Framing the Future of Higher Education: A Four-Part Syllabus for Innovation
In debates about higher education in the US, tuition and loans dominate the discussion. Overlooked in the conversation, however, is how colleges and universities prepare students to succeed decades beyond graduation.
The US Department of Labor estimates that today’s students will hold at least 10 jobs by the time they turn 40. For many of these students, the jobs of their future will require them to use technology yet to be invented to solve problems yet to be identified.
The corporate world understands that success requires innovation. For their students’ sake—as well as their own—colleges and universities must break free of academia’s standard operating procedures and embrace innovation. If we don’t innovate, our students will suffer in the competitive global job market. And, on a global scale, organizations and economies will suffer from a workforce that is unprepared for the challenges of our times.
Academic innovation is more than a buzzword. It requires purposeful change institution-wide. It is a leadership challenge for presidents, provosts, and deans. It is not solely about technology, but about pedagogy and facilities, too. And it is not reserved for STEM curricula but for all: business programs and the liberal arts, engineering and pre-professional programs.
Here are four steps universities must take:
- Facilities: Buildings must be student centered and optimized for today’s digital natives and the way they learn. This includes mobile furnishings that enhance group learning, accommodate entrepreneurial and design thinking projects, and maximize the “flipped classroom” concept. Facilities must be equipped to meet national, as well as international, standards.
- Pedagogy: Faculty must update their teaching styles because the method of lecturing from a podium in front of the classroom is quickly becoming obsolete. By embracing new technology and flat boards, faculty can better engage their students by moving about the classroom, seeing the questions or problems their students are having, and helping them develop and apply their critical thinking skills in real time.
- Enhance learning: Students’ attention spans have dropped considerably in the past five years. They learn differently and demand more progressive means of obtaining knowledge. Passive learning—listening to a 50-minute lecture—no longer serves them. Today’s students want to engage with, read, and learn the material before class, and use class time for active, hands-on problem solving. No longer a lecturer, the teacher becomes a coach.
- Technology: While not the answer in itself, technology is a powerful tool that enables unlimited opportunities for real growth and education. It can evaluate whether learning has been advanced and can ensure connectivity with students across the nation and around the world. Our students have grown up extraordinarily comfortable with technology and they expect classrooms—and faculty—to be technologically savvy, too.
Innovation means continually anticipating and adapting to the needs of society and the marketplace, and it is the key to long-term success in higher education. Universities must develop the environments, thinking, and practices that will enable graduates to thrive in a world where individuals, institutions, and businesses are increasingly interconnected and interdependent.