“Al-Karaouine” University is considered by the “Guinness” book of world records as the oldest university in the world founded in 859 after the death of Christ in Fez, Morocco by Fatima al-Fihri. Followed by some of the other oldest universities such as that of Bologna, Oxford, Vienna etc. we can say that the philosophy of a university has not changed much in all these thousands of years despite the growth of the internet and knowledge.

It is worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all professors to use more online tools and has brought further changes to the labor market.

What if there was a new university model designed from the ground up for the future? And here’s the tougher question: “If distance education is worth it, then what’s the value of college?”

Five professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have some answers.

They have published a paper called “Ideas for Designing a New Affordable Educational Institution”, where they laid out a framework for a new university classroom that would take advantage of various trends that have emerged in recent years.

There is nothing new in the proposal. One key idea is to award students certificates in various fields as they complete coursework, and then award a degree after enough certificates have been earned to meet the requirements for a bachelor’s, an idea known as “stackable credits.”

What is unique, perhaps, is a model that embraces online educational materials and partnerships with employers, while also insisting on preserving physical teaching. The other key premise is that fundamental change will only come if the incentives for professors change.

“Unless you create a different structure with different incentives, things won’t change,” said Sanjay Sarma, the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) professor who led the creation of this proposal. “If higher education is not fixed, someone else will fix it and someone else will take over,” he adds, noting that “someone else” will likely be entities outside of higher education.

The authors of this proposal say they hope their work can become a starting point for discussion, rather than a rigid model. But the document presents a series of concrete recommendations for what this new type of university, simply called “NEI” or New Educational Institution, should include to fill what the authors see as gaps in the current system.

The paper was published by the “Abdul Latif Jameel” world education laboratory at MIT. Funding for the time the professors spent researching and writing the paper over the past year was provided by Bruce Rauner, a businessman and philanthropist and a former Republican governor of Illinois.

An unusual aspect of the NEI model is the encouragement of professors to adopt online course materials developed at other universities. In other words, a professor at this new type of university might assign some video lectures from an MIT professor as homework, but then the local professor would lead discussions of the material and add his or her perspective to the sessions. of personal class. In part, it adopts a model that some MIT professors already use, called a small private online course, or SPOC — a customized adaptation of the “Massive Online Courses,” or MOOCs, that have garnered widespread attention a decade ago.

Diana Henderson, one of the paper’s authors and a professor of literature at MIT, says the ideal would be for professors at this new kind of university to be encouraged to spend some of their research time adapting and adding rich lecture videos and materials. others that other professors have already published online.

Henderson says she’s seen such an approach work well in her own experience. During the pandemic, she released materials she made for a course she taught at MIT about Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. Soon after, a professor from the University of Colorado at Boulder began assigning some of that material for a “Shakespeare on Film” class.

“It’s expanding the way we think about research,” Henderson said in an interview.

Some other key points from the white paper include recommendations to:

Shift emphasis from research to teaching: Today, research universities reward research and offer little incentive for professors to spend time upping their teaching game. The proposed NEI would change that, recommending that 80% of a professor’s time be spent on teaching and 20% on research. However, research would still be a key part, compared to most community colleges that focus only on teaching.

Make the physical campus unattractive and for learning: Colleges and universities have been in a race to build campuses to attract as many students as possible. The proposed NEI would focus on partnering with libraries and other public or private facilities to develop a classroom.

Turn your bachelor’s degree into a series of microloans: Millions of students finish college but never graduate. NEI proposed to ensure that even students who pass only part of the material come away with something to show what they have learned.

Encouraging team teaching: To bring the liberal arts into the curriculum, the NEI proposal suggests creating teams of faculty members from different disciplines. For example, the paper argues, a machine learning microcredit could include courses in mathematics, computer science, sociology, and ethics. Faculty from these areas would work together to manage and teach the curriculum.

Providing internships with employers for credit: NEI calls for an embrace of the “co-op” model where colleges and employers work together to create internships that also fit the curriculum. Some colleges already do this, but the practice requires considerable effort to coordinate and has not spread widely to traditional universities.

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