What are universities for? 1) Convey knowledge 2) Create knowledge (research) 3) Develop the (well-rounded, not just professional) person. 4) Contribute to society, at levels both local and global. 5) Have a “signal ability” – higher education as a signaling model, signaling the quality of a person coming out of the institution. This is a validation: “I’m smart because I have a degree.” 6) Seed innovation, working with industry.
But the system’s breaking down: 1) Costs are too high. Tuition is becoming too expensive for common enrollment, the University’s out of reach for some, yet schools are still in the red. I.e. they can’t charge enough to sustain their activities. 2) “You have to go to the mountain” and prostrate yourself to the guru in order to get single-centered knowledge. 3) There’s no control over the clock. You have to do it over the university’s timetable (~6 yrs.) and schedule. 4) The experts are local. You can only access the teachers on your campus. Expertise lies in networks – higher education finds that disturbing. 5) Universities change “one funeral at a time.” Because of tenure, professors aren’t judged by productivity. There’s no sense of market pressures. Change management is difficult. 6) Faculties hire people just like themselves.
What’s driving the breakdown? Tectonic change: 1) Change in learning styles. People learn differently now. They way they manifest themselves has changed. 2) Collapse of disciplinary structure: “know more and more about less and less until they know nothing” – against the tendency today to be broad AND deep. 3) Acceleration of K-12, where people are learning things previously taught in college. “Senior to sophomore” – seniors are testing out of the freshman year at collage, starting with a full year of credit. This has a negative impact on some curricula that depend on that first year to lay a foundation. 4) Networking technologies are flattening hierarchies. 5) Students and parents as consumers – there’s more of a consumer mind set in determining about schools to attend and what to study. 6) Employers are more active in developing curricula, companies have more influence. There’s more of a market focus, but universities don’t do this well. 7) Location independence. 8) The Internet.
Entrepreneurs stepping in – disruptions: 1) Open Courseware, various online learning opportunities including those at MIT, Itunes University, LectureFox, NPR Forum Network, TED, Open Culture, Research Channel, etc. 2) Textbooks more accessible online, via Google Books, Flat World, Textbook Revolution, Course Smart, etc. There’s also Cramster.com, GradeGuru.com, ShareNotes.com, etc. And there’s University of the People, a tuition-free online university. Also OpenUniversity in the UK. And the University of Phoenix currently has 150,000 MBA students.
How does the traditional university evolve? The professor of the future is. 1) Experience designer. 2) Project manager. 3) Angel investor – identify resources and solve problems, map the road to success. 4) Curator – find and make sense of the wealth of free information online. What’s more and less valuable? 5) Resource allocator. 6) Life coach. 7) Validator (as with the signaling model)
Where to begin. These recommendations are about bigger picture thinking, more holistic approaches, working across disciplines, being grounded in the “real” world, etc. Internet/social technology is an enabler. 1) Experiential learning. Interdisciplinary, project-based courses. Resume builders that also teach how to deal with ambiguity. 2) Multi-institutional collaborations. Need to engage with one another, think globally, maximize resources of each institution. Study-abroad programs are included here. Branch campuses. 3) Train PhDs to think more contextually. PhD’s are thoroughly trained in their specific subjects, but there are no classes that teach PhDs how to teach, or how to be contextual. (I assume what they mean by “be contextual” is look at, think about, and present facts in context, rather than divorced from context). 4) Strategic industry and non-profit partnerships: “we all need each other.” 5) Get rid of tenure. (This is evidently a big issue for Platt.) 6) Student-driven inquiry. 7) Facilitate collaboration. 8) De-privilege institutional content – the Creative Commons/Science Commons idea of making data and other content shareable and usable across institutions. 9) Reward failure. Get rid of the doctrine of “publish or perish.” Allow time to fail and innovate. 10) Get rid of Departments and focus on Questions. Bennington is doing this, according to the speakers, and I found this idea particularly intriguing and challenging. This would drive multidisciplinary approaches. Teaches students how to ask and answer questions – presumably how to find the right questions, too. Kevin Leahy would like this (http://knowledgeadvocate.com). 11) Think like an entrepreneur. 12) Give more than you get. 13) Hire people that think this way.