The Australian eChallenge: A case of innovation in education

Gary Hancock
The University of Adelaide

Zrinka Tokic
The University of Adelaide

The Australian eChallenge: A case of innovation in education
This paper addresses three key concepts: First is an understanding of what is meant by innovation; second is examining what innovation means in an educational context; third is examining how these are applied to action learning. This paper presents the case of the Australian eChallenge in The University of Adelaide. This program embeds action learning by blending learning styles while enabling deep engagement between learners and business and industry practitioners.
The entrepreneurial view of innovation and entrepreneurship combines concepts of newness, value, and impact of innovation. The relationship between the market and technology enables an analysis of the level of innovation in the context of a continuum from sustaining business competitiveness through to disrupting the way people behave in, and interact with, the world. Learning in this environment, given the broad range of applications when discussing such issues means that traditional learning, as experienced in traditional learning environments, may not be suitable.
There are many ways to innovate teaching and learning, including remote access, MOOCs, blended learning (mixing traditional face to face with technological remote access), small group discovery, problem based learning, event based learning, team based learning, and so on. If, however, learning is about innovation, and innovation leads to some level of disruption, and we believe that experiential learning is valuable, then a disruptive learning model may be one answer to how best prepare our learners for innovative and entrepreneurial futures. Disruptive innovation in education will see substantial changes in educational frameworks, philosophical views, cultural norms, and all that these changes bring to how we anticipate what learning looks like in the future.
In order to explore some of these fundamental shifts in education, we use a case of an experiential program that involves many of the above learning techniques combined with industry and business engagement to explore what education may look like in the near future to embrace the rapid rate of changes we are witnessing.
The Australian eChallenge is the largest entrepreneurial program of its type in Australia, and possibly the world. It is a program for students from any tertiary institution (university, TAFE, other VET providers), and high schools to work alongside industry participants. The program runs over a 12 week period, during which time the participants identify a problem worth solving and develop an innovative and entrepreneurial solution. These solutions may be commercial, not-for-profit, or social enterprises.
The reason this program exits is to prepare students for an innovative and entrepreneurial future. This is important given the increasing rate of change in technology and the way society is engaging with technology. Future careers for students currently in school and university are far from certain. The rate of change implies that many jobs that need to be done now, will not exist in the near future, similarly, many new jobs with different skills will be needed as new technologies are developed and commercialised. This program prepares students for that future and equips them to see themselves as drivers of innovation.
Evidence from past and current participants is presented to show how the program has impacted on their view of innovation and entrepreneurship. It also presents the importance of business and industry engagement, clearly concluding that the future of education is set to look very different to how it has been over the past. The findings show how action learning (and indeed action research as part of the learning journey) is imperative to preparing students for the future.