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Discovering the Drivers of Change in Higher Ed.

A look at how a group of faculty, administrators and students at Georgia Tech are exploring options to "Create the Next in Education."

Photo of Rob Kadel
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In February of this year, the Georgia Institute of Technology created the Commission on Creating the Next in Education (CNE), comprised of faculty, administrators, students, staff and external experts, with an 18-month charge to help the Institute become more innovative in how it delivers education. February to August of this year was established as the Discovery Phase (see below). The CNE is now in the Ideation Phase, identifying common themes, problems, and challenges to the current educational landscape. The Design Phase will follow in a few months where teams will create specific project proposals, pilots, experiments, etc.

This has required a lot of lateral thinking. It isn't enough simply to wonder about adding a new major to one of the colleges or to consider increasing enrollments. Rather, the CNE is tasked with considering what Georgia Tech will look like given a completely new educational landscape. The first step in the process, the Discovery Phase, has been devoted to identifying what that landscape will look like. Five groups worked to identify changes ranging from the shifting demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds of future students to how learning science can be leveraged to create classrooms (face-to-face and virtual) that address the personalized learning goals of students. Here is a brief intro from the Executive Summary:

"Georgia Tech’s mission to define the technological university of the 21st century is not a 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. Georgia Tech is, for example, a public university that is starting to resemble a highly selective private university."

The report continues by looking at how the world around Georgia Tech continues to change. Students from all walks of life attend Georgia Tech, and yet it is "now a much more selective institution." It is worth looking at the Discovery Phase reports to understand five factors that are affecting education at Georgia Tech and, indeed, around the U.S. and the world:

  1. Demographic trends and shifts
  2. Socioeconomic forces
  3. The changing nature of students and their learning needs
  4. Advances in the science of learning and teaching that can be anticipated
  5. How an institution organizes for deliberate evolution and development to meet the need for continuing innovation in higher education.


The report continues:

"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."

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm the Asst. Dir. for Research in Education Innovation with the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. My general role is to carry out research projects related to cutting-edge educational strategies, ranging from the use of learning analytics to blended classrooms to MOOCs. I work with the CNE to provide research assistance where needed. I also have my Ph.D. in sociology and continue to teach courses in my discipline when possible.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Not to sound trite, but change is not easy, especially institutional change that requires new perspectives among faculty, administrators, staff, students, parents, alumni, etc. Will we embrace the change or run from it?

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Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Rob.  This is so interesting!  Thanks for sharing this current initiative at Georgia Tech.  I am curious about how the commission was composed.  Were the members invited, or was their a call for interest among these groups?  What fields are the outside experts from?  Are alumni involved?
Thanks for the share!

Photo of Rob Kadel

Hi, Bettina! Good questions. The Commission was formed early in 2016 by the Provost at his invitation. Faculty, staff and students make up the majority of the group. There are some alumni involved as well. We also have representation from employers and industry in the form of an external advisory board. 

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Is there any plan to share opportunities for the wider Georgia Tech academic community to participate, perhaps in a forum, or by submitting thoughts online, as a way to collect many points of view?

Photo of Rob Kadel

Yes, we have broad engagement across the campus. We're hosting featured speaker events (most recent was Dr. Michael Crow, President of ASU, who was phenomenal), workshops, roundtable discussions, town halls, and of course Georgia Tech is one of the sponsors of this design challenge. We're looking for lots of GT stakeholders to get involved and stay involved as we continue to advertise what we're doing.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Heather Cowart

Love this stuff, Rob. I'd love to come work for you guys!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Thanks for your post, Rob!

My take from this is that the future student is a lifelong learner. The key is offering flexible solutions to students as and when they need it. The use of MOOCs has broadened the scope in who higher education can reach but in-person human interaction is equally important, especially to provide a personalised experience for the increasingly more diverse student population.

The workplace needs students with empathy, character, ethics, etiquette, curiosity, and creativity. These students will need to be T-shaped in terms of the depth of their skills and the breadth of knowledge.

More and more students are arriving at college with AP courses; however, low-income students generally don’t have these courses. Is this creating a widening gap between higher and lower income students, especially considering the rise in tuition fees and stagnation in salaries?

For Universities, “Our great challenge will be to create “safe spaces” for academic risk-taking and crucibles for resilience in a population of students who have grown up in a grade-focused educational milieu in which failure is not a learning experience, but a personal rebuke.”

Am I on the right lines here?

Given that, ’some 71 percent of employers offer tuition benefits to their workers’, could in-company training and higher education become better aligned? Could Universities offer a more tailored curriculum for employees e.g. a course with optional coursework around issues relevant to the food and beverage industry if a significant percentage of the University cohort work at Starbucks and are sponsored by Starbucks?

I like the fact that this report has touched upon the physical learning environment. This seems to be overlooked in some of the articles I have been reading.

Photo of Rob Kadel

Thanks, Kate -- lots of great questions here! Let me see if I can unwrap a couple of them. At Georgia Tech, we've actually had great success with some professors "flipping the MOOC." They are using their MOOCs as the outside-class companion to in-class problem solving in a flipped classroom. Their students go to Coursera or edX and sign in to their MOOCs, watch videos, work on practice problems, etc. Then when they come to class, they work in pairs or small groups on hands-on problems. Similarly, in our Online Masters of Science in Computer Science, we've found that a number of students are creating Meetup groups with people in their areas so that they can have a face-to-face chance to discuss the work at hand. (And there are also discussion forums and tons of teaching assistants so that they can collaborate and get help online.) So, while the MOOC format allows us to reach broader audiences, we're still working toward the face-to-face collaborative component.

While I can't speak for all at my institution, my hope is that similar methods can be used to address the problem of availability of AP courses. In Georgia, we have a lot of small rural communities with smaller high schools where there simply aren't enough students to form a whole AP course given the cost of running one. But suppose the content could be delivered online! Students from, say, three different counties, 50 miles apart, are all in the same online environment, and then they meet up once a month or so with a teacher or other instructor who can address questions, give them hands-on experience, and create that safe learning space that you describe. I think there's a lot of potential there!