Notes from Thursday Keynote on Redesigning the University for the Whole Person #slate14

Apologies, as I was listening and forgot to take notes at the beginning of the presentation. This is more of a summary than detailed notes. The keynote was presented at the 2014 SLATE Conference by Randy Bass of Georgetown University and was very interesting.

Dr. Bass positions the challenges facing higher education (and education in general) as a question of design as opposed to disruption (as the popular media likes to proclaim).

There are many pressures working on institutions, from open courses (MOOCs), big data/analytics, and disillusionment. At the same time, we need to focus on 21st century skills that prepare students for a workplace that requires them to work with unstructured problems that can’t be solved with artificial intelligence (or be relegated to low-paying routine positions)

Learning analytics: personalization of learning through data at scale. Really, according to Dr. Bass, Machine-Augmented Human Judgement (using our own faculties based on the data stream and analysis that AI and other technology can provide). He argues that the biggest tension is not between technology or not, but between integration or dis-integration of learning and thinking.

Disintegrative is granular learning, focusing on discrete experiences, competencies, outcomes, and other types of learning that are measurable. Integrative, on the other hand, is holistic and coherent. Integrative learning looks at the whole learning experience by combining curricular and co-curricular experiences to help students form connections of the disparate learning, content, and competencies. Dr. Bass says that this integrative learning should be the primary purpose of universities – helping students form those connections and designing that holistic experience.

Disrupting Ourselves

“Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our concept of teaching” Dr. Randy Bass, Educause article titled Disrupting Ourselves.

Learning Paradigm is larning-focused, outcome-driven, and student-centered. This has led to us expanding our understanding of learning & changing skillset required for the 21st century. However, there is a growing mismatch between these changing aspirations and the structure of our campuses.

High Impacct Practices are those teaching practices that correlate to student success and persistence, like first year seminars, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, internships, undergraduate research, study abroad, capstone courses, collaborative assignments, and common intellectual experiences. We spend most of our money on formal curriculum, but most of the HIPs occur outside of that. At the same time, we spend most of our marketing and branding efforts to advertise the co-curricular experiences.

So, half of the HIPs are outside the formal curriculum, and the others are anomalous in the typical undergraduate program. That means our formal curriculum can also be known as the collection of low-impact practices.

What makes HIPs high impact?

  • Students invest more time and effort on task
  • Engage in accountable talk and thinking
  • Students give and get meaningful feedback
  • They make decisions in uncertain and complex circumstances
  • They meet challenges to their perspectives and beliefs while taking risks outside of their comfort zones
  • They have the opportunity to integrate, synthesize, and make meaning

More and more, Dr. Bass predicts that more of the “general practices” of foundational knowledge will become generic and interchangeable and be served by other practices (like MOOCs). Higher Education, therefore, will need to focus on what is “irreducably local” of practices and learning opportunities that are engaging, promote ethical judgement, self-reflection, and leadership. These are characterized by designing around integration

Rising practices that will replace our current learning paradigms:

  • ePortfolios (see for practices)
  • Learning dashboards – a way for students to share what they have learned outside of transcripts and GPAs, everything from experiences, networks (PLNs), plus other metrics of progress (as decided by students)
    • Going beyond determining who is succeeding or failing to working with students to interpret their own data and progress (and learn to market themselves)

What does it take to designing a more integrated university?

Connect – integrate theory and practice, connect curriculum to co-curriculum, and move high-impact experiential learning into the business model

Unbundle – break courses into smaller units to create more flexible curriculum, eliminate credits based on seat time

Shape – form and forge new connections, create experiential curriculum models that support holistic learning

The business of the 21st century university is not in information and skills. We need to look at Formation, Integration, and Transformation.



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