Reinventing Higher Education, the Promise of Innovation/Network Theory and Educational Change

Article excerpt

* Wildavsky, Ben, Andrew P. Kelly, and Kevin Carey (eds.) (2011). Reinventing Higher Education, The Promise of Innovation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, pp. 288.

* Daly, Alan J. (ed.) (2010). Social Network Theory and Educational Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, pp. 330.

Journalism and mass communication educators too often neglect the benefits from utilizing pedagogical resources. The editors of Reinventing Higher Education probe a key question:

...why, in spite of a steady increase in the enrollment of nontraditional students, a steep decline in tenured faculty positions, and revolutionary developments in technology that have touched nearly every other part of society, do most universities still operate much as they did fifty years ago? (p. vii)

This turns out to be a challenging question because of the lack of systematic research on innovation and productivity. Enter eight commissioned projects first presented to the American Enterprise Institute in 2010. Clearly, the political forces pressing at the gates of higher education are great - access, global competitiveness, systematic assessment, and cost containment, to name a few. The editors quote a Chronicle of Higher Education piece to amplify the worry that "large numbers of U.S. college students can be accurately described as academically adrift..." (p. 3). The general criticism can be heard from the Left and Right, perhaps a symptom of the growing disenchantment with all perceived sources of authority. Still, is there room for innovation without a fundamental revision of American higher education? The issue for higher education is presented by these authors as, "Innovation is linked to creativity, risk taking, and experimentation, attributes that are often lacking in large, public or nonprofit organizations" (p. 15).

The book purposely avoids focusing on state and federal funding, as this is seen as most central to elite research institutions. Likewise, regulation and accreditation may identify problem institutions, but these typically are not agents of change: "Accreditation is a model that wants institutions to conform to norms, while new providers, like those in the forprofit world, work against those norms" (p. 28). That leaves lobbying, trade associations, and unions, which the book sees as varying forms of protectionism working against innovation, so defined.

Any faculty member who has attempted to bridge the educational model and the business model of journalism and mass communication quickly experiences a clash of cultures. Internships, for example, may serve differing goals for professors, their students, and providers. Still, the fact that numerous programs across the country developed internship opportunities during the past few decades would seem to challenge the notion that universities are "Old School" representing "Four-Hundred Years of Resistance to Change" (p. 41). The chapter by this title seems to show its bias in the subheading, "CREATING AN INNOVATIVE UNIVERSITY-FROM SCRATCH" (p. 68). The goal seems to be one of, "Boosting Academic Productivity" (p. 73). Many campuses have seen iterations of the administrative push for continuous improvement. What is new here is "disruptive innovation" (p. 94). This has an interesting set of characteristics:

* it does things in an entirely new way

* it starts crudely and low on the learning curve

* it appeals to those not well served by the traditional approach

* it is more affordable

* it learns to serve a new market

* it happens under the radar of the traditional (p. 95).

For-profit universities, in other words, have an ability to work around the barriers in traditional higher education.

Such emerging models suggest new roles for professors. At a time when journalism and mass communication are experiencing dramatic change - particularly at newspapers - the idea that we need to change may sound familiar. …