Program Design in 21st Century Higher Education

I feel the need to reiterate my disclaimer: I write this blog post to share my own generalized thoughts about educational program design and do not represent any institution as I ponder design for the future.

Architecture of the Future Yesterday, my colleagues discussed their foray into the topic of designing a new program within the university. Obviously, program design has always been complex business and I do not claim to have any real knowledge of that complexity. But, I wonder if the current state of debate about higher education, the roles of 21st century technologies, demands for access and the current climate of innovation might make it both increasingly more complex and ripe for opportunities. As I understand it, program design must be able to prove that it will lead to jobs. But what jobs? Do these jobs even exist? It seems to me that requiring a program to prove that it will create (specific) jobs runs the risk of looking into the rear-view mirror to design for what might be coming down the road. I'm confident that programs can be designed for existing jobs and that we can collect data to prove some success in having graduates move into existing roles. But, what about the future? What about innovation? What about preparing students to live in a world of constant change and to be employed in jobs and professions that don't presently exist? I would hope that any new program would provide embrace open and connected learning opportunities and lead to learning that in turn would enable graduates to think critically, creatively, gain 21st century computing skills, develop digital literacy and be able to act independently and collaboratively, to solve problems, invent new things, explore and to enhance the quality of life.

Image: Architecture of the Future, courtesy of Daniel Foster,

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