Toward a Culture of Innovation: Challenges and Lessons Learned

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

This session will highlight the strategies employed and challenges faced in developing a culture of innovation at a large, distributed University.


Brad Zdenek is the Innovation Strategist for the Nittany AI Alliance at Penn State, bringing to the team over 20 years of experience in supporting, developing, and leveraging disruptive technologies to improve the student experience across the K-20 spectrum. Prior to joining Penn State, Brad solidified his love of education while teaching middle school social studies in North Carolina. After choosing to pursue his graduate studies, Brad took on a number of roles at Penn State, including directing the professional development and outreach efforts for both the STEMScouts and Regional Educational Laboratory - Mid-Atlantic initiatives, helping K-12 teachers to leverage research-based practices for improving teaching and learning. More recently, Brad served as Innovation Strategist for the Center for Online Innovation in Learning, strategically building and supporting a culture of innovation across the university. Brad is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership at Penn State with research interests that include educational ethics, innovation, and the integration and diffusion of educational technology.

Extended Abstract

Since being established in 2012, the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) at Penn State University has pursued its mission to engage the University's extensive research enterprise to improve online learning at and beyond Penn State. The methods for pursuing this goal have not been particularly unique, consisting primarily of grant programs, a featured speaker series, workshops, etc. Just under the surface of these efforts, however, has been a subtle but concerted and intentional effort to not only support researchers who want to investigate, invent, and implement technologically enhanced online innovations, but to help change the culture of the institution to one in which innovation is encouraged, supported, and pervasive. In short, to change the way Penn State Faculty, Staff, and Students think about and act upon innovations in their respective roles.

Over the past three years, COIL has developed and refined a model to support diverse constituent groups including faculty, staff and students across all disciplines in engaging each other around a variety of online innovations. Built around COIL's Research Initiation Grant (RIG) program, this model has led to significant achievements both in improving learning at Penn State and beyond and the development and nurturing of a community-driven culture of innovation.

This session will highlight the challenges faced in developing a culture of innovation at a large, distributed University as well as a sample of effective strategies COIL has employed in meeting and overcoming these challenges. Examples of the methods used for leveraging programmatic synergy in the pursuit of cultural change will be provided as well as the methods currently being implemented for measuring the impact of COIL's efforts.

Session Goals:
ï Develop a working definition of a culture of innovation in the Higher Education context
ï Provide a description of COIL's approach to building a culture of innovation at Penn State
ï Describe methods for using programmatic synergy in the pursuit of cultural change
ï Identify specific challenges faced in COIL's pursuit of a culture of innovation
ï Describe an initial strategy for measuring the impact of this type of change effort