imagining institutional futures

Who really knows what’s going on economically or what the solution is. What does seem clear to me is that our existing institutional business practices don’t seem to work in our changing, global, technological economy. I certainly don’t have a grand theory for making things better, but I do realize that in our own corner of this economy in higher education, things will likely have to be done differently. Some of the arguments being made about necessary changes in the business world might well apply to us. Here I want to pick up from Umair Haque I read via Collin. Haque writes

understanding that next-generation businesses are built on new DNA, or new ways to organize and manage economic activities.
Think that sounds like science fiction? Think again. Here are just a
few of the most radical new organizational and management techniques
today’s revolutionaries are already utilizing: open-source production, peer production, viral distribution, radical experimentation, connected consumption, and co-creation.

Of course this connects back with arguments made by Shirky and others. What does Haque say this next-gen business needs to accomplish?

We need no less than better corporate governance, a working shareholder
democracy, a recognition of what capital really is (and isn’t),
radically more enduring incentives – aligned with outcomes that
actually matter to people – the capacity to trust and be trusted, more
accurate and timely reporting, strategy that creates authentic value
instead of just shifts numbers around, and business models that can
yield sustainable growth.

Who can’t see all of this applying to universities? We’ve seen
increasingly inauthentic assessment that has bloated the administrative
and managerial segments of institutions. As a opposed to a "working
shareholder democracy" we’ve seen further stratification of governance
with faculty and students playing smaller roles in universities (though
certainly there are other shareholders). There is less trust between
academia and the general public. I’m not sure how that gets resolved.
But even more importantly, we don’t have a model of sustainable growth.
More students keep showing up for college. Even as the traditional
college-age population shrinks somewhat, the number going to college
keeps going up. Certainly the cost of college is out of control. Think
about the instability that causes everywhere else when all these
college grads, who feel they have no choice but to go to college to
compete for jobs, are walking around with a boatload of debt.

So Haque talks here about applying some of the lessons of social
media and user participation to the business world. This means
fundamentally changing the relationship between consumer and producer
while also flattening the relations between employees and managers.
These are things that are familiar topics in the realm of social media.
But increasingly they are not seen as choices but rather as economic
realities.

Rather than building a horseless carriage or filming a stageplay,
what happens if you sweep aside the educational system with its
semesters and courses and credits and "make it new"? That is NOT to say
everything should be online, btw. I’m just saying that if you were to
start by defining what you thought the goals of a 21st century English
Studies or Professional Writing or whatever undergrad degree would be,
how would you then put it together?

  • How would you take advantage of our ability to deliver video presentations on demand?
  • How would you employ the ability of social media to identify and organize student and faculty interests?
  • How would you take up our ability to store, organize, and tag media
    and data to engender collaboration across the campus (and beyond)?
  • How would you use asynchronous and mobile communication to support community and facilitate decision-making?
  • How would you make use of the potential of data mining to develop
    new perspectives on an institutions that might be added to existing
    deliberative discourses?

For example, what possibilities are out there for delivering a
large-scale general education program? I don’t mean just cheaping out
and slapping up a series of video lectures and a discussion board for a
couple thousand students followed by a standardized exam. That’s an
awful model. In fact it’s probably almost as bad as what most students
get right now at large universities where they sit by the hundreds in
lecture halls. (In smaller colleges, they often sit by the tens in
smaller rooms and listen to lectures.) No I don’t mean that. Yes,
obviously part of this is a question of reducing costs, but equally
relevant here is creating a better, more engaging, learning experience.
I’m also talking about working smarter rather than harder.

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