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- Thus, ‘What's your major?’ should be ‘What's your mission? -- not for the career trajectory but the reasons behind it.
- Academic requirements clubbed with impact requirements making students more engaged and accountable; an epitome of learning.
- We've been increasingly learning from informal sources but we always revert back to the context of formal education
- But capturing and leveraging the informal sources could open up patterns for better job opportunities, self-discovery et al that GPAs just can’t
- Life-long learning is vital as shelf-life of the degree is shrinking. (Only 5 years), more people are now mal-employed (employed without any use of their degree) and with the increased risk of automation (47% of all occupations at risk in next few decades)
- Universities have also failed to predict future work patterns and are unable to assist with students’ self-discovery process. This leads us to the Open
- Students gain knowledge -- acquire work experience - return to accelerate or pivot career path. (The loop repeats)
- Unbundling: A modular form of a previously static/inflexible model
- By unbundling education, degrees would be assembled from a collection of the best courses from various universities.
- It would make teachers more collaborative, improve quality, could be delivered either face to face, online or a blend of the two.
- The course could be the unit of content over the degree itself enabling other knowledge distribution systems to start their own courses (think-tanks, companies, makerspaces, and libraries) based on feedback and needs of the
- Unbundling may turn universities into talent agencies and masters of curation investing and identifying talent and command new economies of
- In times of rapid change, we need to shift from an unsustainable siloed thinking in our learning approach to a more trans-disciplinary orbital thinking to help us deal with the complexity of the problems we have
- Orbital Thinking is an approach that comes with a certain level of expertise in an area and orbiting around to other areas of study to culminate in a unique combinations of insights
- It is the highly specialized skills that get obsolete quicker and it is the varied experiences and insights that foster creativity and innovation.
- “Sadly, universities are not training graduates that way and our society prizes depth in a single field of research over breadth in multiple areas.
Innovation however demands that you see the world through multiple lenses at the same time and draw meaning from seemingly disparate points of data.”
With the changing tides in education, it may not be enough to graduate with a single discipline without some level of understanding of some of the other disciplines. For this, the curricula needs to nurture cross-disciplinary learning and orbital interactions. If not, new academies will manifest from this need and from their agile nature, experiment beyond the capacity of higher education institutions.
And this is already happening. These academies with their agility, are questioning the purpose of education, pivoting new models to address education’s most pressing problems. This startupesque (a startup style, experimental and cuttingedge) ethos is paradoxical to the concretized culture that institutions adhere to, and it brings the much needed agility to draft the landscape of the future of higher education.
And it’s about time, considering that we spend 1/5 of our productive life-hours in formal education. When that thought sinks in, the education style becomes a philosophy, human expression, freedom, and life itself. There seems to be a push directly and indirectly to turn the age-old system on its head.
The Minerva Project At Minerva, the new cutting-edge four year university program, as opposed to lecture halls, all the teaching takes place in intensive, interactive seminars conducted online by global experts. “We don't necessarily know how to teach you to be a better orthodontist or a better tax accountant. We innovate in teaching you how to think, how to be creative, how to communicate effectively – and how to lead.
Too much time at college is spent on disseminating knowledge which is already freely available; too much money is spent on costs that have nothing to do with student outcomes”, says founder Ben Nelson.54 “Students don’t need universities to teach them history, chemistry, and political science”, Nelson says. “They need universities to teach them how to think.” Minerva’s approach emphasizes on interpreting patterns and insights from the knowledge acquired to change the way students perceive the world rather than teach ‘hard skills’ for which they are encouraged to find free lectures online.
Students only focus on three areas in their first year; critical thinking, creative thinking and effective communication which includes empirical analysis rhetoric, logic and reasoning. They then select their major, although all of their classes would be interdisciplinary like “Solving Problems with Algorithms” or “Art for Political and Social Change”. They take part in field trips in real settings such as 54Walker, T. (2014, July 24). (ONLINE) Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning? Retrieved November 12, 2014, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/will-the-minerva-project--the-first-eliteamerican-university-to-be-launched-in-a-century--change-the-face-of-higher-learning-9624379.html the Alcatraz tour with a prison psychologist. Finally, they’re asked to create something novel from their learning, rather than just a thesis. For instance, if they’re studying politics, for instance, they might draft a law and try to get it passed55. Students are also sent to another global city including Berlin, Hong Kong, London and Mumbai56. “We didn’t want them to be trained just for some profession or particular kind of academic niche,” says Dr. Stephen Kosslyn, Minerva’s founding dean and a former Harvard and Stanford professor. “We wanted them to have the intellectual tools to succeed at jobs that don’t even exist yet.”56 Nelson's ambition is to create not only a functioning new model for university education, but a university to rival the Ivy League and he’s secured $25 million in seed funding to make this a reality. It is free to attend for the first cohort and costs a fraction of the cost of going to a top college like Harvard, although it is twice as selective. "The primary motivation is to impact systemic change in higher education on a global basis," he stresses. "The only way to do that is to come in at the top. If you create a perfectly OK university that does things differently, nobody cares. In higher education, everybody looks up."57 Nelson was frustrated from his days at Penn State where although his suggestions to reform the curriculum were well received, he was told that they would never be implemented. Now, the reactions he receives from academics is mostly of envy.
55Lapowsky, I. (14, October 27). (ONLINE) This University Teaches You No Skills—Just a New Way to Think | WIRED. Retrieved November 13, 2014, from http://www.wired.com/2014/10/minerva-project/ 56Wood, G. (2014, September 1). (ONLINE) The Future of College? Retrieved November 13, 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/08/the-future-of-college/375071/ 57Walker, T. (2014, July 24). (ONLINE) Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?
“They recognize the utility and value of what we're trying to do and appreciate the effort, but also understand it’d be extremely difficult for them to revise their curriculum to do what we’re trying to do. There’s a lot of legacy, which makes things hard to change”, he says.55 NuVu Studio The brainchild of MIT alumnus Saeed Arida, NuVu is a school where students are exposed to the collaborative, experimental, and demanding design process guided by coaches that include local experts such as doctors, engineers, and graduate students from MIT and Harvard University. For effective teaching, NuVu also combines instructors with mixed backgrounds — such as pairing a filmmaker with an engineer, or a doctor with an architect and connects students to exciting research projects from universities and think-tanks. Over an eleven week course, students attend two week studios under themes which include science fiction, health, home of the future and more. Here, students go through critiques from the coach, constant documentation of progress and prototyping using 3-D printers, design software, art and photography equipment and the like.
In the ‘do-it-yourself prosthetics’ studio, students developed a 3-D printed prosthetic hand for children under age 12 with interchangeable cylinders to fit a brush, pencils, and other artistic utensils. "The feedback we're getting is they don't necessarily just want a hand," claims Arida. "These kids don't have a hand from the beginning, so they can have something that is different. This is pushing prosthetics into a direction that's not necessarily literal."
After an intense design process, each studio ends with students presenting their projects to a jury of entrepreneurs, designers and subject matter experts for validation. Students go through a portfolio-based assessment that highlights the student's growth over time and the development of key academic and life skills (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, research, quantitative reasoning and analysis). The approach and skills that employers have been eager for in university students.
So far, over 400 hundred students have produced over 130 projects creating robotic arms, websites, board games, modular shelters, sustainable and futuristic clothing, medical devices and documentaries. Many projects have been integrated in the real world including a medical device that expands and improves upon research to reduce tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease and has already begun clinical trials in a hospital. They launched in Bangalore, India last year and are looking to expand internationally shortly due to a lot of interest in the model.
Stanford 2025 Many have attempted to transform education but merely progressed beyond tinkering with the structure, curriculum, and systems rather than regenerating the university from its roots. The Strategic Foresight and Innovation Team at Stanford University produced a foresight study on the future of Stanford specifically in 2025 where they’ve imagined the reinvented avatar of the
University for this era. One of the breakthrough ideas is:
Paced Education 58 In this scenario, four years of university in a siloed setting of a one size fits all, turned into six years and three phases of varied lengths based on the individual readiness of the students. This would allow them to explore and transform at their own pace.
Calibration (6-18 Months) Calibration offered hundreds of short (one day to one week), immersive, introductory experiences designed by faculty and practitioners, so students experienced a wide range of subject areas, learning models, and career trajectories. Students could take up to 18 months to sample interest areas, selfreflect, find learning gaps, and build the confidence to move forward with intention.
Elevation (12-24 Months) Elevation took students in a deep-dive into a content area with a singular focus.
Students enter the Elevation phase by coordinating with their self-selected personal Board of Advisors composed of academic and personal mentors at the new living and learning quarters called LivLerns in order to foster meaningful relationships between professors and students.
58Paced Education. (2014). (ONLINE) Retrieved November 13, 2014, from http://www.stanford2025.com/paced-education/ Activation (12-18 Months) Activation was a time to apply skills and knowledge in a range of different modes.
Students try on career vectors while still within the context and the security of the university. Here, students translated their knowledge to several real-world applications allowing them to exercise and iterate upon their academic knowledge in the context of internships, service projects, high-caliber research, and entrepreneurship.
The Ingredients (Key Takeaways) Minerva Project
- A four year university degree taught through online seminars by global experts. Focus on leadership, critical and creative thinking and effective communication and not on hard skills
- All classes interdisciplinary (Ex: Solving Problems with Algorithms), exposure to real settings (Ex: Field trips in prisons with prison psychologists), encouraged to build something novel from their learning and launch it. Students are sent to another global city (Ex: London, Mumbai,
- Process: Mentoring -- Constant Progress Documentation – Prototype – Critique – Launch -- Repeat
- Students coached by experts, teamed up with instructors with mixed backgrounds and connected with exciting research projects from universities and think-tanks.
- Two week studios under a particular theme (Ex: Health Home of the Future)
- Go through a portfolio based assessment that highlight the student's growth over time and the development of key academic and life-skills (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, research, quantitative reasoning and analysis) - All the skills that employers have been craving for.
- Students present their projects to a jury of entrepreneurs, designers and subject matter experts.
- Over 130 projects including robotics, websites, board games, modular shelter, sustainable and futuristic clothing, medical devices and
1. Calibration: Short, immersive and introductory experiences to test wide range of areas, career trajectories and learning models.
2. Elevation: Deep dive into content area, build personal board of