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Pedagogical Innovation Made Real

One of the hopes of the Designing the Future(s) Initiative was that the program might liberate faculty to mount courses in ways that made great pedagogical sense but did not fit the usual mold of a 3-credit, 15 week class, centered in a single school within Georgetown.

The Red House on 37th Street is used as the incubator for the ideas, and design assistants help to shape the ideas of the faculty into rigorous new practices. Since some of the courses truly span all schools, we needed to create new faculty academic review procedures to make sure perspectives from multiple schools were used in initial evaluation. Overall, we want to balance the need to get creative experiments into the system with an inclusive and deliberative process. The initial successes show how important wide faculty consultation assists experiments meant to flex our own model.

There are themes emerging in this work: enriching face-to-face interactions between students and faculty, maximizing experiential and research-based learning, combining theory and practice, fostering support for team-teaching and interdisciplinary collaboration.

All the work is now bearing fruit that offer new learning experiences for Georgetown students in the near term.

One example is a course that involves faculty from multiple departments on the main campus and multiple groups of the Medical Center. The course needs an interdisciplinary approach because multiple fields have contributed to the knowledge now viewed as key to understanding. The field in question is childhood, specifically children’s physical health, and cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. These topics are covered with a keen interest in the interplay between these attributes of children and the social contexts in which they live, learn, and play. This is one example of scores of issues which have been studied from many different perspectives, each in itself focusing only on a part of the issues.

The design exposes undergraduate students across the university to this issues from multiple points of view–in both classroom and community (forcing students outside their comfort zone). The design lies outside the one-size fits all 15 week 3-credit course but retains a commitment to coherence and connection among the parts. It uses a set of 1-credit modules to give students flexibility in putting together an experience that links theory with practice with policy formation challenges.

A group of five faculty members coordinated the content of four one-credit modules. The first, “Principles of Challenges in Childhood and Society,” is required of all students. Those who desire only an introduction can take only that module. However, those who want a deeper exploration of the topic have three other modules (1-credit each) from which to choose. They are offered as four-week bundles, with 3-hour meeting blocks in each week. Some are mixes of multimedia-based learning and face-to-face interaction. One is a community-based learning module, with field placements in social service agencies, schools, and community-based organizations. Another is centered around a “hot topic” in the news related to children (e.g., cyber-bullying, school shootings), where students examine the existing research literature and attempt to apply theories to real events. Another is centered around policy issues, where students are asked to reflect on the real-world experiences they had in field placements or the Challenges course to prepare Congressional-style testimony or suggest a new set of policies improving child welfare.

Experiential learning, quick application of existing literatures to new events, exposure to multiple fields’ thinking on the same topic, theory and practice – all guided by talented, passionate faculty. This new structure and others like it hold great promise for Georgetown students. I am pleased to see it being offered next semester.

This post originally appeared on the Provost’s blog. To read more about the Challenges in Childhood and Society courses, please click here.


For over 100 years, the common unit of teaching and learning in a university has been the course. The 3-credit course is common, often lasting about 15 weeks. Universities typically require a certain number of credits/courses for a diploma in a program. Thus, it is a basic metric that garners the attention of students.

In parallel, the course is often the basic counting unit for the faculty workload. Faculty across universities ask each other what their teaching load is at their university. They’ll answer, “I’m on a 2-2;” “I’m on a 2-1.” This means “I teach two courses each semester;” “I teach two courses one semester and one the other semester.”

I can imagine there was a time in some universities that this metric was a useful description of the work of different faculty. Of course, it omits any commentary on the amount of faculty time on committee work for their units, on professional service to their professional organizations; on research; on mentoring and tutoring undergraduate students; on graduate student interaction; and on service on university committees.

Further, the course-based metric fails to recognize the large variation in amount of time spent teaching different courses (e.g., a class of four students versus a similar class of 40 students). It ignores the fact that teaching a course for the third time requires less effort than the first time. It ignores the fact that classes with teaching assistants have different time requirements than courses without teaching assistants.

It also is out of alignment with the merit review systems in place in most units, which evaluate faculty on teaching, research, and service.

It’s interesting to me to note that some Georgetown departments and schools have recognized the inadequacy of workloads defined only on a course basis. Some have invented counting rules reflecting that the variable amount of faculty time required of different courses. Others formally try to value the time spent in oversight of graduate students or project-based work of undergraduates. Such innovation, however, is not uniform across the Main Campus of Georgetown. Hence, the meaning of “I’m on a 2-2,” for example, is quite diverse among and within departments and units.

Finally, as we look toward the future, more and more faculty are interested in new course arrangements, ones that adjust the amount and character of “class” time to the nature of the material being presented (e.g., intensive two-week courses; year-long, project-based learning). For example, many of the faculty working on the Designing the Future(s) initiative are creating learning experiences that are far different from the traditional 15-week, 3-credit course.

For all the reasons above, it seems to be a good time to think carefully about whether Georgetown could create ways of measuring faculty workloads that more equitably and fully reflect the range of activities that faculty pursue in support of the mission of the university. Since the most precious commodity of faculty is their time, new counting rules based on their time allocation might be a starting point.

Over the coming days, I’d be interested in thoughts of faculty on these matters.

This piece first appeared on the Provost’s blog.

Future(s) Initiative Supporter Commends Impact of the Red House

Comments offered by an anonymous donor on the Red House activities and Georgetown’s tradition and values. 



For us [the Georgetown Learning Initiatives Committee], the Red House symbolizes GU’s commitment to thinking “outside the box” when searching for possible solutions to the issues confronting higher education. It would have been very easy for the University to just have some committees that meet once a month in White-Gravenor or Healy and say,”we tried” but we couldn’t come up with anything. The Red House, to us, is a place where there are no rules or boundaries, no bad ideas and where failure of an idea is not “failure” but an effort to move the University forward in the process of “Reimagining the University”. I guess I should correct the last statement; there is one rule — GU will always be a Jesuit, liberal arts institution with a goal of developing women and men for others. After that, rules or boundaries only force one back to the status quo of escalating costs in higher education. So, the Red House represents a challenge to the status quo as part of developing the Georgetown education of the future, while preserving the educational rigor, the traditions and the experiences that we all cherish.

Ruth Deakin Crick: Measuring Resilient Agency at Georgetown and Beyond

In a seminar hosted by Designing the Future(s) and the Formation by Design team on March 6, I facilitated a group of over twenty-five Georgetown University faculty members in experiencing the self-assessment of their learning power and coaching conversations to deepen their understanding. This is a topic which has been a key focus in my research career for over 15 years. During our discussions, we explored the deep connections between learning power and student formation. Formation is, after all, a learner-centred concept: it is a relational and embodied process through which one engages with knowledge, traditions and values and expresses them through action in the world.

Ruth Deakin Crick
CLARA self-assessment

The tool that Georgetown faculty used to assess their own learning power that snowy afternoon is a revised and more robust version of our original work at the University of Bristol: the Crick Learning for Resilient Agency Profile (CLARA). CLARA is a self-administered questionnaire that provides rapid feedback as a visual analytic to help guide a coaching conversation. It measures eight dimensions of learning power, described in greater detail here. Each one incorporates values, dispositions and attitudes and is relatively ‘plastic’ in relation to context. In practice, the dimensions work together, providing the vital link between purpose and identity and knowledge creation and performance.

CLARA self-assessment sample report

Figure 1. CLARA self-assessment sample report.

I see CLARA as a learning analytic that re-defines how to measure the holistic learner qualities necessary for 21st century society; qualities that are increasingly more important but which are hard to evidence. It’s a ‘practical measure’ that my colleagues and I have used to stimulate change in individuals, teams and organisations, through the same rapid feedback mechanisms that form part of the emerging field of ‘improvement science’.

During the development of CLARA, and in the years since, my colleagues and I have continued to refine our conceptualization of learning power. As part of the Learning Emergence Network, I help to co-ordinate an international network of scholars and practitioners dedicated to advancing dialogue and research on this topic. What we have arrived at as a definition in our latest study is Learning Power as:

‘an embodied and relational process through which we regulate the flow of energy and information over time in order to achieve a particular purpose of value.’

The dimensions of learning power reflect the ways in which we develop resilient agency in learning by regulating this flow of energy and information in order to engage with challenge, risk and uncertainty and to adapt and change positively.

Self-awareness, ownership and responsibility in learning are the broader goals of CLARA. Using and improving learning power requires an awareness of self in relation to each dimension, and in different contexts. The rapid analytic feedback forms a framework for coaching conversations that enable reflection, affirmation and challenge. With the insight the visual analytic and the coaching conversation provide, users get to know themselves as learners and are more able to cultivate their authentic selves and to inhabit a sense of personal responsibility for their learning journey over time. For example, for someone with a CLARA profile like the diagram below, the challenge is to develop mindful ways to strengthen his sense of belonging to a community and find relationships to help strengthen his learning capabilities. At Georgetown, the Formation by Design team has identified this tool to measure an integrated set of outcomes which bridge the academic and pastoral, the formal and the informal curriculum.

Ruth Deakin Crick is Professor of Learning Analytics and Educational Leadership at the Connected Intelligence Centre and School of Education in the University of Technology Sydney, as well as a consultant to Designing the Future(s)’ Formation by Design initiative. She is also Reader in Systems Learning and Leadership at the University of Bristol where she works in the Systems Centre in the Faculty of Engineering. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Rick Vaz: Immersive High-Impact Learning: From WPI to Georgetown

While many higher education institutions are still grappling with the transition from traditional to more project-based experiential curriculums, a private research university in Worcester, Massachusetts has been an innovator in this area for more than 40 years. Worcester Polytechnic Institute upholds a standard of learning that requires students to immerse themselves into hands-on, project-based learning and apply their in-course knowledge to real-world problems. Invited by the Red House, in December 2014, Rick Vaz, Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies at WPI, spoke to a group of Georgetown faculty and students to pinpoint about trading courses for experiences. Following his presentation, we spoke with him about his viewpoints on the current and future state of higher education across the nation and at WPI.

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1. What is the biggest hurdle standing in the way of expanding experiential learning at colleges/universities? How do we get traditionalists in academia to embrace this gradual shift in the educational sphere?

The biggest challenge for most institutions is carving out sufficient curricular turf for the experiential activity to have impact. Experiential learning requires students to devote substantial time and attention to something outside the traditional curriculum – that activity has to map into students’ curricular requirements. Of course, it demands faculty engagement as well, so a second challenge is for the experiential learning to map into faculty loading models and reward structures. The interdisciplinary nature of authentic learning experiences adds to both of those mapping challenges.


2. The Interactive Qualifying Project has had great success at WPI, particularly in regards to students completing IQP at one of WPI’s centers overseas. How much does studying internationally have an effect on the success of the program and the success that students have upon receiving their degree (versus completing the IQP strictly at WPI)?

For those unfamiliar with it, the IQP is an experiential general education requirement, equivalent to three courses. Even though half of our students complete the IQP overseas, we never envisioned the project as an explicitly international experience. Our primary objective has always been for students to experience deep, impactful learning from solving authentic problems, with particular emphasis on critical thinking and writing, and on understanding the social and cultural context of those problems. Over time, we’ve found that when that problem solving happens in cultures outside of our students’ prior experience and comfort zones, the learning opportunities are greater. And of course, those experiences can layer a range of global learning outcomes on top of the problem-solving abilities.

Assessment of students’ project reports shows clear benefits of projects completed off campus – every single learning outcome is demonstrated more strongly than for projects done on campus. A study of our alumni has confirmed this effect – alumni who completed projects off campus reported greater long-term benefits from the project work in 33 of 39 areas related to professional success and personal fulfillment.


3. Where do you see the IQP project in the next 5 years?

Based on the evidence I just described, WPI is committing to providing an off-campus project experience for every student. That will mean establishing new off-campus centers, both domestic and international, and it’ll mean raising money both to build those programs and to make participation possible for all students, regardless of their ability to pay.

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4. As a professor, what have your students — current and past — told you about their overall college experience? What have they said is missing or needs to be improved upon in the curriculum? Based on your observations as a dean and professor, what separates IQP students from those who do not have such a program at their institution?

Most WPI students major in engineering or science, and many of them come to us with very specific technical and scientific interests. However, it often takes less than a year or two for them to start getting very excited about the humanities, social sciences, and their interdisciplinary project work. That’s why we’re building more project work into the first year – it lights a spark for many of our students that burns throughout their time at WPI. The result, I think, is graduates with multiple interests and foci – they may be experts in mechanical engineering or biotechnology, but their passions are often based on global problems such as sustainable energy, food security, or global health.


5. The Designing the Future(s) initiative places a great emphasis on high-impact learning by way of interdisciplinary learning, credit-based research immersion and the fusion of theory and practice. In a time where the value of a college degree is being constantly questioned, how do you see these elements increasing the value of obtaining a higher education?

The most pressing problems facing mankind are messy and interdisciplinary, demanding solutions that are based on an understanding of science, technology, economics, cultures, and communities. I can think of no more relevant task for higher education than to prepare students to tackle those ill-defined, complex problems. That requires more than academic preparation – it requires practical experience and also the development of a sense of mission.

Dr. Rick Vaz is the Dean of the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. Dr. Vaz’s investment in immersive learning and international learning is evident, as he has advised hundreds of undergraduate research projects across the globe. He is active in the institute’s required program, Interactive Qualifying Project, which merges curricular learning with real-world application and training.

Radical Learning through the Certificate in Writing, Communication, and Design

Our proposed Certificate in Writing, Communication, and Design is the first attempt to coalesce a design community at Georgetown, and recognizes at least three important undercurrents in higher education that are radically shifting:

1. alternative forms of scholarship
2. learning outside the classroom
3. new learning environments

First, by putting Writing, Communication, and Design together we are acknowledging that they all share common underlying processes and purposes. To say it succinctly, they are all about the creation of intentioned artifacts that embody arguments. Traditionally, we would look at the kinds of methods and evidence used in the humanities and the sciences and see their obvious differences. Our certificate, I believe, focuses on the similarities. Culturing bacteria in a petri dish to provide evidence of a scientific theory is a rhetorical-material practice in the same way that putting images together in a film might be, or marks on paper, or electrons in a machine. These intentioned artifacts all embody argumentation and points of view which have often remained tacit. Our certificate acknowledges our dedication to teaching the common underlying thought processes and work practices involved in these activities as a fundamental part of a liberal arts education, abstracted out from any particular domain or discipline. More simply, learning how to DO things, or material competency is an essential and missing part of a general education.

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The second idea, which naturally follows from the first, is that these skills are best learned on a project-by-project basis outside of the assigned work and topical matter of the classroom, and therefore removed from many of the expectations that come along with it. The Future(s) defines this certificate as a way to “de-couple” instruction and seat-time, meaning that learning is based on how competent and proficient a student is at doing something rather than how much time they “officially” spend doing it. This acknowledges that everyone learns at a different pace and allows for student engagement in a project at time-scales that would not make any sense in a semester-based system. A student may master a proficiency in a month, another over a year or longer. It doesn’t really matter, it’s the mastery that counts. One side-effect of this is that it allows for more authentic projects that need time to develop in stages. Projects that need time to mature through mentorship, collaboration, feedback and failure. The ability to work on projects like this ingrains the work-style and habits-of-mind associated with “Active Learning” and are much closer to what is expected of students when they enter the real world.


I know this is my own particular tick, but I take the ideas of “seat-time” and “active learning” very literally. Our certificate encourages active forms of production, best done when one is moving about and physically engaged with material things in the external world and not abstractions. This is something that engineers and designers, and frankly most branches of science take for granted, but has somehow gotten stripped out of the humanities as a skillset even though the production of texts is a material practice itself. Students need to do field work, they need to tinker, they need to get out of their seats and do things. I secretly believe that this is the hidden reason students report that their most engaging educational experiences happen outside the classroom. The “studio” requirement in our certificate solves this problem. Studio is not a time or place to sit and absorb what is going on around you—it is a time to get up and create the things that are going on around you. It is a place where students bring the outside world and their interests with them, as content. It is a time when students can direct their own learning. All our certificate does, in my opinion, is acknowledge that this is learning after all, and that students deserve credit for doing it. That’s not such a radical idea.

Formational Outcomes: Connecting Purpose with Design

Wider formational outcomes of learning and development—those that address the broadest purpose of higher education—should be put at the center of our learning designs. This is a central premise of the Formation by Design Project at Georgetown. And if we are to broaden formational outcomes across higher education, then we must make advances on measuring and assessing the outcomes we value.

One of the main outputs of a multi-institutional summer symposium hosted by the project was the development of a working set of five Formational Wider Outcomes. Each outcome is to be understood as a cluster of dispositional skills and abilities acquired and demonstrated along with disciplinary skills, knowledge and abilities. At Georgetown, we are calling these the Magis Measures after the Latin word for “more” or “better” often used by the Jesuits to describe an internal journey that brings new discoveries.

The Magis Measures

Learning to Learn. Empowered as independent learners, with curiosity and intellectual agility.

Well-being. Capacity for flourishing, connectedness, self-awareness and self-efficacy.

Resilience. Ability to adapt to change, take responsible risks and deal with complexity.

Empathy. Openness and ethical stance to others, with a global horizon.

Integration. Develop interior freedom and an integrated sense of purpose and identity.


To begin designing and measuring for these formational outcomes at Georgetown, the Office of the Provost has asked all Fall 2014 incoming freshman to participate in a voluntary Magis Measures survey. The survey is comprised of two validated instruments that are intended to measure such things as having an emotional openness to learning, feeling part of a learning community, taking risks and playing with ideas, comfort with conflict and civility, self-efficacy, and acting in congruence with one’s values.

This survey is part of a long-term study to determine the impacts of a Georgetown education on those who attend here: what is learned, how it is learned, and how it affects individuals throughout their lifetime. Periodic assessments of the students will be conducted at various points in their student career and beyond.

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counts as evidence

Path to Action: Measuring Wider Formational Outcomes

As part of the continuing work of the Formation by Design Project, other campuses are encouraged to undertake similar efforts to advance local and shared knowledge around measuring hard-to-measure formational outcomes. The project aspires to develop a toolbox of measures ranging from surveys to reflective evidence to observation of performance over time, as well as to develop institutional systems and policies that will allow for integration of data collected from multiple sources to gain a better picture of formational development.

The University as a Design Problem, Part I

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Few people within the Georgetown community are aware that every week on the second floor of Healy Hall, undergraduate Hoyas are working to imagine and redesign the university of 2033.

The University as a Design Problem course, taught by Vice Provost for Education Randy Bass and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Design Ann Pendleton-Julian, seeks to engage one of its future’s many stakeholders—Georgetown students. In concert with Georgetown University’s Designing the Future(s) initiative, the course gives undergraduates of diverse backgrounds and interests, from four of Georgetown’s schools, the opportunity and tools to develop innovative proposals that could integrate the existing model of education with the rapidly changing needs of the 21st century.

Throughout the semester, students systematically consider and brainstorm solutions for the question: what should the university look like in the year 2033?

What Is a University?

Traditionally, a university has served as an educational institution where professors, students, and community members interact in classes on a campus. As suggested by President DeGioia, a university should prepare students as citizens of a global community; provide professors the resources to further research for the creation of knowledge; and enrich the lives of the university’s neighbors, both immediate and extended, for the common good. In other words, a university should educate—in the broadest sense—men and women, create new beneficial knowledge, and serve the greater community.

The digital revolution, however, paired with rising costs of higher education and increasingly advanced analytic tools in the age of big data, has challenged the standard model and required adjustments to the definition of a “university.” This course is not the first to reconsider the structure of the university, and certainly won’t be the last to consider the grim “iron triangle;” which describes the nearly impossible trifecta of options of quality, access, and cost, and where typically only two axes of the triangle can work in concert.

“The University as a Design Problem” challenges students to break the existing model with a fresh new interface, while ensuring the resilience of Georgetown’s educational goals and Jesuit values.

Georgetown Values +
Goals of a University +
Recent & Rapid Technological Innovations
= The Georgetown of 2033

Rapid globalization and the digitization of information encourage students to look outward rather than inward. By applying design-thinking to the problems facing Georgetown, as well as the contemporary university system at large, students draw upon this outward focus to create a multitude of reimaginations of the higher education system.

Though diverse on paper, all of the projects that the students have been working on share two common themes: a global disposition and radical yet realistic rethinking.



On Design-Thinking

Small groups within the class have deconstructed the university, thought critically about the ideal educational system, and reimagined what sort of institution could only exist in the near future. Students must deal with challenges of how to construct a new university without losing its essential values.

Radical thinking like this requires extended analogies that force students to create literal sketches, diagrams that project abstract systems of learning onto more tangible understandings. Pulling inspiration from a variety of alternative learning models including Google, Minerva University and the Shaolin monks, students push the limits of thought to try to define new educational ecosystems which some students, for example, have represented as lily pads, symphonies, or cell bodies.

The Five Pump-Priming Ideas document created by Provost Groves and Vice Provost Bass demonstrates that Georgetown’s proposals for experiments relate in form and substance to what current Georgetown undergraduates imagine their university to look like in 2033.

The University as a Design Problem course might be considered a petri dish allowing new systems of thought to thrive, encouraging self-regulated abstract and critical thinking, and driving project-based growth to give students a small glimpse into the futures of the university they, themselves, imagine.

Designing the Future with Georgetown Alumni

Holding Experimental Events with 50 Alumni in 3 Cities in 2 Weeks

“Connecting with friends around ideas.”

“Learning through community.”

“The opportunity to persevere through problem solving .”

“A place to enter into experiences ignorant of expectations”

“A chance to have uncommon learning experiences that inspire serendipity.”

These are some of the themes that Georgetown alumni associate with the most formative—indeed transformative—experiences while at Georgetown. The context for talking about them was a series of Design Labs that we held in late February and early March as part of the Designing the Future(s) of the University Initiative.

In three events held in Palo Alto, San Francisco and Austin (at SxSW), more than 50 Georgetown alumni participated in an experimental Design Lab format in which we were addressing the question, “What kind of Georgetown education will be possible in the year 2030?” To address that requires diving deeply into two important questions: “What do you value most about your Georgetown education that you don’t want to lose?” and “How will the context of 2030 shape the kind of education that Georgetown can offer its students?”

The Design Labs flow in two parts: first we ask the alumni to represent, through some kind of visual, a “formative experience” they had at Georgetown. These pictures are inevitably filled with images of place (Healy Hall and DC), community (tables and chairs, dotted lines and arrows making connections and bridges), and opportunities to learn outside the classroom – in DC and abroad. We explore what binds these experiences, what makes them memorable. What makes them Georgetown.


Then we turn to developing the context for the year 2030: what will technology be like? Mobility? Access to information and knowledge? Networking? The complexity of global challenges, such as climate change, that will shape the world. This is the context for which we are designing the Georgetown of the future.

Everyone has experience with the future: how Netflix or Amazon personalizes their choices; how social networks extend their sense of community far beyond boundaries we ever imagined, sometimes uncomfortably; how information at our fingertips makes it possible to learn and problem-solve in a far more fluid manner than ever before. We also all have experience with what we might be losing: the ability to slow down, focus, dive in depth, create and sustain deeper and more meaningful relationships.

Georgetown alumni are in a perfect position to help us think through these questions: they are “products” of our educational experience; many of them work in fields that are innovating for the future. All of us live in a rapidly changing world.


How will these new conditions shape a Georgetown education? If our residential campus has been an ideal place to build community do we need to shift our thinking in a new context to optimizing for networking, inclusive of face-to-face and virtual community? If we now try and nurture both the formal curriculum and the co-curriculum, will the next stage greater integration of the two? Given the changing nature of knowledge and skills, might we create better ways to offer ongoing educational services to alumni, to see the boundary of “graduation” much more porously than ever before?

I feel privileged to have led all three of these events with our fantastic alumni. Their deep commitment to Georgetown is palpable. Their eagerness to yet deepen their connection to this innovative work was positively energizing. We look forward to doing more of these Labs in continuous variation and experimentation.

There is no clear map to the future of the University: only creative designs and our collective imagination.

Disrupting Ourselves

At the launch for this Initiative, President DeGioia affirmed the three interlocking elements that constitute “the university”: the formation of men and women, the creation of knowledge, and serving the public good and the common good. Not only are these the three essential functions of the university, he argued, but they are interconnected: it matters that the formation of students takes place in the company of faculty who have devoted their lives to pursuing questions of significance; and those lines of research and scholarship are similarly shaped by a deep interest in serving the common good, which in turn is integral to the formation of men and women.

The challenges and potential disruptions to this combination of three essential elements have been well-documented, both in President DeGioia’s talk and in the rising (and falling) trends in the media. Not all disruptions, however, are external. Long before MOOC’s and educational technology startups rattled the higher education landscape there was growing evidence of the misalignment among some of our structures and those very core elements that make us who we are.

For example, we know from multiple sources that students report their most meaningful learning experiences as occurring largely outside the traditional classroom, from experiences where theory and practice (and reflection) come together around questions or projects of significance. The set of learning experiences identified by the National Survey of Student Engagement as “high impact practices” are typically located either in the co-curriculum, or in anomalous learning experiences in the formal curriculum (e.g. first-year seminars). This is not to say that students don’t have transformative experiences in formal coursework. Nor is it to say that coursework isn’t essential as a foundation for students to have transformative experiences outside the classroom. But I do believe that we have come to a point where we have to confront how we can leverage structured experiential learning in more central and less marginal ways, given the data that we have about its impact on learning and student success.

This is the phenomenon that I identified a couple of years ago as “disrupting ourselves.” That is, our own expanding conceptions of learning and learning environments are running headlong into our structures. We already know enough to motivate efforts to recenter some of our practices around the high-impact learning that we know is the most transformative. The rising external pressures only accelerate this shift. This is one of the central design challenges of Designing the Future(s): how to respond to the structural tensions that our own ambitions have created.