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Former MIT President: Experimentation Heart of Universities’ Future

January 31, 2014 – Testing out new ways of delivering education is at the core of university principals of experimentation and innovation, a former president of MIT said yesterday at Georgetown’s event exploring the future of higher education.

“While people don’t like change, no one can deny you an experiment,” Susan Hockfield said during the Designing the Future(s) of the University speakers series event. “…we forget that the core of the university is discovery, its innovation … and we need to be that way about the institution itself – not just about what each of us studies.”

Georgetown’s Designing the Future(s) initiative engages the university community in exploring challenges facing higher education, treats the sector’s future as a design question and uses dialogue and workshops to look at innovation in teaching and learning.

Promoting Change

Hockfield and Georgetown President John J. DeGioia exchanged ideas at the event and took questions from a packed audience.

“How do we protect what is most important about what we are but accelerate the rate of change in a way that is a bit uncomfortable for us?” DeGioia asked. “We know that there is only one way to get to where we need to get to and that is together.”

The initiative’s speaker series kicked off Nov. 20 when DeGioia and Georgetown Provost Robert Groves shared their thoughts on the future of higher education.

Born Mobile

Susan Hockfield  “Our students are arriving born mobile, born digital, and to imagine they will be compelled by the same kind of teaching technologies that have compelled students for hundreds of years I think is wishful thinking,” says Susan Hockfield, former MIT president.

During her tenure at MIT, Hockfield, who received her Ph.D. from Georgetown in 1979, began an innovative partnership with Harvard University that evolved into the edX online learning platform that features MOOCs, or massive open online courses.

Georgetown partnered with edX in 2012 and launched its first MOOC this past fall.

“Our students are arriving born mobile, born digital, and to imagine they will be compelled by the same kind of teaching technologies that have compelled students for hundreds of years I think is wishful thinking,” Hockfield said. “And frankly if we don’t use new technologies to improve our pedagogy, to enhance it to make it more compelling … it’s a disservice.”

While universities must continue to adapt and implement new learning technologies, protecting the role of universities have in formation – shaping students’ lives in and out of the classroom – is still critical, she said.

“I think this business of being in formation is the thing that we do best and that we preserve best,” Hockfield explained. “And understanding what that is, defining what that is, has to be what the university has to continue delivering to the world.”

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