Islands of Innovation: around the campfires of collaboration

Charlie Reis, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
Tünde Varga-Atkins, University of Liverpool
Rob Lindsay, University of Liverpool

In May 2022, we organised and facilitated an interactive, generative event that led to several outcomes, and helped us all innovate our professional practice through co-creation of imagined futures. The purpose of the Islands of Innovation event was to connect educators, educational developers and learning technologists across the globe to share educational innovations and co-create an imagined future of education, inspired by the Treasure Island Pedagogies podcast series by University of Liverpool’s Centre for Innovation in Education.

An online co-creative global event

The event asked participants to gather on a SpatialChat url in order to be able to verbally communicate and to interact digitally. After introductions and ice breaker activities, visiting different Market Islands on Padlet for inspiration (the market islands, determined by the organising committee, were: values, student-centred learning, pedagogies, learning theories, ethics, digital innovations, learning communities and assessment and feedback), participants were then asked to spend time in a small group to create an island of their own as part of the co-creative approach. The event concluded with a showcase of the new islands and a ceremony of acknowledgement. We had a total of 85 participants, who co-created 14 islands across three time zones. Participants left the event largely energised and buzzing with creative energy.

Organiser Voices

Other impacts of the event were things that happen at many conferences: networking and meeting new people, finding the right person to spur advances in personal research, new ideas and ways of doing things. Because the event was co-creative, there was an uncanny sense of something left to be done, action needing to be taken, as this feedback indicates:

Charlie says: I went back to the Padlets the next day and left a voice stream on the Pirate Radio Island. Through the interactions in facilitating a Market Island, I also found new vocabulary to explain parts of my research and made new like-minded contacts. And I am now supplementing conferencing software with more interactive interfaces in order to better facilitate collaboration in much of my work.

Tunde says: We closed the event by sitting in a circle around crackling fire provided by YouTube in true 21st century style: no one wanted to leave – all the creative energies and collaborative designs and conversations about education kept us inspired. I, for instance, would love to go back to our co-created islands with my group members and develop further the ideas produced as well as utilise the fantastic Padlet resources created by our global organising committee.

Rob says: Planning and delivering this open, collaborative event was a lot of fun. A key consideration for our team was ensuring accessibility and inclusivity underpinned the event design. Building a collaborative virtual space with this focus ensured a positive experience for participants, and this was reflected in the feedback. SpatialChat certainly proved a popular and versatile platform. It was great to see so much participant diversity and engagement at the event.

Lessons Learned

Lessons learned are that holding interactive, online events needs much tech support as colleagues across the globe have different skill and familiarity with interactive software. Planning for as many technical issues as possible enabled the team to react to situations that arose on the day, with the confidence of offering the right support where needed. As with many online events, unexpected commitments prevented a number of registered participants from joining on the day, so being flexible to last-minute group organisation in the collaborative activities was important.

Also, hosting an event with three iterations to account for different time zones is exhausting, so we will space this out over two days next time. Finally, a light-hearted approach does not mean a lack of intellectual rigor any more than an over-serious approach implies better thinking.

Next Time

We all had so much fun and got so much inspiration from the event, we plan to do another next year. The main lesson here is participant-centred active and co-creative events seem truly more impactful than those focused on knowledge transmission. If you are interested in participating in next year’s Festival as a participant, please pencil the 9 – 10- 11 May 2023 into your diary. More information will be available via our Islands of Innovation Festival website.

Tunde Varga-Atkins,, is interim Head of Digital Education and Senior Educational Developer (Digital Education) for University of Liverpool’s Centre for Innovation in Education and host of the Islands of Innovation podcast.
Rob Lindsay is an Educational Developer and a digital and multimedia expert for University of Liverpool’s Centre of Innovation in Education.
Charlie Reis is Director of the Educational Development Unit at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, founder of the China-based Association for Partnership in Educational Development (CAPED), and acted as a facilitator for the Islands event and has been a guest on the Islands of Innovation podcast

3 thoughts on “Islands of Innovation: around the campfires of collaboration

  1. The key word I take from this collaboration is the crucial importance – basically to any human undertaking – of FUN!

    James National Teaching Fellow

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