How do I know if I’m being innovative?

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay
Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

September 2019 brings a brand new cohort of Community and Health Services Navigation students, along with a new title for me —  Innovation Champion. It’s comforting there’s 4 of us total, one for each of the 4 schools.

It’s exciting.

It’s intimidating.

I pitched one of my ideas the other day: to incorporate volunteering that connects to navigation into one of my assignments. I envisioned obstacles, what with a bigger cohort of students, the varying prerequisites for different volunteer sites, let alone the time involved to search for and secure a relevant opportunity. I thought, “this will be perfect for innovation. So many obstacles!”

Much to my dismay, things have been going smoothly.

Then, I thought, “wait a minute. Innovation doesn’t have to equate to arduous, does it?”

But then, “does this even count as innovation?”

Volunteering within a program is not a new idea. But rather than continuing the internal debate, I’ll let you know what transpired and you can decide for yourself whether it’s innovative:

I’ve partnered with an emerging campaign at Cambrian College to provide students with campus-based volunteer opportunities with a direct correlation to navigation. Students will receive relevant training and will then have the opportunity to officially sign up to become a wellness ninja–a campaign where students take actionable steps to better the wellness of other students on campus.

It won’t be mandatory but it will be highly encouraged for students residing in Sudbury who also hope to work in a helping related profession.

There’s a second option for both Sudbury and virtual students which involves my initial idea of finding a volunteer opportunity with an external agency. It was important to have a different option because I want students who choose to volunteer to be passionate about what they’re doing. Plus, because this program is offered in HyFlex delivery, I can’t expect my student from Alberta (yes, Alberta!) to be present on-campus. 

And there’s a third option as a safeguard. If some students either aren’t passionate about volunteering or can’t find an opportunity within the specified time frame, the third option will be a professional networking assignment that I utilized with students in the first cohort. It has similar elements of connecting with others but in a different capacity. Regardless of which option students choose, the assignment is also intended to help them begin to assess what sector they’d like to do their field placement in. In total, they’ll have 3 assignments within this particular course which will all serve to get them thinking critically about placement possibilities.

Maybe this next part is where it becomes innovative: placement pitches. Near the end of the semester, I plan to have students sign-up for individualized time slots with me and provide a pitch (think Dragon’s Den) of what sector and what agency they’d like for their field placement, supported by critical reflection from their cumulative assignments. The pitch itself won’t be graded, in fact, it’ll be optional. But my hope is that it will allow students to recognize the opportunity for self-advocacy and autonomy.

So, there you have it. Volunteering, which you might refer to as work-integrated learning. And hey, when a term is evolving, you know it’s commonly used, which brings me back to my conundrum: can you take something that’s established and make it innovative? Is it innovative because it’s new for my program? Is it innovative because of the culminating assignments leading up to the placement pitches?

Whatever the case may be, I hope my transparency makes innovation less intimidating for others. Even if we can’t define where it begins and ends, I think what matters is that we continually challenge ourselves to think differently in the classroom, even if others have beat us to it. Let’s just let it be innovative for us.

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