Ira Glass on taste (by Daniel Sax): point is that your taste can outrun your capacity, it takes a lot of work to catch up and close the gap.——
First of all to teach innovation you have to teach "seeing" -

So, my plan looks like this. Introduce all new! design thinking and innovation practice to a liberal arts college by showing how it was there all along but thereby helping it transform itself in interesting ways, increase the coolness of studying liberal arts, increasing the practicality of studying liberal arts by showing explicitly how it relates to the latest trendy things, make it fun, exciting and new without losing the essence.

As I worked on it I was sensitive to the fact that the topic draws a lot of smooth talking band wagoneers who recite buzzwords, chant mantras, and drop names like the music man in River City. If there's one thing I have come to despise over the years it's buzzwordery. I was going to translate these ideas into something that made sense in the liberal arts college culture.

But I made a discovery along the way. Rather than being jarringly new and different, the fundamental, underlying ideas were already there in the liberal arts curriculum. It was like bringing coal to New Castle. And so was born the third part of the trilogy: "innovation AS a liberal art."

Innovators do not necessarily invent and create out of thin air.

You have to cultivate a broad awareness of what is, You need to be able to see through walls, ignore boundaries.

Thinking analogically.

Getting outside yourself and your own idiosyncratic experiences. Learning to listen.

You need to know how to experiment.

Problem. Collaboration. Evaluation. Analogizing. Implementation.

Everybody wants X-ray vision.

I said to an Academy student the other day, "why is there so little innovation in the liberal arts?" and he said "because they already got it right." And he went on to describe his very elite high school which had switched from a very classical liberal arts approach to a funkier modern approach between the time that his older sisters attended and when he did. "I think they got a better education than I did," he said.


The project I have in mind is not simply a transformation of the liberal arts by the new fields of design thinking and innovation. Those fields have borrowed extensively from the liberal arts but they often leave things out especially in how they train students. There are no short cuts. The designer who benefited from the liberal arts education cannot exhort her students to skip this step.

What is the IMPERATIVE?

  1. There simply are not enough families who can afford even our discounted price
  2. The liberal arts education really does have something to offer individuals, society, communities, and organizations
  3. The


  1. A Brief History of Innovation in Higher Education
  2. Seeing Problems and Solutions
    1. Where's the Pain?
    2. Getting the world to talk
      1. Prototyping and iteration
      2. Research methods
      3. Teams
  3. The Dynamics of Change
    1. Diffusion, tipping points, and scaling
  4. Doing Innovation
    1. Ideation
    2. Prototyping
    3. Iteration
    4. Pivoting
    5. Lean Innovation and Higher Education
    6. Open Innovation
  5. Assessment, Feedback, Evaluation, Communication
    1. How is innovation in (higher) education different?

A Precipice in Front, Wolves Behind

Supposedly a quote from Erasmus, this describes the situation a lot of us in higher education feel like. No matter what direction you look, there appears to be someone trying to displace us, take over what we are doing, put us out of business. And so it's not surprising that we respond defensively.

For some of us this means defending liberal arts as legacy and tradition

For others it means defining liberal arts by what it is not - we produce THINKERS not automatons for corporate cubicles!

We can quote statistics about how few of those who enroll actually finish a MOOC and how for-profit colleges have terrible loan default rates and how career oriented higher education is so low brow and short sighted compared to the gold standard of the small, residential liberal arts college.

But this is exactly the wrong time to circle the wagons and stick our heads in the sand.

Competing with Yourself

Mills has almost wrapped up a "re-design" of its general education requirements. The effort spanned two years and represents the work of maybe 30 professors and administrators each of whom probably devoted 40 hours to the task. And then the entire faculty of 100 or so have devoted another few meetings to debating it and reading documents. All told, probably a full-person year of effort. But not one of these people knows whether it will work or how hard it will be to scale up from a pilot that is expected to run this fall or whether or not students would choose it over the status quo or whether anyone considering Mills would see it as a reason to either enroll or not enroll.

Some of the reason for all this shiftiness is that all we need to do is vote it in and then it goes into the college catalog and students will have to start living by its requirements starting in a year or two.

It's unfortunate that we proceed this way because we have something almost no organization has - the capacity to do frequent in-house experiments with our actual customers. We can create two approaches and see which one students prefer, which one fosters better learning, which one is easier to deliver.

Higher Education in Crisis?

You need a Ph.D. to recognize that American higher education is facing some challenges. But is it a crisis? Well, "crisis in higher education" is a perennial phenomenon.

That said, we can identify some concrete issues of the moment - whether they constitute a crisis for higher education writ large, they certainly constitute a challenge for a sector of higher education that we are familiar with - the small liberal arts college - or SLAC.
  1. Our product is a service and is more resistant to economies of scale and productivity gains through technology than much of the economy around us.
  2. More and more people want/need the thing we offer - a credential - and a smaller fraction of their families are in a position to pay the net price we charge
  3. From both sides of the political spectrum elite higher education is legitimacy challenged
  4. The K12 system that supplies us with raw material produces a skewed product - highly prepared and highly under prepared.
  5. Discourse around education is strange bedfellows who champion alternatives.
  6. A whole bunch of very smart and relatively well financed entrepreneurs want to do to higher education what Apple did to the music industry.

What would it take for SLACs to be the Disruptive Innovation Higher Education "needs"?

Voltaire's comment "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer."
Translation: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

A blogger in the Telegraph has pointed out that this has become a cliche meaning All this once-interesting phrase now says is "[X] (in this case the crisis in the eurozone) is convenient for [Y] (in this case Britain's policymakers and pundits)." But because it's vaguely philosophical-sounding, people think it's clever.1

But I want to abuse the cliche in a different direction: if small liberal arts colleges did not exist, would someone invent them?

This time what the cliche means is whether SLACs exist for any other reason than that they already exist.

What does the "crisis" look like? Can we imagine SLACs as the technology that disrupts higher education?

What variation on SLACs as we know them would allow them to be the next new thing?

There's definitely evidence that we are losing SLACs2

Rethinking "A Liberal Arts Education Served Me Well"

If you are sitting in this room you are probably a liberal arts believer. And perhaps also a liberal arts college graduate. And chances are, you can give examples of times in your life when you realized how valuable this has been to you over the past 10, 20, 40 or 50 years.

And research confirms it. Surveys of employers find CEOs who say they'd rather hire someone with a liberal arts degree. Why? We often hide behind the vague formulation "critical thinking" but I think there's something more basic at work in terms of what we should be doing. This bolsters our belief that what was good for us then is good for them now.

But when your professors had you read The Fire Next Time, Silent Spring, or The Feminine Mystique in a seminar in 1963, or made you take a programming course in 1974, or learn about recombinant DNA in the 1980s or Edward Said's Orientialism in 1990s, they were not looking backward. The classic liberal arts education was not special because it was about the world the professor had grown up in because it was but education about the world that the student would grow up in.

YOUR liberal arts education was excellent insofar as your professors gave you the tools needed to build the world you spent your 20s, 30s, and beyond in. And that's our task.

We who believe in SLACs are in a bit of a bind. We feel like we know, deeply know, that this kind of education is valuable. But let's examine that conviction. What's our evidence? We graduated from a liberal arts college in 1964 or 1983 or 1997 or even 2005 and, over the course of our lives since then, to paraphrase the book of Genesis, "we saw that it was good." But good for what? The education we got for ourselves way back when turns out IN RETROSPECT to have been a great start to life since then. The evidence is this "the liberal arts education I got from 1977 to 1983 has turned out to be a really great preparation for living in the world over the following 32 years.

What are we doing?

If your liberal arts education was valuable, was worth it, it was so because it served you well in the decades that followed your graduation.

What will the decades ahead look like for today's graduate? Or tomorrow's? We will, in 2018 or so, start to educate young people born in the 21st century.

Where's the Pain?

What's the gain? Why is this not just more of the same?3.

Importance of Infrastructure

Innovating on Organizational Priorities

In a 20014 interview, Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kellerher4 noted that his company's philosophy is employees first, customers second, stockholders third on the assumption that employees treated well create a superior customer experience and customers who are treated well come back creating a superior return for stockholders.

The Course

The inspiration for this course is the work I've been doing at USC for the past year while on leave. We have a new program called the Iovine Young Academy for Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation which breaks out of the mold of college majors being rooted in a discipline/department and effectively has the students "triple minoring" in design, technology, and business. The goal is to allow talented undergraduates to structure their education around the idea of innovation.

Innovation is not invention and it is not change
Neither ignorance of the past nor ignorance of the world beyond your bubble are excuses. Each student or team of students will be responsible for learning about and presenting one significant higher ed innovation from the past 100 years. Some samples:

  1. the law school curriculum at Harvard
  2. The core at Chicago or Columbia
  3. St. John's College Great Books Curriculum
  4. New College & Hampshire
  5. Black Mountain college
  6. Empire State College, New College of California
  7. Antioch College
  8. The GI Bill
  9. Deep Springs College
  10. The Freshman Year Program at the New School
  11. Evergreen State
  12. Goddard College

and contemporary innovation

  1. The Bologna Process
  2. University of Phoenix
  3. Minerva Project (see also PBS
  4. edX, udacity, coursera
  5. Kahn Academy
  6. Instructables

The Four Challenges

Smallest bump smoothing that could produce largest time saving. An application of efficiency accounting principles.

Shifting of an incentive in direction that would allow self interest to feed into institutional interest.

Technology application

Partnership for Mutual Benefit

Stop Being Satisfied with BAs as a Prep for Another Degree

Social scientists have shown how a phenomenon called "credential inflation" happens as a natural consequence of more and more people obtaining higher education credentials. But have we perhaps unwittingly played into this by taking for granted that our students will go off and get another degree after we are done with them? Why aren't we thinking about how to beef up our degrees so that not as many students need that other credential? We should at least want to be confident that all or most of our graduates CAN get a job with the skills we have given them and not be satisfied that have prepared them for another round. There may be some exceptions - established professions with established paths of post-graduate training.

The 4+1 programs that Mills and other schools have go part way toward this but we could, likely, be a little more radical. Rather than a business model predicated on the fact that some fraction of our students represent 1.25 times the normal net tuition expectation, why don't we focus what we know about that fifth year into solid training in the first four? The national call to get away from seat time would allow us to do this.

Stop Evaluating Ourselves

There are several places in which the evaluation of our work is messed up. There is a lot of conversation about outcomes and assessment but having seen it up close I can say just one thing: don't set your watch by it. We need to have a more fundamental recognition that the regulation and assessment of whether people have taught and learned has to be separated from the insider role we all enjoy.

It WOULD be a nightmare to outsource evaluation or hire outside examiners or to have standardized certification exams for each degree and discipline. But this is where we need smart, innovative insiders to be thinking about this. If you leave it up to psychometricians in Princeton or MBAs in Palo Alto you will get a terrible outcome. But that doesn't mean we should burn the premise. What I need as an instructor are ways to keep me honest about the value added I represent. Saying it is hard to measure or that the current proposals to do so are bad bad bad should inspire my inventiveness not co-dependently assuage my anxiety.

Stop Outsourcing Curricular R&D to Sophomores

Forget about Coverage and Preparation for Graduate School

As college professors, much of our identity is wrapped up in our disciplines. The very idea of being granted the title of professor is tied to the idea that there is a delimited set of topics in which one has expertise and is permitted to teach.

All of us were trained to do this in research universities where the order of business was exactly that, the training of people like us to be disciplinary experts.

For various historical reasons we have carried this over to college (non-research university) environment and when we structure courses of study we model them on the training in the discipline that we received in graduate school. Some disciplines even specify what the content of a major should be - as if they are running a franchise - so that anyone who has a degree in X can be assumed to have exactly the same stock of disciplinary knowledge.

In a few areas this might be exactly the right approach. Chemistry and physics are the paradigms here with an extensive enough list of "must haves" to pretty much fill up a major. In other fields, such as mathematics and economics there are well defined cores and in biology and literature there are foundational requirements and well recognized subfields among which one can choose between exposure and expertise.

But on the whole, in the small liberal arts college environment almost none of the students we train will go on to practice our disciplines in the way that we do. Every few years each of us teaches someone who goes on for the PhD but it is relatively rare. Far more common is the person who majors in our field and who derives from this experience those critical thinking skills and breadth of perspective that we brag about but who goes on to work in an unrelated field.

The upshot of this is for us to relax our obsessive hold on the idea of full coverage of a discipline. This obsession distorts who we hire, how many courses we need to offer, and the schedules we demand of our students and it puts roadblocks in the way of trying new and innovative things.

In sociology, for example, there is little justification for teaching the "field" of sociology to most of our students. The major should be society with methods, theories, and findings derived from sociology (and her sister social sciences).

To Create the Disruptive Liberal Arts College We Should Steal

We need to look at MOOCs, at the Maker Movement, at the Free Community College initiative, at Khan Academy, at Shared Work Spaces, at the way firms like Google create internal competition for customers, at how Walmart does supply chain management, at how successful crowd sourcing campaigns work, at how peer production like Wikipedia can be adapted to teaching and learning.

How Should Innovation in Higher Education Work?

When a company like Apple develops the iPhone, it doesn't do it out of the blue. Instead, they are pulling together all manner of things developed by others.5* Iovine Young is launched

Because there are a lot of voices in the public conversation that advocate for positions that are quite at variance with those convictions, it's easy to slip into a defensive posture, into a place of complacency, smugly sure that we know quality, that we are enlightened and that we can rack up moral frequent flier miles by defending it against the philistines.

And there are plenty of texts out there by college presidents given on occasions like this one that trot out old and tired or sometimes new and inspired defenses of the liberal arts.

I think that's a mistake. That's letting the philistines determine the order of battle.


  1. Third Talk
  2. Is there a higher education crisis (again)? In any case, a tough time to be a SLAC
  3. For reasons ranging from profit to ideology, lots of folks looking to disrupt higher education
  4. Ours is not a big voice in that conversation and we are not what anyone is trying to replace, but there are risks in the swirling sea.
  5. Most common response is defenses of liberal arts
    1. The more enthusiastic and creative the disruptors get, the snarkier the defenders of the one true way get.
    2. We become anti-change as a value stance
    3. Dangerous because the change that we end up accepting is crap stuff.
  6. Great opportunity of the moment
    1. smart people and big money are working hard to develop tools that can be applied to education
    2. they don't understand education enough and so we hate what they do.

END: Jobs could be right if those of us who know teaching and the liberal arts get in the mix we can create SLAC21

  1. Four DON'Ts and Four Dos
    1. Stop evaluating our own work
    2. Stop relying on sophomores for R&D
    3. Stop designing curricula for self reproduction
    4. Stop digitizing the old and calling it new
    5. Dump the semester
    6. Crack the course
    7. Commencement at the start
    8. Graduation every semester
    9. Feedback as job #1

TASK 1. Clarify the object of the discussion. Liberal arts. Liberal arts education. Liberal education. (Small) liberal arts college.


Education of free persons.
Innovation in technology demands empathy and broadness of vision.

We have heard the historical story of liberal arts education many times: in classical antiquity The artes liberales were those capacities that were considered essential for a free person (read non-slave, non-laborer) to qualify for an active part in civic life - participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and military service. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric supplemented by arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy made up the liberal arts.

In the contemporary context the term has broad meaning but generally refers to learning that is not explicitly professional, vocational, or technical.

But when you start getting people talking about the value of a liberal arts education

The term gets confused with "liberal education" a lot these days -

Association of American Colleges & Universities offers this definition: "An approach to college learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change." Not all that surprising that this vague statement gives you very little to go on in and is probably the goal of almost any higher education program. Then go on to say "This approach emphasizes broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g., science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth achievement in a specific field of interest."

And then some further outcomes "It helps students develop a sense of social responsibility; strong intellectual and practical skills that span all major fields of study, such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills; and the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings."

When you dig a little deeper[[footnote]AACU. What is a Liberal Education?[[/footnote]] what you find is that advocates of "liberal education" in the 21st century contrast what they are suggesting with the liberal arts of the 20th century making two or three changes:

  • from an option for the fortunate to a necessity for all
  • from specifically "non-vocational" to necessary for economic success
  • arts and sciences to "across the spectrum"
  • distinctive schools to all

It turns out that the intense study of philosophy or early English literature or biology can develop critical thinking skills.

Argument Logic

  1. challenges
  2. everyone has idea - bandwagons? don't defend and fend off
  3. liberal arts - why is it good?
  4. hey look same as innovation
  5. don't abandon what we are doing to do that, but shamelessly steal from that to do this.