An Inclusive and Integrated Vision for Higher Education: Randy Bass at the POD Network Annual Conference

Last week, several of my colleagues and I travelled to Montreal to attend the POD Network’s annual conference.  Dr. Randy Bass, Vice Provost for Education and Professor of English at Georgetown University was the keynote speaker, addressing the topic of “Educational Design in a Dis-integrative Age—Leading from the Middle.”  In this talk, he outlined a vision for how to design higher educational experiences that are more integrative and inclusive.  This vision is particularly relevant for our community as Georgia Tech continues to envision Creating the Next in Education at our own institution.

Bass noted that disintegrative and integrative approaches to higher education are opposing forces in higher education today that have nevertheless each brought valuable approaches to structuring university curricula.  Disintegrative approaches emphasize modular learning that is competency based, less restricted by formal boundaries and responsive to learning analytics.  Integrative approaches emphasize building holistic curriculum, cultivating student dispositions, being attentive to the whole person experience and making connections across courses and experiences.  He argues that the challenge for the future of higher education is to leverage the flexibility and agility that is afforded by disintegrative approaches without losing the synergy, big picture perspective, and personal development that students experience from an integrated college experience.  In order to do this, Bass argues that the disintegrative approach should be implemented in service of the integrative, a process he calls rebundling as exemplified by this program and this program.

Bass argues that there are four tools that those of us “in the middle” of the higher education landscape have at our disposal to shape the direction of higher education.  He places these tools on two axes.

A horizontal axis with Mission Efficiency, Value: self interest on the left and Positive Purpose, Value: Impact on the right.

Positive purpose places a value on the impact that education has on student learning, the advancement of knowledge, and the fostering of a more just society.  These are values that lie at the core of why many of us chose to pursue careers in higher education.  However, Mission Efficiency is just as important.  Institutions must act out of self-interest in order to survive financially and make the work that they do practically feasible.


A vertical axis with Moral Urgency, Value: Integrity on the top and "Educational Malpractice," Value: Shame on the bottom

In the face of intense resistance to change intended to improve the quality of education, Bass argues that public shame at committing educational malpractice is an effective tool for securing collaboration.  Bass cited this study published in PNAS by Freeman et al (2014) who argued that the preponderance of evidence is such that teaching without active learning constitutes unethical practice.  While shame can be effective, ideally all educators will instead be motivated by a sense of integrity and the moral urgency to act in the best interest of their students.  They do this by adopting established best practices in teaching, regularly reflecting on the quality of the learning environments they create, and continually seeking out avenues of improvement.

Ultimately, the goal of this work is to create a system of education that is “robust, meaningfully and equitably available to everyone.”  This system of education would need to be inclusive and integrative, qualities for which higher education was not originally designed.  However, Bass sees promise in programs that adopt high impact educational practices, such as undergraduate research experiences and service learning, that give all students an opportunity to put their emerging knowledge into practice in real world contexts.

As we continue to engage in campuswide discussions about Creating the Next in Education at Georgia Tech,how can we be informed by this vision of designing a higher education system that is inclusive and brings the best of the disintegrative paradigm into the service of creating an integrated learning experience for our students?

Randy Bass’s slides from the talk are available through LinkedIn slide share.

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