Today’s post from the openIDEO #FutureHigherEd Challenge is from my very own institution.  It concerns Georgia Tech’s Commission on Creating the Next In Education (CNE), a group that has been asked to look out ten years or more (well beyond any planning horizon) and recommend investments, experiments, pilots, projects, partnerships, and ecosystems that would help guide the choices of future leaders to maintain or even improve the Institute’s  mission to provide the best and most valuable education to new generations of learners:

Georgia Tech’s mission to define the technological university of the 21st century is not strategic boilerplate. It is a beacon. It is tempting to conclude that future success will follow from continuing the successful strategies of the last 130 years — that the same beacon will attract new generations of scholars and students. That may be true, but it is equally likely that the Georgia Tech student of 2030 will be different in fundamental ways from the student of generations past. The changing landscape of a Georgia Tech education is evident to anyone who looks at the numbers.

Armed with extensive data and a charge from the Institute, CNE will have a rare luxury: adequate time to develop ideas that might be acted upon. The mid-21st century is well beyond Georgia Tech’s current planning horizon. The Commission’s role is not to engage in premature planning but rather to consider the ideas, experiments, and novel ways of organizing that can inform future strategy…

“The Commission will lead Institute-wide discussions of fundamental questions surrounding topics such as the knowledge 21st century students should gain and how sustained lifelong learning differs from the transformational learning experience of recent high school graduates. In a sense, CNE is an opportunity to deepen the knowledge needed for the Georgia Tech community to pursue strategic ‘options’ that can be exercised over the next 20 years.

Do you know of any other efforts that have this scope and charge?  If so, how did those projects turn out?  Is there advice you can give to the Georgia Tech team as it enters its ideation phase?


More ideas from the openIDEO Challenge: All are tied together by existing credentialing and business models, but they each address the challenges of learning communities not well-served by traditional residential degree programs. These speculative models were inspired by David Stanley’s EduCause Review article

  • Polymath University: For T-Shaped learners in the 21st-century workplace, Polymath University requires students to major in three distinct areas.  By the same token, faculty members must be capable of teaching in three distinct programs.
  • Nomad University: A kind of competency-based model, the Nomad University has no fixed location (and in some interpretations, no fixed courses). For learnings in the gig economy, this flexible approach to education has some advantages.
  • Interface University: I was struck by this idea of constructing an entire university curriculum around the notion of computational thinking.  There are elements the interface university in Georgia Tech’s computational media degree which combines computing and the humanities in a degree focusing on technology-enabled content.
  • Neo-Liberal Arts College: There is a great deal of discussion about how to bring the liberal arts to science and engineering curricula, but  little effort on the opposite side of that coin.  How would you design the arts and humanities around technology?
  • Ludic University: This is the university of play.  Instead of lecture halls, seminar rooms, and laboratories, this is a university built around design studios. According to Kate Rushton, “this is the university of what-if.”

These are five novel ways to organize post-secondary education.  What problems would these universities solve?  How are they different from current experimental approaches to higher education, and which ones would actually change our system if they were successful?


MSR Selingo Demillo

Affordable access to quality higher education has been a cornerstone of American life since the nation’s founding. American higher education is admired around the world as a model of excellence and innovation, but there is a consensus today that higher education in the U.S. is not on a sustainable path. My books Abelard to Apple and Revolution in Higher Education (both from MIT Press) chronicled the events that led to the current state of affairs and describe an optimistic but much changed ecosystem for higher education.

There are no simple solutions to the problems plaguing colleges and universities. A small band of innovators has taken up the challenge, launched a revolution and has started to remake higher education. The result will be a new, more sustainable ecosystem. Technology holds the key to innovation in higher education. I want to describe the world that the innovators are building, using as examples the innovations like the ecosystem pioneered at Georgia Tech, powered by online education, unexpected partnerships, business reinvention and a willingness to disrupt the status quo. What will the University of the 21st Century Look like? It will be very different from the ones we attended.

Join Jeff Selingo, best-selling author of College (un)Bound and There Is Life After College for our on-stage discussion in Redmond at Microsoft Research of what the revolution is all about.

Video courtesy of Microsoft press here.



There is a renewed interest in experimentation and design in  education, and it is not just confined to campus planning offices and architectural firms trying to land the latest signature academic building project.  Earlier this year, The New York Times described  what happened when design icon Ideo was tasked with reinventing a failing school system in Peru.  About the same time, Jeff Sellingo talked about a Stanford project aimed at redesigning the undergraduate experience.

Reimagining the Undergraduate Experience: 4 Provocative Ideas – Next – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

What emerged were four provocative ideas:

  1.  The Open Loop University
  2. Paced Education
  3. Axis Flip
  4. Purpose Learning

As university systems consolidate campuses, close redundant programs and re-think the need for residential instruction, the timing is perfect for serious design in higher education.  What is a regional campus, for example?  Does it have to look like the poor cousin of a nearby public research university?  Higher education is at the same inflection point  that the media industry was in 1995, the start of the Internet era.  It is naive to think that an evolutionary path will be any kinder to incumbent institutions than the Web was to newspapers.

Backer Jacob  envy

The next verse of the epic poem “Year of the MOOC” will almost certainly be a recounting of a fall from grace if I am correctly reading my recent discussions with dozens of institutional leaders. Whether there will be enlightenment and ultimate redemption is less clear at this point, but what should be a path forward for thousands of institutions could just as easily lead to despair and ruin.

Not because MOOCs are a bad idea, mind you. If there were ever a confluence of innovations that could perfect learning, the simultaneous maturing of  MOOCs, social networking,  and big data are it.  Daphne Koller makes the point in her now ubiquitous Coursera speech: We have known for thirty years (since Benjamin Bloom’s landmark paper “The Two Sigma Problem”) that the master classroom is a way to universally improve learning when compared to traditional classrooms.  The only thing holding us back was the cost of personalizing the learning experience for each student.  MOOCs allow master classrooms be operated effectively for large numbers of students.  I just spoke with edX’s Anant Agrwawal, and he cites a half-dozen other research results confirming better learning enabled by MOOCs.That’s the innovation, and that’s what makes MOOCs such a great idea.

The very existence of MOOCs could be a pathway to think about value in a new way, to looking at the constraints that existed before Udacity, Coursera, and edX and wondering what the next world would be like. It may not turn out to be paradise but it will be a world without those constraints. Instead, too many institutions are reverting to the seven deadly sins of higher education.  Beginning with envy.

In Abelard to Apple I blamed envy for many poor decisions by otherwise insightful academic leaders. Higher education has opted into a destructive, needlessly competitive class system in which schools at the top of the hierarchy are chased by everyone else in a rigged game that ultimately hurts students. If you are a state school, you envy one of the famous public research universities. Technical universities envy MIT and CalTech, Liberal arts colleges envy whichever institution is  at the top of the pyramid whose riches they covet. It is institutional envy pure and simple.  It has been the ruination of hundreds of otherwise promising colleges and universities and has helped drive American higher education to the brink of unsustainability.

Here is an excerpt of my recent conversation with someone in a senior leadership role at a college — in the Middle to use Abelard to Apple terminology —  that is beginning to produce its own MOOCs:

Q: Why are you producing your own MOOCs?

A: Why should we let [deleted] do all the MOOCs? We are just as good as them. Why let them get all the credit?

There are a lot of reasons why this is a bad idea, but the common thread is that this school is trying to buy its way into a game that is rigged against them.  At the very least they will spend a lot of money (that they do not have) to produce a lot of MOOCs (that are not very good).  Yes, there will be a few that are really great, but those few do not justify the level of spending they are thinking about.  Most importantly they will fail because they have defined success as enrolling 100,00 students or more. Why is this an important number:  because [deleted] enrolls 100,000 students in its courses.

It’s a small leap to consider the effect of other deadly sins:

  • Lust: “100,00 students?  Wow!”
  • Gluttony: “I want them all”
  • Greed: “That should be worth a lot of money.”
  • Pride: “No one can do it better.”

There is no agreement on the the sins that belong on the list. I took theology courses from Thomistic scholars who had a decidedly medieval view of these matters. Aquinas for example was not a big fan of including sloth (“I don’t have to teach?”)  in the list preferring instead to go for a more popular malady afflicting monks who spent their lives in prayerful isolation (“I am so tired of dealing with unprepared, unmotivated undergraduates”).

Nor is there agreement on how tightly bound together these things are.  Can you have envy without pride?

Who is virtuous in this new world? At the risk of promoting unwanted scrutiny, I would have to say that San Jose State University is doing the right thing.  San Jose State decided to conduct an experiment in blended learning using the edX version of the MIT 6.002 course entitled Circuits and Systems. It could not have been an easy choice.  SJSU faculty had to sacrifice their hallowed position on the stage and redefine their roles in the classroom:

SJSU students have been viewing and using online materials as homework, including lectures, quizzes and virtual labs available through the edX platform. Then they go to class to work through problem sets with their instructor, thereby flipping the conventional approach of lectures in class and problem sets at home.

Initial reports are encouraging.  A course that historically flushes out 40% of the enrolled students in the traditional format, retains 90% in the flipped format.  Professors and students alike had to adjust, but maybe that is the price of virtue.  It is a price worth paying, because simply lusting after the 100,000 students is not a strategy that will be rewarded in this pre-MOOC world  or the next.

Time for the 2013 Edition of ACTA’s What Will They Learn?™ report.

In last year’s edition, ACTA followed the curricula at over 1,000 undergraduate institutions to see whether there was any correlation between desired learning outcomes in liberal arts programs and topics actually covered in the classroom.

Last year’s results were shocking enough.

Most high-tuition institutions — including the Ivies — failed to provide even the most basic coverage of topics promised in published course descriptions.  You would think, for example, that a humanities curriculum that promises courses in the sciences and mathematics would design courses in which students could actually learn both science and math. No so, for a shocking percentage of the institutions who ask students to pony up $40,000 per year for the experience of bypassing pretty much every useful mention of physics, chemistry, biology, algebra, and computer science.

This year’s survey results were no more encouraging: From the report’s Executive Summary:

What Will They Learn?™ evaluates every four-year public university with a stated liberal arts mission as well as hundreds of private colleges and universities selected on the basis of size, mission, and regional representation. All schools in the What Will Will They Learn™ study are regionally-accredited, non-profit institutions. Combined, the 1,070 institutions in the What Will They Learn?™ study enroll over seven million students, more than two-thirds of all students enrolled in four-year liberal arts schools nationwide.

Overall, the results are troubling. The grade tally tells the story:

A 21 (2.0%)

B 393 (36.7%)

C 338 (31.6%)

D 229 (21.4%)

F 89 (8.3 %)

Less than half of the schools studied require:

Literature – 37.9%

Foreign Language – 13.7%

U.S. Government or History – 18.3 %

Economics – 3.4 %

The Seinfeld Show

Most discouraging to me is the F grade that Amherst earned this year by requiring literally nothing. Sacrificing at the altar of curriculum flexibility, Amherst has no core requirements. This leads to an extremely high completion rate with no guarantee that a  student knows anything at all about math, reading, history, or composition.  It doesn’t have to be that way; you can dispense with a core curriculum and not sink into the academic version Jerry Seinfeld’s “show about nothing.” [See, for example, my chapter on the Threads curriculum in Abelard to Apple].

As I was writing Abelard to Apple, I became increasingly skeptical that accreditors could  get it together.  I suppose there is an argument to be made that the federal and state governments need a rudimentary ability to separate clearly reputable educational institutions from store-front operations. That was the original motivation for the current system of accreditation, but the accreditation industry wants so so much more.

The industry wants to measure quality, for example.  And if — as is almost always the case — your institution comes up a little short, they are happy to sell you quality improvement consulting services.  It’s a case of mission creep run amok.  Accreditation when stripped to its core mission is costly, intrusive, and largely ineffective. Highly regarded and and influential undergraduate programs are nudged toward the mean. Clearly ineffective and dishonestly marketed for-profit programs are rubbers-stamped so that they can offer federal aid to their students.

The case I make in A2A is that the very idea of accreditation is based on a world view in which higher education is like manufacturing.  In this view, universities are like factories and accreditors are the quality control department.

Every time I see another incursion by accreditors into a space beyond their core mission, alarms go off.  So when I I saw this statement by AAUP and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation that ties accreditation to academic freedom (and therefore tenure) I came out my chair.


Let’s imagine a best-case outcome for this exercise in mission creeep:

  • accrediting teams will get to evaluate processes that exist to protect academic freedom
  • negative tenure decisions will be subject to review
  • there will be pressure to adopt proactive rules that guarantee the outcome of decisions that are best made on a case-by-case basis
  • there will be lots of expensive documentation requirements
  • everyone will figure out how to work around the system.

The key  AAUP/CHEA proposal is:

Affirm the role that accreditation play in the protection and advancement of academic freedom.

Beyond the traditional role of ensuring that academic governance is transparent and free from undue external and political influences, I think that accreditation’s role in the protection of academic freedom is marginal. If the “accreditation community” wants to think about the future, how about this:

How can we make our core mission relevant in a world that has moved beyond the regulated, paper-based quality control methods of the factory floor?