Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Future focused universities are inspiring 

“For some reason we unlearn how to learn as we progress from elementary school through middle school and high school. And in a sense, maybe I’m bringing kindergarten back to college by having people talk to each other!”
(Harvard Magazine, Mazur, 2012)

I am hugely impressed at the way Stanford University is focusing on reinventing the higher education model. They have been questioning how time, space, expertise, accreditation and student agency will change in response to the “disruption” caused by the advent of online learning.

In their words, a design team from Stanford worked with hundreds of perceptive, creative, and generous students, faculty, and administrators over the course of a year to explore how students prepare for a Stanford education while still in high school, patterns of undergraduate decision-making about what and how they study, and the shifting needs and expectations from future employers. 

The project culminated with an experiential exhibit entitled “Stanford 2025” in May 2014. To encourage an exploratory mindset, the event was staged as a time-travel journey. The community embarked to the distant future—and landed just at the moment when Stanford was looking back retrospectively at major paradigm shifts that “happened” around 2025. These possible shifts were shared as provocations—a subjective, student-centered imagining of what could happen as the future unfolds.
As stated in my earlier blog post, I used the Stanford Model as a provocation to facilitate future focused thinking at Selwyn House School. Take a look at Stanford’s video clips; they are inspiring
(scroll down to the section titled Choose a future to explore):

Twilight of the lecture, an article written for Harvard Magazine ( describes how Harvard University has also been exploring and trialing new models such as active learning seriously revamping the entire teaching/learning enterprise turning it upside down. Their active learning approach overturns the 600-year-old transfer of information model of instruction, which “casts the student as a dry sponge who passively absorbs facts and ideas from a teacher.”

Harvard’s active learning model drops the lecture model and instead deeply engages students in the learning/teaching endeavour. It starts from a view of education as a two-step process: information transfer, and then making sense of and assimilating that information.
In their words, in the lecture approach, the emphasis in class is on information transfer, and making sense of the information is left to the student on his or her own, outside of the classroom.” Active learning flips that approach and puts information transfer outside the classroom, and the making sense inside.

This means students are asked to read lecture notes before class, pose questions on the course website and when they meet, they discuss those questions together.

And then there is the new approach to their buildings. 
Again in their words:
 99.9% of classrooms on campus are auditoriums, built with just one purpose: focusing the attention of many on the lecturer. The lecturer is active, and the students are passive taking in information. Instead, by adopting the active learning approach, auditorium seating is being replaced with classrooms like you see in elementary schools, where students sit in groups in various configurations with some kind of group activity to work on: that’s active learning. It’s no accident that most elementary schools are organized that way. The reason is, that’s how we learn.

Universities like Stanford and Harvard are realizing information comes from everywhere now and their core job is no longer the gatekeeper of information, as it has been since the Renaissance. In the words of Eric Mazur, who developed the active learning approach:

And if it were (that is, universities as gatekeeper’s of information), the only thing they would need to do is videotape the best lectures and put them online, like the Khan Academy. They have 65 million users: it’s a force to be reckoned with. But ultimately, learning is a social experience. Harvard is Harvard not because of the buildings, not because of the professors, but because of the students interacting with one another.

The article acknowledges that the live classroom is still the best medium for a student to truly be known as an intellectual being and to engage with other such beings - You learn from your peers in all walks of life. Students have always hidden in their rooms; social media can keep them in their rooms longer. Perhaps the key is to coax students not only out of their rooms, but also into each other’s minds. If learning is indeed a social experience, then a party school of a certain kind just might offer the richest learning environment of all.

So, in summation…

There are clear synergies between primary schools and universities future thinking visions, philosophies and pathways.

Future focused thinking and planning should be a major focus to ensure we are not just continuously reacting to fast paced technological impacts.

Focusing on the reinvention of how we will learn in the future, from a combined preschool, primary school, high school and tertiary institution viewpoint, could ensure a seamless, purposeful journey into the future for all learners as opposed to an ad hoc, disjointed experience.

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