Tonya B. Amankwatia, Assistant Vice Provost for Distance Education and Extended Learning at North Carolina A&T State University

Tonya B. Amankwatia, Ph.D., Assistant Vice Provost for Distance Education and Extended Learning at North Carolina A&T State University, relishes inspiring teaching and learning excellence. With extensive experience spanning K12, professional, and higher education institutions in the US, Liberia, and Ghana, she is a leader in innovative teaching practices, online program expansion, and community education. Dr. Amankwatia holds a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Technology from Lehigh University and is recognized for her thought leadership, scholarly contributions, and positive approach to faculty and learner engagement. She is committed to fostering inclusive, collaborative, and cutting-edge communities of practice and learning environments.


Across the dynamic terrain of global higher education, innovation is not just a buzzword but a vital lifeline. Leaders face significant challenges such as demographic shifts, societal unrest, university closures, the AI evolution, and the imperative to prepare students for 21st-century careers. How can leaders engage diverse individuals in meaningful conversations to solve complex problems? This is where the AEIOU framework comes in—a heuristic I designed to inspire innovation and instructional transformation. This simple, memorable framework coupled with a design thinking approach can provide the clarity needed for effective problem-solving and innovation. The AEIOU framework includes Authentic Assessments (A), Entangled Pedagogy (E), Inquiry-Based Learning (I), Organizational Learning (O), and Universal Design for Learning (U).

The Innovation Connection

As someone who has served as an inaugural administrator leading distance education and faculty development units, I understand the importance of building trust to create new knowledge and shared goals. These endeavors require collaborating across many units internally and externally to identify opportunities for innovation. According to Rogers (1995), innovation is “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or another unit of adoption.” Thus, educators hope that innovation offers better alternatives to previous ones for solving educational challenges. Implementation, a crucial step to adopt innovation, is the process of learning to do something new. I recommend the design thinking approach and the AEIOU Framework because they aid teaming, breakthrough thinking (Nadler & Hibino, 1998), effective implementation, and inclusive excellence. The descriptions help make the innovation connection.

The AEIOU Framework for Educational Innovation

Authentic Assessments (A): Authentic assessments involve designing real-world tasks that require learners to apply their knowledge and skills, thereby enhancing engagement and relevance. This approach helps learners transfer new knowledge to real-world scenarios, making learning more meaningful and applicable. Integrating alumni, community partners, or industry experts in course design can bridge the gap between academia and broader societal needs, aiding practicality and relevance. Habbal et al. (2024) cautioned, we must avoid reducing education to preparing for job skills, and instead aim to develop better citizens and innovative solutions. I agree.

Entangled Pedagogy (E): Entangled pedagogy recognizes the interconnected nature of teaching and learning activities, where multiple stakeholders, including technology integration influence outcomes. It considers pedagogy as shaped by methods, technology, faculty, learners, and stakeholders’ purposes, contexts, and values (Fawns, 2022). This pedagogical approach enriches learning by integrating diverse perspectives and tools like mixed reality into collaborative course design. Entangled pedagogy can enhance knowledge construction and promotes higher-order thinking, facilitated by technology.

Inquiry-Based Learning (I): Inquiry-based learning (IBL) holds great promise across many disciplines in higher education by promoting exploration and questioning, allowing learners to develop greater agency and understanding through active investigation (Aditomo et al., 2013; MacKinnon, 2017). An approach that nurtures curiosity and critical thinking, IBL encourages learners to actively participate in their learning journey. IBL supports the development of problem-solving skills and adaptability, essential for navigating complex, real-world situations.

Organizational Learning (O): Organizational learning involves fostering a culture of continuous improvement and learning within educational institutions. According to Harrison and Roomi (2011), creating standardized skills that balance innovativeness, risk-taking, and resource efficiency helps teams capitalize on opportunities and drive innovation. By creating an environment that provides resources and time for organizational and peer learning, institutions can better adapt to changes and foster innovation (Ely, 1999).

Universal Design for Learning (U): Universal Design for Learning (UDL) promises accessible and effective instructional environments for all learners by providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression (CAST, 2018). The CAST website links research evidence of UDL’s effectiveness in addressing learner variability. UDL’s flexibility supports innovation by fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment essential for overcoming challenges in higher education and driving transformative change.

An Application Strategy

Considering each evidence-based approach, leaders can leverage framework elements to define problems and experiment thoughtfully. These sample questions are good engagement starters:

Authentic Assessments (A):

  • What partnerships can enhance the relevance of learning assessments?

Entangled Pedagogy (E):

  • How do the purposes, contexts, and values of faculty, students, and other stakeholders shape the integration of technology in teaching methods?

Inquiry-Based Learning (I):

  • How might immersive technology or collaborative tools be integrated to facilitate inquiry-based learning?

Organizational Learning (O):

  • How can universities incentivize cross-disciplinary collaboration for problem-solving?

Universal Design for Learning (U):

  • How do we scale UDL to ensure multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression?


Seeking answers to address challenges takes leadership. The AEIOU framework supports the development of innovative practices with stakeholders. What could be at risk if leaders don’t seek diverse perspectives or create brave spaces to engage with critical issues? The transformation needed to advance 21st-century teaching and learning is at risk. By leveraging this framework, leaders can draw on evidence-based approaches to solve problems through innovation.


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  • Becker, S. A., Cummins, M., Freeman, A., Giesinger Hall, C., & Ananthanarayanan, V. (2020). NMC horizon report: 2018 higher education edition. The New Media Consortium.
  • Ely, D. P. (1999). Conditions that facilitate the implementation of educational technology innovations. Educational Technology, 39(6), 23-27.
  • Fawns, T. (2022). An entangled pedagogy: Looking beyond the pedagogy–technology dichotomy. Postdigital Science and Education.
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  • Theobald, M., & Ramsbotham, J. (2019). Inquiry-based learning in nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 81, 13-18.
  • van der Graaf, J., Westenberg, M., & Huizinga, T. (2020). Inquiry-based learning in vocational education and Educational Research Review, 31, 100352.

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