Page 38 - Campus Technology, July 2017
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C-Level View
Informing the Mission for Institutions of Higher Learning
The learning ecosystem and technological landscape are changing fast for institutions of higher learning. But how are colleges and universities adjusting their missions to reflect that?
By Mary Grush
Institutions of higher learning are integrating new technologies and 21st century skill sets into their curricula at warp speed. Most are trying out new pedagogical approaches, and frequently they establish whole new programs supported by technology. But are they adjusting their missions to reflect all this? Can “digital opportunity” inform the mission?
W. Gardner Campbell, futurist, highly regarded education thought leader, and Virginia Commonwealth University associate professor of English, believes most institutions need to rethink and restate their mission and supporting conceptual frameworks in light of game-changing digital opportunities — and he suggests how faculty and students can weigh in on these important discussions.
Campus Technology: How are institutions of higher learning adjusting their missions to reflect change?
Gardner Campbell: We are at a point
in time when, as we look at the whole learning ecosystem — especially in higher learning — we are starting to have to confront the fact that our sense of mission, and the conceptual frameworks by which we understand that mission, are simply not working now, certainly not as well as we would like them to. In some cases they seem to be absent altogether.
Today we may ask, “What is the mission of higher learning?” (And I should say, I am beginning to like the phrase higher learning better than higher education because it can take us into a different place in terms of
how we’re thinking.)
If we think about our mission statements
as representing how we conceive of
the goals and the reasons-for-being for higher learning, we may have to admit that they are actually becoming incoherent (a situation that’s happened over time but will not go away on its own). At some institutions of higher learning, multiple mission statements are being provided that are not only incoherent, but even truly opposed to one another.
CT: What’s causing all that? How do you work with it?
Campbell: It’s a great deal of noise and a resultant lack of focus. One of the thought experiments I have been doing recently
to try to understand the proliferation of learning opportunities — ranging from traditional four-year education, to graduate education, to startups with radical new approaches — is to look closely at what people are saying the purpose of higher learning is.
This is where I don’t find the kind of robust and rigorous conversation that I would expect from higher learning. More often, people just keep adding more “good things” to the list. By not focusing and not trying to make a coherent framework for what we mean by the mission, we may well end up risking the ecosystem.
CT: How do you approach building a coherent and effective conceptual framework? 4

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