In many ways our universities are a four hundred year old anachronism. In the last twenty years with the expansion of the Internet for content, connections, and communications, the world of learning is in a different state. As Brynjolfsson and McAfee point out in Race Against the Machine, with computing we are on the second half of the chessboard.
So knowing what we know now, how would we re-design the university if we could start from scratch. Russ Ackoff suggests starting an Idealized Design process with the articulation of the qualities you would like to bring into being for the system under study.
The following is my list of qualities for the new university:
- Learner centered design. Everything about the new university is aimed at creating life long learners.
- Project Centered learning. Using the “collaboration by difference” promoted by Cathy Davidson, the primary mode of learning is to engage the students in real world projects. The projects would be diverse horizontally (multiple disciplines from the digital humanities to eScience to the arts) and vertically (undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, and professors).
- Computational foundation. Building on the 4th “R” recommendation of Cathy Davidson, each student would develop a computational competency.
- Content and context come forward to replace the structural forwardness of today’s university. Students will be assessed on the competencies they build rather than the credit hours they attend (see Jennifer Turns comments on structural forward aspect of the university).
- Students as teachers. The person who learns the most in the classroom is the teacher. Change the role of the student as passive learner to active teacher.
- Tangible knowledge production and “publishing” as core competency. Instead of “make work” artificial assignments, the students and professors should use all contact time to “produce” digital media content (including the physical realm with 3D printing).
- Focus on the development of critical thinking skills. Move up the learning hierarchy from rote multiple choice assessment learning to critical thinking.
- Systems thinking. In addition to learning the skills of analysis, students should learn to see and think in terms of systems.
- No walls and no silos. Instead of constructing sterile classrooms, we should be building virtual environments that are supported by project meeting spaces (virtual and physical) and eating/gathering spaces. Multi-disciplinary teams should have project spaces and shared cooking/eating spaces. Instead of the silos of narrow knowledge departments, organizing should occur around real world projects. (See MG Taylor Corporation examples of built environments for project and innovation teams.)
- Art producing. Make art together every day.
What is your list of the qualities you would want to have for an idealized design of the university?