Monday, February 27, 2012

Academic Leadership: Lunch, Literature, and Listening (AL3) - February 24th

Friday, February 24th was the first Spring session of AL3, hosted by TWU Provost, Dr. Robert Neely. The focus for this semester's discussions is The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring. This book has been high on the reading list of many academics lately, and I heard it mentioned multiple times at both the Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning and the recent Educause Learning Initiative conference. In addition, a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted a daylong conference on teaching and learning at Harvard University, which featured one of the book's authors, Clayton M. Christensen:

In The Innovative University, Christensen and Eyring use the comparison of DNA to address the multiplicity of decisions, cultures, and adopted practices that go into the makeup of different universities and colleges. Parts 1 and 2 of the book were covered for this first discussion, and these parts focus on laying out the history of the two schools used for comparison - Harvard University and BYU-Idaho. Case histories of both schools are intertwined throughout these first few chapters with short charts at the end of each chapter highlighting the different decisions and practices adopted at each university, along with some comments on the pros and cons that result from their integration into the school's policies and culture. Both of these schools evolved differently over time due to different internal and external demands. 

The overall premise of the book is an examination of disruptive innovation in the higher education environment. During the discussion on Friday, several different disruptive innovations were considered. The advent and growth of online education, the rising prominence of for-profit and community colleges, recent and forthcoming legislative cuts, and a growing move to redefine how college credits are awarded were some of the ideas considered. Out of these ideas came the question, just how much trouble is higher education in? All of us seemed to agree that there are quite a few challenges facing higher education, and in addition to the disruptive innovations already considered, the problems of less international students choosing the U.S. as a higher education destination and the lack of career paths and employment potential after college for many graduates were also brought up. Another focus of conversation was what has been called "the Carnegie ladder", a particular idea that appears to have sidetracked many colleges and universities. While the Carnegie classification scheme was originally intended as a way to simply differentiate between the goals of schools, over the years it has become looked upon as a ladder for schools to climb, with each trying to move "up" to a classification that is closer to the research universities envisioned as the "top" of the ladder.

So, here are some of the ongoing questions to ponder throughout the continuing discussion over the semester: 
  • What are reasons for optimism?
  • What are suitable strategies for change in higher education?
  • What are TWU's advantages?
I found this discussion to be extremely interesting! The book is easy to engage with and full of information that I had never even really thought about. For example, I had no idea why tenure was started or the original role that SATs played. The impact that Harvard's "DNA" has had on higher education as a whole was fairly stunning!

This first meeting of the semester was well attended with upwards of 30 people representing various departments and positions here at TWU. Upcoming meetings, which are all on Fridays at noon in Stoddard 308, will be on these dates:
  • February 24 – Parts 1: Reframing the Higher Educational Crisis and Part 2: The Great American University
  • March 9 – Part 3: Ripe for Disruption
  • April 20 – Part 4: A New Kind of University
  • May 4 – Part 5: Genetic Reengineering
However, for those who would like to keep the conversation going between now and then, please feel free to post comments and ideas here! What did you think of the ideas that we talked about on Friday? 

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