Redesigning Education

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Babson Olin WellesleyIn the fall of 2009, my school, Babson College, joined forces with Olin College (Engineering) and Wellesley College (Liberal Arts) in a Tri-College Partnership. One outcome of the partnership has been fast paced winter-session programs, lasting only about two weeks, where students self-organize and work on a specific challenge.

Last winter’s program centered on Charter Cities, essentially designing a city from scratch. This year’s winter program focused on redesigning education & pedagogy.

As a mostly self-taught entrepreneur, I have strong passion about the education process and was excited to participate in this winter’s program. Although I had prepared a variety of ideas and notes beforehand, the limitations of the two weeks still challenged myself and others.

Most of the time was spent getting to know the other eleven students across the different schools. This was very valuable in determining what worked best in education for people in general, as well as what would work best in terms of implementing ideas in the local Tri-College environment.

Overall, we concluded we all had one common goal: Adaptive Expertise

From Babson’s entrepreneurial perspective, this means educating students to handle any kind of business environment, to act more as business consultants than employees for a specific company or industry. This would include learning critical skills such as communication, leadership, team work, etc.

Our group also discussed experiential learning, finding that both Babson and Olin College (heavier on constructionism) leveraged this educational strategy much more so than Wellesley. However we still saw opportunity for better or more experiential learning both at Babson and Olin College.

This leads me to my central point, which is: to value self-directed education leveraging intrinsic motivation in students, which could be associated with critical pedagogy.

Educators should see themselves more as facilitators of education, than the delivery points. Higher education professors should take the role of a mentor rather than a ‘traditional teacher’. Students like to learn in their own ways.

Learning communities also take advantage of the autonomy (and thus intrinsic motivation) that I’m advocating. E-Tower, a living-learning community for entrepreneurship at Babson College, has been an incredible environment for myself and other students.

My Suggestions:

Assessment

  • Knowledge Vs. Understanding
    • The Google Factor – If you can find the answer in 90 seconds using Google, then redesign your exam question to assess the student’s understanding instead of knowledge.
  • Anonymous Grading– This would prevent both conscious and unconscious psychological biases towards students, which many students believe can affect their assessment by up to an entire letter grade.

Classroom Technology

    • Google Doc Chatroom– Increase communication bandwidth in the classroom by allowing students to have side conversations without disrupting the main conversation.
      • It would be advantageous to couple this with speech-to-text software that is logging the classroom lecture/discussion so that students in side-conversations can ‘catch up’ with the main discussion if they can’t multi-task.
    • Video Record ALL Lectures – This gives students the ability to choose when and where they want to consume class content and literally creates a more discussion & work based class time.
  • Student Videos: Presentations, Reflections, and more. Video is a powerful medium that people should know how to leverage by the time they enter the ‘the real world’.
    • Video Production Center – This would be shared by the three colleges to help students make high quality videos. This would help market not only the institutions but also the individuals. Videos are simply exponentially more likely to be shared on the Internet, leading to an slew of new opportunities for the creators and viewers.
    • Multimedia Literacy – In the new world we live in, students should be able to leverage the various media our society uses.

Ideas For New Classes

  • World Awareness – An entire course dedicated towards broadening the student’s awareness of what is out there in the world by discussing a TED Talk (or similar video) in each class.
  • Motivation & Self-Exploration – Too many students graduate college without knowing what they should do or want to do. This course would help students find purpose in life by understanding their unique motivations and passions, and so they can create long term goals and determine career paths.
  • Pursue a Startup – Until Babson offers pro-rated tuition for entrepreneurs (something that is seriously needed), it makes a lot of sense to have an independent study style course on pursuing a startup, which would allow collaboration between students in the three colleges.
  • TriCollege Rhetoric – By integrating students across the schools in their freshmen year for a Tri-College writing class that would satisfy course requirements, we can foster integration between the schools early on with students. Of course, we advocate for students to choose their own topics while looking for similar interests so they can collaborate.

Conclusion

Overall our group had a very limited amount of time to tackle a very large subject. Additionally, the group was completely student-run, which caused a variety of communication, management, and leadership issues. Most agreed that we likely learned more from the process of the program than from the actual research and work conducting on pedagogy and Tri-College collaboration.

There were also many local-specific improvements that were outlined, but not relevant for me to share in this blog post. Due to the time constraint, the group mostly reverted to Tri-College collaboration over higher education in general. I, however, maintained my passion and energy on education in general and focused on the suggestions listed above.

I used this two week program to broaden my experience in something not specifically entrepreneurial, but nevertheless still constructive. I had a few personal take-aways, such one reminder from a Wellesley student that: continuously trying without sufficient understanding (entrepreneurship) in your general field (business) may be no more effective than waiting to get the ‘official stamp of approval’, in the form of bachelor, masters, or doctorate degree and then giving it your all.

Entrepreneurship, which I’ve recognized for quite some time, is all about enjoying the process; understanding you’re most likely going to fail, but holding hope in the slightest possibility you’ll succeed. This is all the more reason to do something you love and which you are passionate; to not get caught up in something you dread solely for the chance to ‘win big’.


ColinWinter