A conversation about innovation in education
February 9th, 2012
Omaha, NE – This week’s edition of The Reader profiles four Omaha colleges and universities – to examine how each is working to transform education through innovation. Robyn Wisch checked in with the author of the report: Steve Brewer is a freelance contributor for The Reader, and teaches business at the College of St. Mary.
SB: We don’t tend to think of innovation being in higher education. We think of higher ed. as being the same year after year. So the main point of this article is to show that there’s innovation in higher education too. And some of it is responsive, responding to trends, responding to what you think people want. And then part of it I think is a genuine interest in trying to lead and trying to push into new areas.
RW: You looked at four colleges for your report: Metro, Creighton University, Bellevue University and the University of Nebraska Omaha. Let’s talk about UNO for a minute. You interviewed Nancy Edick, who is the Dean of the College of Education, about re-imagining the traditional classroom.
SB: As probably a lot of people know, the education department moved into Roskens Hall this year, after business moved. And they spent $13 million on renovating, and what’s interesting was just what they did to renovate, in different types of classroom space. Typically college classrooms look exactly the same today as they did 100 years ago, where you’ve got that front wall, and everybody knows that’s where the professor stands, and you sit here. So they’re trying to break that up, and use different layouts and really emphasize technology in all of the new classrooms, so I thought that was interesting.
RW: So where does this push come from? Why is higher education working so hard to change the way it operates to be more innovative?
SB: I think it’s become more innovative recently just out of necessity. For the first time, in maybe forever, you’ve really got society kind of challenging the value of higher education, a lot of people saying is it worth going to college? Is it something you have to do, are we getting a good return for all the money? As a result of that, I think in the last 20 years, you’ve seen colleges being forced to be innovative, to look at new areas. Partially because there’s so much competition, everyone offering the same basic programs that have been around forever. So trying to find new areas, new needs, trying to respond to what the business world wants to what the community wants.
RW: One college you profiled: Bellevue University is actually directly partnering with corporations to build curricula and drive research. For another, Metropolitan Community College, you write about a professor of philosophy who incorporated social entrepreneurial programs into her curriculum to find a way to merge business with philosophy. How much are these new models marking a move away from the old norm, the old idea of the Ivory Tower?
SB: There are still quite a few people in higher ed. who maybe are not sure that that’s a good thing, that believe that we need to keep these things separate I guess. But I think a lot of people in higher ed. believe that just the world is pushing innovation on everyone, including higher education. I think that you will see completely different types of responses based on the mission of those colleges. In the article that’s coming out this week: four different colleges, four very different missions… So there’s not going to be one particular model you’re going to see, but I think you will see even more changes just because we’re going to have to in higher ed., there isn’t much of a choice.
RW: You teach business at the College of St. Mary, so you were familiar with some of the issues brought up in your reporting. Was there anything that surprised you about the direction being taken in education?
SB: The last part of the article, which I haven’t talked about, was at Creighton with a focus on interdisciplinary programs, where you’re taking courses in multiple disciplines at one time. The person I interviewed there pointed out: we don’t live in a “siloed” world anymore, where I’m just going to do accounting, and you’re just going to do philosophy, and you’re just going to do teaching, it just doesn’t happen like that. Boundaries are collapsing all the time, all around us in business, in education and society… I think you will see a lot more people in the future in multi-disciplinary programs, where they’re taking business and science and education courses simultaneously. I think we can’t anymore really think I’m just going to take business courses, or I’m just going to take education courses and find a good niche in the world. So that surprised me a little bit that we’re seeing such an emphasis on interdisciplinary study.
Steve Brewer teaches business at the College of Saint Mary, and is a freelance contributor for The Reader. His story, Innovation in Higher Education, will be published in the latest edition of The Reader.
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