Transcription of March 18, 2013 Faculty Council Meeting
Dr. Steven Mintz, executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning
If I were you, I’d be a bit suspicious and even cynical about the System saying it’s going help you out, especially, it’s going help you out with teaching. And so, I want to reassure you in several ways before I speak. First of all, I’m an academic. I’m a member of the history department. I’ve written 13 books, so I’m one of you. I’ve taught 40,000 students in face-to-face classes. If you teach a class of 600 again and again and again, after a while, you teach quite a few students. I’m not here to abolish tenure, I’m not here to replace flesh-and-blood teaching with screen-time, and I’m not here to build a marble edifice in Austin. And, as a sort of good-faith gesture, I got approved $1.5 million for UT Austin to develop the nine MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses], and I hope that’s just the beginning. I hope that in the next couple of months, I’ll be able to provide you with another $4.5 million in course redesigning and in course development efforts. So, it may not be enough, but take it as good-faith gestures. Right. This is the golden goose, and I want to support that goose.
My overarching goal is to make an elite caliber education available to as many students as we possibly can. I know how to do it at an elite, well-endowed private university. If you have $150,000 per student per year, as we did at Columbia, when I taught there, it’s easy. It’s not as easy when we’re trying to do it on a massive scale, but we’re going do it. And, the reason that I’m willing to stake my professional career on this is it’s an exciting possibility and, with partners like you, we can make some exciting things happen.
You don’t need me to tell you that higher education is going through a series of tectonic shifts. Our business model is threatened, tuition can’t increase, state appropriations won’t increase, and even federal grant funding is stagnant. Our student body is undergoing profound demographic shifts. Students today have more challenges than those in the past over money, preparation, disabilities, and simply complicated lives. We face new kinds of competition and not simply from for-profit institutions, but from less rigorous institutions who offer our students online classes that aren’t at UT Austin quality. But, the biggest problem that we face is an ideological challenge: a sense that our graduation rate is too low, that student skills and competencies are not at an appropriate level, and that higher education is not a good value for the money. You and I may rage against that attitude, but 80 percent of adult Americans believe that higher education is not a good value.
To make matters even more complex, you and I know that the face of higher education is going to change dramatically over the next five years. That by 2020, higher education…public higher education in this country…will look a lot different than it does today. And, I want to work with you to make sure that UT Austin is a leader in those transformations. What do I envision as that future looking like? Partly, it will mean a greater emphasis on high-impact, high-touch teaching and learning practices, research experiences, internships, collaborative projects, community service activities, and the like. And it will also mean a greater emphasis on evidence-based teaching, especially adaptive learning, that is highly interactive modules that can diagnose and address student learning deficiencies on an individual basis and give students practice synthesizing and applying concepts and skills and that further the analysis of learner-generated data to improve pedagogy and student success.
So, we’re in a moment of reinvention. We’re in a moment when teaching, for once in my academic lifetime, has a kind of priority that it hasn’t had at any other point in my professional career. We need to seize this fleeting opportunity and take advantage of it to really re-imagine higher education, to see our students as creators of knowledge and not simply as consumers of knowledge, and to move from teacher-centered lecture-dominated approaches in the classroom to more learning, student-success directed options. So it’s an exciting moment but maybe a scary moment, too. There is no one answer; there’s no one single solution into the future. And, you here at UT Austin are going down a variety of paths, and I want to support all of them. Your course redesign project, your freshmen research experiences, the new MOOCs, there’s not one path to heaven, right? There are many paths, and I want to support all of them. And, we’ll see what works.
Now, there are two roads into the future. I think, late at night, there’s the devil’s road, and that is an increasingly bifurcated system of public higher education, in which faculty are displaced; students learn on computer screens; low-quality correspondence courses that lack vigor or quality become a kind of norm, particularly in the general education part of the curriculum; and a host of worthless degrees are earned online. But, there’s also a more optimistic vision, and that requires all of us to work together (content-specialists, cognitive and developmental psychologist, psychometricians, educational technologists, instructional designers, assessment specialists) to make teaching and learning as effective as possible.
So what is the ITL? I am first and foremost an investment bank and a venture capitalist firm for all wrapped up in one. My job is to invest in your exciting ideas and to try to accelerate the innovation process. In short, I am an innovation incubator and a catalyst for innovation, who will put my money where my mouth is and try to help you use all the creativity you have to envision what education should look like in the 21st century. Change can be a threat, but it can also be an opportunity. You and I both know, that in the next few years, degrees are going continue to be important, but other kinds of credentials are going to be very important as well--certificates and the like. And, I’m going help you build those programs by providing you the resources to make that happen. We’re going to continue our efforts to improve graduation rates by identifying pinch points. We’re mediating deficiencies and tailoring education better to individual student needs. I’m not going create online correspondence courses that simply combine audio and PowerPoint slides. If you’re going create online courses, I want to support your efforts to create interactive laboratories, simulations, animations, educational games, virtual reality environments, and the like. And again, I don’t just talk this game. In my own classes, my students create virtual tours, online museum exhibitions, online encyclopedias, annotated texts, digital stories, and other kinds of public scholarship. And, I hope that I can support that vision-- students as creators of knowledge in your own work.
A hundred fifty years ago, the land-grant university was established. And, a hundred years ago, the Wisconsin Idea arose, that is the notion that public universities have an obligation to serve the public. And, it was fifty years ago, that Southern universities were integrated and that the growth of community colleges took off. So, it’s an appropriate year then for us to do some exciting things and to place a new heightened emphasis on effective teaching. You, at The University of Texas at Austin, will have the resources so that you can take a leadership role in the re-envisioning of higher education in the 21st century. I want you to lead that change. But, I want to assure you that change will take place with or without you, and we won’t like the people who will lead that change, if it’s not you. So, I want to be your partner and, partly at least, your banker as we move into the future and can really position this campus as a crucial content creator, both for your own students and for many other students who will benefit tremendously from your expertise. Huey Long, the Louisiana populist, had a platform called, “Share Our Wealth.” And, it’s easy to scoff at Huey Long’s plan. It was a confiscatory tax on incomes of a million dollars a year or more, which wouldn’t have added up to enough money. But I, too, want us to share our wealth, not your financial resources, but your intellectual resources. There are many, many people who would benefit enormously from what you have to offer. And, I hope at least some of you share my vision that, as a public institution, we have partly a moral obligation to do this. So, I want to appeal to your social justice instincts and work on behalf of your own students but be willing insofar as these align to help other students, or potential students, who will really benefit from what you know.
Thank you. Now it’s your chance to ask any questions that you might have. [Pause.] Don’t be speechless. Please.