What Is The Next Big Innovation in Higher Education?


My husband has been a political strategist for many years now. He’s worked for a president, a few governors, several mayors, one CEO and now the president of a university. My own experience working in higher education (albeit short-lived) was stressful and bureaucratic. If you think the K-12 education system is difficult to shift, try higher education. I was intrigued by the New York Times article on the Harvard Business School’s decision on whether or not to go online. My husband and I have been debating what the University of California—one of the largest public university systems in the nation—should do. He plays Michael Porter and I play Clayton Christensen in this argument.  In the article, Christensen argues that moving to online education is a no brainer, “Do it cheap and simple. Get it out there.”  Porter argues: “Just because 200,000 people sign up doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”  Regardless of who wins this debate, college is not going to look the same for my three young children.

How can we help students prepare for this brave new world?  They are doing some things on their own. My 9-year old daughter asked for my passcode recently, popped on the internet, pulled up the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium practice test, and started working through it on her own. But taking practice tests online is a far cry from college preparation and being ready to potentially get a degree without ever setting foot on a college campus.  The question is: How can we redesign schools so they look more like colleges or so they provide the kind of learning environment that is the future of online learning–really anytime, anywhere?  One of our Innovative Professional Development sites is thinking about moving its 10th and 11th grade to a college schedule. The amount of free time students have is different in college. The pace and the demand is different if you are to survive. How might we help students cope with those aspects of college—independence and perseverance—when the going gets tough?  Moving to a college schedule seems like a starting place given the fact that most college and their schedules might completely blow up in the future if Christensen is right.

My husband has his work cut out for him if he is going to transform his alma mater, UC Berkeley, into an innovative institution, but so do I.

 – C.