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Reducing Barriers to Innovation: Jennifer Groff, Ed.M.'09

Jennifer GroffSince leaving teaching five years ago, Jennifer Groff, Ed.M.'09, has focused her work on reducing the barriers to innovation - transformative practices and methods - in education. "I left the classroom because the system is designed in such a way that you can't implement all the things you have learned in best practices," she says, noting that K-12 education is not set up to innovate.

Already armed with a master's in educational technology, Groff came to the Ed School to close the gaps that she felt existed in her own education.

As part of her master's thesis at the University of Delaware, Groff created the i5, a tool that helps teachers successfully innovate and integrate technology in the classroom. When used multiple times by an educator, the i5 can be a means for reflecting upon and integrating innovations into his or her practice, Groff says. For example, Groff recently worked with a fifth grade teacher in Cambridge, Mass., and used the i5 tool to implement a large-scale classroom project where students researched a location in Ancient China and then recreated the building or location in Google Sketchup. "The 3D drawings were then imported into Google Earth so the class had a digital recreation of Ancient China modeled in the appropriate locations in the 3D world of Google Earth," she says. The tool not only helped in introducing new technology to the students' learning, but also to gauge the success of the project.

Among the numerous barriers to innovation identified by Groff are structural and systemic issues, school culture, teacher support and beliefs, and student concerns. "Schools need to transform, but that doesn't just mean using technology," she says. "It's about what is the best tool for teaching and learning, and sometimes that is not necessarily technology."

After graduating from the Special Studies Program this past June, Groff headed to the United Kingdom on a Fulbright Scholarship to spend nine months at Futurelab, a nonprofit organization that develops innovative resources and practices to support new approaches in 21st century learning.

While working at Futurelab, Groff will explore the future trends in education in the United Kingdom, as well as complete her proposed research agenda of examining conditions that create innovation in individuals and within organizations. Groff plans to develop additional tools that will augment the i5 and help schools innovate. She will also coach teachers throughout Scotland on how to implement new technologies in the classroom.

She hopes her work at Futurelab will provide the foundation for establishing a lab for innovation in education in the United States. "It's very exciting to see the Future of Learning initiative here at HGSE, which is right in line with this work," she says.