Remaking Education - Long View, but Starting Now

Norman’s Notes

On 1 April 2019 Norman L. Fortenberry, ASEE Executive Director (ASEE is American Society for Engineering Education) sent out under his title "Norman's Notes" the following message. I highlight sections I believe are particularly pertinent to our work in SIMIODE. We in SIMIODE can be part of the solution. He suggests we have some serious self-reflection to do as we all move forward, for the "forward" will not be business as usual, in any sense!

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On November 2, 2018, I was one of more than nearly 250 educators, employers, nonprofit professionals, policymakers, and others passionate about the future of education at “Remaking Education,” held in Boston’s historic Cutler Majestic Theater. Another 100 volunteer faculty, students, and staff from Olin College of Engineering and Emerson College joined us as we explored innovation in education.

One particularly compelling session was titled “Dissent” wherein participants, in groups of 4 to 6, envisioned the year 2050, in which campuses were more diverse, students pursued their educations with passion and with authentic assessments of their actual learning, and all relevant expertise is brought to bear on technical and social problems.  However, achieving this educational utopia, in the view of participants, will require some hard steps that will likely be vigorously fought – the end of selective admissions, the elimination of disciplinary majors, and the elimination of grades.  What amazed me was how little disagreement there was on the outcomes to be achieved or the steps necessary to achieve them.  Where things bogged down was on the process by which to bypass entrenched interests and surmount concerns about damage to institutional reputation.  Put another way, our professional egos, or fear of risking ridicule, are what participants believed kept them and their institutions from doing what they believed would provide greatly enhanced learning environments.

Whether or not you agree with the particular actions suggested to achieve the stated goals, you should consider whether fear keeps you from taking the bold steps you believe are necessary and, if so, how we can collectively mitigate the barriers those fears present to our greatly enhancing the quality of education.  The March 2012 report by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering and MIT makes five key points about driving and sustaining educational innovation within universities:

  • Change is driven by acknowledged need;
  • Assessment is necessary, but not sufficient;
  • Innovation must be embedded within core curriculum;
  • Department-wide approaches are more effective than isolated approaches; and
  • Sustained change depends on engaging a cross-section of faculty and administrators.

Of these, the two most critical and most subject to fear are the first and last. We must be willing to acknowledge that needs exist, and not just for someone else’s institution. Given the innumerable reports produced over the past 20-30 years, we seem to have made progress on this point.  The fear that exists is in acknowledging the degree of change required and the resulting changes to our own behavior and processes that are required.

We must also be willing to engage in both bottom-up and top-down sustained engagement.  The main fear impediment here appears to be the fear of missing out, of missing the next new thing.  But much of this is driven by the perceived desire for novelty (you don’t get nearly as many brownie points, or grant dollars, for adapting someone else’s innovation).

ASEE is the venue where some of these discussions are being held.  Add your voice to the conversation. Help us all to find ways to overcome our fears in order to do that which we know must to be done.


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