Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Future of the University: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education

This essay proposes five models of innovation in higher education that expand our "Ideas of the University," envisioning educational start-ups in the spirit of entrepreneurial experimentation. The author seeks to realize each of these feasible utopias as a way to disrupt higher education. As I write this, the university reportedly is in crisis. Depending on who you listen to, the crisis results from inequality between the administration and faculty, students required to shoulder more and more of the financial burden of their education, decisions made on the basis of profit-seeking, students driven by vocationalism — or universities gone academically adrift. Whatever the causes, "disruption" is the most commonly recommended solution to the university's ills, probably involving technology. Philosopher of higher education Ronald Barnett observed: Ideas of the university in the public domain are hopelessly impoverished. "Impoverished" because they are unduly confined to a small range of possible conceptions of the university; and "hopelessly" because they are too often without hope, taking the form of either hand-wringing over the current state of the university or merely offering a defense of the emerging nature of "the entrepreneurial university." On the one hand, our ideas about innovation in higher education focus too narrowly on technological disruption. On the other hand, those resistant to innovation and disruptive change in higher education long for a return to a perceived Golden Age of the University as imagined by Wilhelm von Humboldt or John Henry Newman. Our visions for the future of higher education thus fall between Luddism and technological disruption. This essay proposes five models of innovation in higher education that expand our "Ideas of the University." I am inspired by the 1920s and 1930s, when there was a general spirit of experimentation in higher education in the air, with the founding of Black Mountain College, Bennington, the Great Books at St. John's, the Experimental College at Wisconsin. The founders of these experimental colleges, such as John Andrew Rice and Alexander Meiklejohn, had a "start-up mentality." These educational entrepreneurs imagined a university different from what currently existed, grounded in a deep philosophy of higher education. I do not believe in one singular "Idea of the University," but rather a multitude of ideas. This article envisions five such educational start-ups in the spirit of entrepreneurial experimentation. Read the article...

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