Creativity and Innovation: #TESS2019

The Theme for eCampusOntario’s TESS2019 was Level Up Online Learning for Ontario: Experimentation and Impact

It was a 2 day event, day 1 showcasing online learning from colleges and universities across Ontario in the form of presentations, panels, and ignite sessions, day 2 was a highly interactive, small group learning experience on H5P, a free and open-source content collaboration technology tool.

Through the plenaries, panels and talks the thing that kept emerging were the links between creativity, support and ability to do our jobs, and innovation.

But I want to sum up the conference by quoting a delegate that set the tone:

“I don’t have a question, it’s more of a compliment. “

And that one statement sums up my Canada trip, meeting old friends and making new. But, there is something else too. It’s an old trope in the UK, “I don’t have a question, it’s more of a comment” and cue (usually) middle-aged white guy reframing your presentation as an opportunity to talk about his work.

“I don’t have a question, it’s more of a compliment.”

Working with SEDA, and some great mentors like Julie Hall, Shân Waring, Sally Brown and others I learned the value of using tools such as action learning sets, and appreciative inquiry.

“Thank you for sharing, that was great, and ….”

We use them as tools in situations where we are deliberately working towards supporting and reflecting. My experience at #TESS2019 was that I lived that process throughout the whole event. As someone that is just visiting this community I was struck by how supportive it was, not just in coming together, but in its language and behaviours around each other. This was a content rich, supportive, learning experience. I hope that supportiveness emerged from practice in the delegates’ institutions.

There were plenty of sessions covering a range of topics, but the organisers did not overload the conference – this was not an exercise in getting lots of people to present as a way of getting lots of people into the room, possibly because the conference was provided as a service to the sector, rather than in service to vendors and sponsors. All of the sessions I was at were well attended and engagement with the presenters was open and complimentary.

Several sessions stood out for me – I went to the AR and VR sessions determined to be disappointed (you know me!).. But what I saw were educators that had taken a student centred approach, with a philosophy of augmenting lab and field work – not replacing it. I asked the difficult question “If this VR fieldwork can allow students with disabilities to demonstrate the same learning outcomes as other people in the field, and long term it is cheaper and with fewer risks, why would we do any fieldwork?”

But the team were adamant that they were not aiming at that, and that it was used in preparation for the physical fieldwork. You could see how they had linked the two experiences and it seemed to be popular with students The key elements to their projects in this space were firstly early engagement with academic outcomes – not being led by the technology. Secondly, the use, adoption and deployment was not a barrier, they used simple tools and equipment to create the experience. All of the sessions I saw were grounded in pedagogy and with crafted, almost artisanal edtech applied in both sensitive and sensible ways.

In the afternoon, a series of sessions stood out that linked across the Ontario Extend professional learning program. Open practice, OERs and Students as Producers. These were short snappy and fun, (with thanks to Terry Greene and Maureen Glynn; Wendy Freeman, Michelle Schwartz, Ann Ludbrook and Erin Meger; Nada Savicevic, Jennifer Lapum, Oona St-Amant, Arina Bogdan and Michelle Hughes; and Bonnie Stewart and Mark Lubrick.)

These sessions really made me think about what happens in staff (faculty) development and digital capabilities. The basis for a lot of what I saw at the conference was the Ontario Extend professional learning program, and the session led by Terry Greene and Maureen Glynn really got me focused on the approach they had taken. I want to draw out three things from the Program Report (Lopes & Porter 2018)

Firstly they started from a place of learning

“…that “professional learning” is grounded in the notion that learning results from what an individual does and thinks, and only from what they do and think. We can, therefore, advance learning only by engaging others in doing and thinking, and not by doing things to and for them”

This is something, as educational developers we know, and program was designed with that in mind.

Secondly, they looked at the Anatomy of 21st Century Educator (S. P. Bates, 2016): and based six modules around them. These are Teacher, Technologist, Curator, Collaborator, Experimenter, and Scholar. In many of the modules the program moves beyond the skills, literacies and capabilities and talks at length about the behaviours we want to see in our educators. At some point I hope there will be an evaluation of how teachers modelling these behaviours impact on the student’s experience and acquisition of digital behaviours.

Finally, there was an emphasis on connectivism, rhizomatic and networked learning, and the cohorts seemed to interact across many institutions and for Ontario Extend to appeal to both learners who want a structured approach so they engage with the activities sequentially in the order that they are presented, and also to those who want “just-in-time-learning” with a very specific personal goal in mind.

From the sessions that I saw, something else had started to emerge, and in conversation with David Porter from eCampusOntario I realised that program they provided was firstly holistic, looking at all aspects of the roles they supported, but also they had set out to create an open (digital) ecosystem for their community, and from what I had seen the community was succeeding. This approach is one of creating an environment where people are able to perform, to do what they need to do, and where necessary reach into the community for support. When that learning experience becomes more than a chore, when they can access “just in time support” for what they need to do, rather than wait for a course, or log a ticket then the ability for them to perform well in their role becomes easier – when the tech, and the things they want to do with tech don’t get in the way. This ability to perform well, gives them the time and confidence to be creative in their practice, knowing there is a support network. With ability to perform, plus creativity, institutions benefit from seeing innovation in teaching practices.

Performance + Creativity = Innovation in practice

As I look at that I realise that there is only one thing within the institutional control – performance. If you have read any of the things I have written on MS Teams, you’ll see that one of the reasons I like it is because the academics I’ve spoken to say things like – “it’s easy to use, like the office tools”, or “it doesn’t get in the way of my teaching” (which I am still unpicking..).

We need to think about the tech we are deploying, is it a barrier to performance? We are often sold “tech solutions” as innovations – but real innovation emerges when we give people the ability and confidence to create, to solve their own challenges. If we buy “innovative tech”, what creativity are we losing in our education systems?

Bates, S. P. (2016, September). The 21st Century Educator. Keynote speech at the Symposium for Effective Teaching presented at UOIT, Oshawa, Ontario. Retrieved from,

Lopes, V., & Porter, D. (2018). Shifting perceptions, changing practice: Ontario Extend [Report]. eCampusOntario (Ontario Online LearningConsortium). Retrieved from

a tweet from the conference
One the great thing about #TESS2019 – I wore the best suit!


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