.

To better assess the challenges facing their institutions and generate possible solutions, participants will use a worksheet and group discussion to walk through the stages of the design thinking framework: identifying and understanding the problem; brainstorming and ideating possible solutions; prototyping; and evaluating/improving. In addition to the design thinking model, we will discuss how the EDUCAUSE/2Revolutions “Innovation Scorecard” can provide a lens to help understand and address organizational factors that may affect both the success of new innovations and the ongoing maintenance of projects after the initial pilot or launch. Sharing our experiences here at Northwestern to illustrate how this process plays out, we will discuss the realities of failure and revision and the importance they play in developing solutions that stick.

In both large- and small-group discussions, we will address questions such as:

  • Who are the necessary and appropriate stakeholders to include in the conversation?
  • How many cooks is too many cooks?
  • Should innovation be driven from the top or with a bottom-up approach?
  • How does institutional culture affect innovation? How can we work within cultural limitations? How can we drive cultural change?
  • Which of the factors in the Innovation Scorecard have had the largest impact within your own institution? Why? How can these be leveraged to develop successful initiatives?
  • What efforts are necessary to sustain such initiatives after the initial pilot?

By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to:

  • Apply the design thinking framework to explore problems and generate solutions to promote innovation at their institution.
  • Identify the institutional factors that impact innovation and examine how they might leverage these factors to improve and refine their solutions.
  • Explain the importance of ongoing evaluation and revision to sustain and grow their initiatives.