Online classes of hundreds of thousands of students worldwide (so-called MOOCS), disruptive innovation, tuition protests, for-profit universities, the “business model” of a university, student loan default – we live in times when the future of universities is discussed throughout the world.
At moments in time like this, it’s important to reassess goals and ways to attain them. Georgetown must deliberate about these changes in charting its own future.
Universities produce knowledge and instill it in students’ minds. The newly acquired knowledge adds both to human fulfillment, making the students better people, but also producing attractive employees of organizations in the society.
As a “student-centered research university,” Georgetown’s goal is to have students fully absorb the content of their courses, to synthesize the material with other knowledge they possess, and to make deductions from those facts. Most courses also build skills, techniques of absorbing new knowledge or of producing original synthesis. We want our students to use writing, quantitative reasoning, and research skills to enhance their futures.
As a “Catholic and Jesuit” university, we believe the knowledge that students acquire has a purpose larger than mere possession of facts. It is to be used in the service of others. Further, we are devoted to striving for more, to use every device possible to make ourselves better at knowing and serving. Thus, as human knowledge grows, we must become more efficient in transmitting that knowledge to students.
Much of the current buzz is about new modes of delivering content of courses. The ability of massive open online courses to deliver exactly the same experience simultaneously to thousands and thousands of students breaks the mold of traditional university education. We can all see their potential to increase access to education and reduce the costs of education.
Georgetown offers environments with rich, intense, multifaceted faculty-student interactions that often lead to higher-order understanding of material. This permits the linking of knowledge across domains and the ability to apply it in diverse settings. But not all learning requires those rich interactions.
Georgetown needs to remain focused on the end, not just the means. Its legacy consists of students as whole persons filled to their individual capacity with knowledge and skills in the service of others. The current students, faculty, and administrators at Georgetown are temporary stewards of that legacy. We have to preserve it for those who follow us, but we also have to enhance it for their benefit. Our obligation is to examine ways to increase efficient learning and to incorporate the winning ways as soon as possible. When all three groups of students, faculty, and administrators work together in this innovation, we will fulfill our obligation to those who follow us.
So we enter a time of discussing new ways of learning, of seeking ways for students to learn more with less effort, of testing different ways of using research skills to learn, of evaluating innovations in faculty-student collaborations, of finding ways for faculty to use their time most efficiently for meaningful interactions with students, of permitting faculty to spend more of their time teaching the cutting-edge of their discipline, of innovating in linking research, education, and service. We need to identify which learning is enhanced using these new techniques and which, using traditional methods.
This requires us to evaluate both what we’re now doing and what we could be doing.
We lucked out. We got to be at Georgetown at a time of unprecedented opportunity.