I recently gave this presentation at the National Outreach Scholarship Conference, and I will be repeating the presentation at our division’s upcoming strategic conference (Oct. 29-31).

I’m interested in your reactions. What resonates with you? What questions does this evoke? I’ll respond to any questions or comments both here and at the conference on Oct. 30.

Imagine what a truly 21st Century public university will become.

Dave King
Dave King, Associate Provost Outreach and Engagement

It will be a place that models engagement. At some universities we’ve been practicing outreach for as long as 100 years, but what about true engagement? A truly 21st Century public university is a place made up of faculty members and leaders who listen as much as we talk, who learn as much as we teach. It will be a place of open access that shares as much as it protects. Our strategic goals center on expanded Access to learning, improved reciprocal Partnerships, and the new vision of Scholarship that flows from reaching these goals.

A truly 21st Century public university will be a place that understands the value of our inherent competitive advantage in the information marketplace—that being our decades of successful face-to-face education, problem solving and learning.

It will be a place that understands the need to compete head-on with major competitors. Competition with whom, you ask? Think of this, when will we see a yet-to-be education-information conglomerate, like Google/Phoenix? A possibility proposed more than ten years ago by our colleague Richard Katz at Educause. Who else takes on a competitor with combined resources like that effectively? A truly 21st Century public university does and wins. Why? Because we focus on the learner. The truly 21st Century public university listens to the needs of our learners and adapts to their expectations. Are we still the “experts?” Of course, but our expertise includes developing all pathways and partnerships to help our learners become more successful.

Imagine a university where instruction covers the continuum from individual interaction with professors to many, many students learning together and interacting with world-class experts on campus and off. Where blended courses are the norm and most students culminate their formal instruction off campus working from within the business, or non-profit, or corporate, or community location that they will continue in after graduation.

Picture this: more than half the total student population is off campus advancing toward their degrees while working professionally full-time. Where what we know from decades of working with people in their personal and professional communities actually instructs our on campus learning opportunities, as well as adapting our off campus Outreach work.

Imagine a university where our continually developing expertise in online and blended education is a foundation to offer dramatically expanded access to learning through massive online open classes—open to all who can use the information to improve their lives, as well as open access to learning modules that can be assembled into truly individual learning opportunities. Access to learning and education will expand with both massive access as well as customized opportunities that address individual needs.

Imagine a university where research is truly discovery and provides access to data and information in broad and open forums that include both students and professionals in their discipline.

We have educated so many people in the past centuries, that citizen ability to understand and analyze raw information generated by discovery is strong. Open and transparent access to the knowledge base of the university fueled by democratized technologies means more citizen science, more individualized adaptation, less waiting for journals to validate.

Publishing in recognized scientific journals is still critical, but as much innovation is vetted by users in a vast community of experts on-campus and off who contribute to global solutions in a collaborative and sometimes real-time fashion. Where citizen science is recognized as having value. Where open science and crowd-sourced problem solving become effective tools in our research world. Where a research agenda is built by listening to the ultimate users of our science and solutions. An example that is beginning to be adapted by other public universities is the 100-year old network Land Grant universities have built and nurtured a made of learners in more than 3,000 communities around the country and a myriad of other partners and stakeholders.

Imagine a university where outreach focuses on engaging and enabling communities—both of place and of interest. Where the new paradigm is not one of distribution of information but one of providing access to information; true and unfettered access to the university-knowledgebase. This will be built on universities that truly listen to members of communities to understand their backgrounds, how the community was formed, and the context of their needs. Listening as much as we talk.

Where we create a spectrum of access that starts with raw data, then leads to outreach learning modules and continues to full credit courses. Where we act as curators providing context and rationale for the solutions available. Our spectrum of access may look like this.

Where a semantic Web-environment is built that provides unique and customized access to data and information in ways that shift to effectively meet the needs of individuals. Where the university serves as a convener of partners to solve problems…as much as the unique expert of the past. Where the university is a navigator in the vast sea of digital knowledge.

Imagine a university where libraries are centers of knowledge management and development. Where librarians are decentralized partners in all disciplines who provide the expertise to tag and link information at the ground level so that it is accessible in ways that have yet to be invented in the digital world.

Imagine a university that fosters life-long learning so that students are true learners who never assume they have finished their education. Where student/learners move to an off-campus professional environment assuming they will maintain a learning connection to their home campus for new ideas and solutions to the challenges they face in their professional lives, and beyond.

A truly 21st Century public university—continuing to fulfill its long standing mandate to provide access to the knowledge base of the university in ways that other universities are only now learning—will be all these things and more. It will as different from its competitors and pretenders as it was at its inception. It will be the foundation for every new innovation that can be dreamed by the best and brightest both on campus and off.

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19 thoughts on “Imagine a Truly 21st Century Public University

  1. Fascinating topics. I think a lot of the MOOC articles that you have sent out really resonate with me. The idea that campus based learning is a bit archaic, and that as we have the ability to educate the world at our fingertips – why shouldn’t we? After all, isn’t that the point of higher ed?

    Of course that brings home the dilemma of money – if we give education away, how do we support the (current) system? This reminds me of what has happened with the music industry (music essentially loosing its a lot of its previous power with respect to intellectual property rights), the publishing industry (with items like google reader, purchasing and sharing books electronically), and newspapers (essentially all of them now offer their content for free online).

    For a while I kept thinking eventually the digital revolution would charge, but it just keeps appearing that they are willing to offer more and more for free in return for valuable? marketing info.

    That being said, I love the focus on more dialogue with a community and its needs, educating for life rather than for a short period of time, and that there will always be a space for in-person learning. As wonderful as online education is, there is something special about being taught by an expert in person and the campus environment as a whole. The great thing about higher education is keeping the idea of possibilities alive – this is the most unique facet of higher ed. Every other industry (okay, maybe not the execs of google) seems to poo poo new ideas about solving the world’s problems. Being back as an employee of a University for the first time, I’m excited to be back in that buzz of possibility and discovery constantly surrounding me.

    A final thought: a truly 21st century public university needs to learn how to unshackle itself from archaic methods a little faster. For every innovation we have in place, we have instructors printing emails, or red tape where there needs to be none. This comes naturally by being part of a Federal network, but if we can find ways that would allow us to “bury” ineffective methods, processes and rules we are better able to meet all of the engagements strategies you point out above. That will be a critical step if we wish to honestly compete with private business.

    I’m excited for the conference.

    • Marian…
      Your point about the pace of change is probably our biggest challenge. Things are happening around us in education that we may not recognize as impactful. However, the marketplace, the technology, the new learner, and the need for the University to be the economic driver of our community, state, and region all mean we must streamline our processes, and increase our ability foster change.


  2. I agree with Marian and will engage more with this later, but I wanted to offer up my first thought on what a 21st Century public university could become… I’ve been reading a lot lately about various opinions on the traditional degree and whether it still means what it used to mean. Yes, it shows that someone has (supposedly) achieved a certain level of learning and hopefully some critical thinking skills, but then there are articles criticizing the traditional degree as a checklist that learners move through and cross things off as they go –only taking a course because it is required by the Gen Ed/Bacc Core to “broaden their horizons” or other well-meaning category. The actual number of credits and course they take that are degree related are relatively few in comparison. If employers put less emphasis on a 4 year degree and more emphasis on “where is the proof that you have this skill” and that proof is not linked to a GPA but rather a “badge” or other form of recognition that a learner has that particular skill or knowledge, then the technical schools and community colleges might be far ahead of the traditional 4 year universities. This is an area that the university needs to explore.

  3. Dave,

    This looks pretty good. My only reaction is to the item on meeting the competition head-on. Some large orgs when threatened see all competition as a threat to their existence. I support identifying our value-added niches and competing head-on in those areas. (I think the niches need to be more refined than just “focused on the learner.”) This also implies identifying areas where we don’t have a competitive advantage and consider conceding that turf. Good luck!

  4. Hi Dave,

    This looks really good and brings forth a positive message about our aspirations at Oregon State University. I would add something about imagining a community of scholars, both student and faculty, from diverse backgrounds who are able to bridge the gap between internationalization and multiculturalism by engaging communities with community based research that responds to local and global needs.
    Long sentence I know but surely worth wordsmithing. Our covenant with our communities is one that is powerful, compelling and enriches all of us as citizens of Oregon and beyond.

  5. We, as a whole, would definitely have to pick up the pace. – In today’s Chronicle: “‘MOOC mania’ is changing online learning at an irrepressible pace.” – We would need a cadre of Early Listeners, Early Adopters, Early Evaluators, and Early Decision-Makers and we would need a culture and infrastructure that supports that speed.

    I still can’t figure out how this would be financially sustainable, but maybe one of our innovators can! Thanks for keeping the discussion going

  6. Dave,
    Imagining the possibilities you identify is very exciting. I believe outreach to communities in a manner that invites opportunities for shared knowledge can open doors to rich and meaningful conversations. Recognizing the contributions that community members can offer OSU is a great beginning. It is important to consider and understand the context, linguistics and conversational nature of each unique community, or ‘backgrounds’ as you indicated.
    Inviting community engagement must go beyond providing access to knowledge and classes. Community engagement would require that we view community members as teachers, instructors, and guides and less as student-consumers.
    Here are some questions to consider:
    How can OSU become part of the communal connectedness?
    How can OSU become part of a communities’ social fabric?
    How does OSU enter into a collective possibility with hospitable and restorative communities maintaining possession of their own sense of being?
    How do we become part of the communal teaching story?

    Maria Chavez-Haroldson

  7. Hi Dave,
    The primary comment I have may be a place you don’t want to go in this presentation. I understand that it is primarily designed to make a case for a different learning model. The part that is missing is any recognition of some of the challenges that we will need to address as this evolves. Off the top of my head, two would be the challenges of advising a less homogenous and distant cohort and the absence of a face to face learning community engaged in the same interests as you have.

    I know that there are solutions, but not necessarily trivial. I raise this because, for any doubters in the crowd, a failure to recognize challenges will just look like another pie in the sky idea and they may dismiss it out of hand.

  8. Hi Dave, thank you for the insightful presentation, which touches on The Themes of the times without doubt. I don’t expect you to have answers at OSU yet to these emerging challenges, but in the work my organization the Education Advisory Board does with other universities, there are at least three cultural and economic barriers to universities playing the kind of role described in the presentation:

    How willing will the traditional university be to accept MOOCs (or other non-traditional digitally delivered competency-based courses) as credit? A lot of legislators are thinking that MOOCs are a relatively low-cost, low-risk way for students to see if they have interest and aptitude in a field – they can try a MOOC risking only their time (not having to forego work, take on debt, or use up a seat in a capacity-constrained public university only to drop out later on). Will universities have the motivation to produce enough MOOCs in enough different subjects to promote a “try it before you buy it” in a way that meets faculty’s quality standards?

    A second area where universities would need new capabilities to fully realize the contribution to students’ lives imagined in the presentation is in advisiing and communications with students. The puzzle pieces are all there for a truly personalized, lifelong learning experience, but most institutions aren’t really equipped and have minimal incentive to truly design career plans with students (advising resources are thin and “opt-in”, and it’s outside traditional faculty roles) and insitutions aren’t yet staying in touch with students across the years after the finish a program. Truly helping students gauge goals and learning needs, and providing feedback on how to stay on-path towards them is a vital service, and likely a dimension of “student success” that we’ll have to resource to take fullest advantage of the digital resources of the 21st century.

    I really liked your riff on breaking down the silos and rivalries of “expertise”, imaging much more collaborative approach to designing courses and bringing in outsiders to classrooms. Some insitutions have been very innovative here, but we still see a lot of internal resistance from universities who are cautious about the complexity and potential loss of status from things like industry partnerships and crowdsourced evaluation.

    These are the kinds of cultural and financial barriers I see as headwinds to the aspirational picture painted in the deck. I’d love to learn how you and your audience are thinking about ways to overcome them.

    Thanks for the excellent and challenging piece.

  9. The idea of access vs. distribution resonates with me. Like other commenters, I also wonder about how to best overcome some of the inefficient policies and practices that prohibit our ability to make changes and implement new ideas quickly.

  10. Everything mentioned here seems to boil down to several inescapable realities:
    1) The role of the educator (and educational institution) has shifted. In the past, we as educators were the dispensers of great knowledge and wisdom. Students were consumers of knowledge. Now almost any kind of information is freely available online, including websites, lectures, talks, webinars, and even free courses. Therefore, our primary responsibility has shifted toward building rich and deep learning environments. Also, we must be sifters — sifting through the noise (information overload) to help students find things of value. We must also become adept at “the remix”–utilizing existing sources of quality content (from data sets to TED talks to OERs) in our specific environments.

    2) The role of the student has shifted. In the past, the population in general, and students in specific, were consumers of knowledge gained from educators, books, journals, and informal sources such as newspapers and television. Now, in the read/write web (also called Web 2.0), people are able to be producers as well as consumers. Now students are increasingly being expected to have complex digital literacy skills, including information management (finding, evaluating, synthesizing, etc), but also collaboration, identity management (and privacy management), and production skills (making websites, blogs, online presentations (Prezi, SlideRocket), podcasts (Chirbit, AudioBoo), screencasts (Screencast-O-Matic, Jing, Screenr), and other Web 2.0 tools.

  11. Dave – I certainly hope that Oregon State becomes the university that you describe. To get there, I think it will need to invest more in Strategy than is has in the past. That’s true of most universities of the future. Why? You cite one of the reasons: competition. Competition is emerging from name-brand institutions in a way that was heretofore dominated by the for-profits. Look at ASU Online. Look at Penn State Online/World Campus. Differentiating based on brand quality will no longer be enough. But, there is another reason that universities like OSU will need to invest more in Strategy: all boats are no longer rising. The era of rapidly expanding online enrollments has come to an end. Serious players will be competing for market share, not simply benefiting from an expanding market. Expect sharpened elbows across the industry and more cases of clear enterprise failure than we have seen in the past. Processes that require online units – and universities as a whole – to identify a limited set of realistic and sustaining objectives are going to take on new importance. Failure will be recognized quickly by the market, since more players than ever will be competing on each others’ turf. As a consequence, I suspect that the OSU of the future will experience more visits from strategic consultants than it does today! –

  12. “At some universities we’ve been practicing outreach for as long as 100 years, but what about true engagement? A truly 21st Century public university is a place made up of faculty members and leaders who listen as much as we talk, who learn as much as we teach.”
    I think that the way you’re wording this could be perceived as disregarding the work that Extension people have been doing for 100 years. It’s not true that Extension agents don’t listen as much as they talk and don’t learn as much as they teach. I think people will feel totally not seen or appreciated by hearing this language. I think you’ll get more buy-in by acknowledging Extension folks’ work, and even characterizing it as a place to jump off from. How do we extend or amplify the engagement work Extension has been doing for 100 years? “We listen and we respond” isn’t a new motto, I don’t think. It’s that we can amplify our response with new tools.
    “Imagine a university where instruction covers the continuum from individual interaction with professors to many, many students learning together and interacting with world-class experts on campus and off.”
    When I was first hired, attending the new Extension employee orientation, I asked our Extension director something like, “Does it ever work backwards, that Extension work feeds back to the university and the classroom?” (He was surprised, in a good way, by my question.) It seems a no-brainer, especially in our program areas, that a new partnership could form between the university curriculum and Extension work, so that tuition-paying undergraduate students are interacting and interning with Extension scientists on the ground as part of their university curricula. Also, Extension faculty are natural liaisons with the community they work in, for students who are working in that community to “culminate their formal instruction.” And, if Extension faculty are also teaching in this way (on the ground, in the dairy — or even online), that could even add back some of the 25% salary they’ve lost, from the university’s overflowing coffers. 🙂
    I think fostering life-long learning is a fantastic and crucial avenue to take. Following on that, at the same time, I think it’s important to educate people on how to recognize whether something they see online is valid, and show that learning material coming from public universities is consistently the most reliable.

  13. Dave, in a time of escalating tuition costs, the issue of access is central to how we equitably educate citizens in an increasingly, globally competitive world.

    My main comment might go in a direction that is outside of what you want to present. You outline the many “inputs” necessary to move the university in a new direction, but missing for me was a vision for what we want learners to know and be able to do as the outcome of the changes you suggest. We no longer live in a world where it is enough that students compartmentalize knowledge; students today need to be able to apply what they know to solve complex problems, work effectively in teams, and evaluate and integrate knowledge from multiple (and sometimes competing) sources. You talk about the importance of maintaining a focus on the learner. So, I was interested to “see” more of the the learners’ needs in the context of the vision you describe and how they are directly tied to one another. But perhaps that is a different presentation.

    Thank you for sharing these ideas.

  14. Dave….thanks for letting me chime in. Your “creative think pieces” always get me going. I really like your: “imagine a university where outreach focuses on engaging and enabling communities – both of place and of interest. You and I have talked about these concepts over the years —– sometimes these ideas seem to be used in a contrived way or for situations where they don’t really fit. I think your “spectrum of access” is very clear and useful This is my favorite section of the paper and it is a larger and more challenging construct than some of the other “good” thoughts.

    My bias – but I think your lead is buried — the last statement about Lifelong Learning fits so well with the Spectrum of Access. If our 21st century universities were able to blend the Spectrum of Access and a Lifelong Learning Cycle – we would have a concept that is almost time and culturally neutral.

    The statement on libraries —- can we “redefine” libraries —- we certainly need knowledge management. WE need a really big and powerful MOOC like thing for KM NOT necessarily for courses. MOOCs sadden me. Not sure they will do much but absorb venture capital, talented labor that could be doing more interesting thing. A big experiment —- yes — scientifically drive, not so much. It will help sell servers, computers, software and create jobs for those involved in doing that. It also plays into the notion that we will have A “King Professor” watched adoringly by thousands, millions —-hmmmmm Have we been here before?

  15. Dave – A few more thoughts:

    I like the statement “Imagine a university where research is truly discovery and provides access to data and information — but I’m not so sure – even though we have a number of educated people from the past —-but I’m concerned we’re rolling backward as I look at numbers. Jeff Seaman who does research for the Sloan Foundation has some interesting notions about scale. He says the large state and land grants and the community colleges that are really into distance ed and online learning currently do about 87% of DE and online and that is the fastest growth area. They are the most likely to scale and keep growing. The For Profits have never been more than about 10-11%. I think you’re right about different combinations and flavors – you put Phoenix and Google together. Just a guess the “Phoenix” name will die. The Apollo group is still around. It’s always an interesting game to play to see what was last year’s brand and what emerges from the ashes. Today’s AT&T is NOT the company that was MA Bell. Any one know the new name for Arthur Anderson?

    I think the For Profit sector is splitting off in different directions – some of this has already happened. CoursERA —this is sort of like BookERA – a digital course is the new book – Recent purchases by McGraw Hill and Pearson’s give some clues to the new/old projections. The University of Phoenix earnings are way down — as we know it takes a long time to get a quality brand/reputation and it can be spoiled – soiled rapidly these days. Who would have thought that the For Profits would make Doonesbury.

    Will there by public-private mixes – yes…..but everybody has to do better than we’ve seen so far.

  16. Dave – as you future – I encourage you to think about the learners in terms of the significant demographic shifts we are experiencing. We are already moved from white majority to minority majority; older are whiter and surveys are showing there is a reluctance to pay for “other people’s” grandchildren. Wealth disparity is hugh — it’s bigger in the U.S. than in China and will likely continue on this path – the very wealthy will keep driving globalization without the localization and technological change. The MIT Technology Review (online) had a really good article on the impact of technology/automation on elimination of jobs. The automation is moving more rapidly than originally predicted.

    The middle class is rapidly loosing ability to pay taxes for public education and services. The upper middle class is “seceding from the commons” in favor of private schools and services for themselves. California business leaders: technologists, venture capitalists and entertainment industry isn’t supporting public education of any type. One could hypothesize that all of lifelong education is being disaggregated and commoditized and will result in something that doesn’t look anything like what we have today. What are the positives? What are the negatives? Who wins? Who loses? You mention “competition” in your piece and if you recall Carol Twigg in her work on scaling online learning said competition and collaboration are two sides of the same coin. I’m concerned that if we don’t come to understand that idea in as fundamental way as I think those who got the land grant universities going — there won’t be any coins to argue about. Let me know how your discussions progress,

  17. Ariel….
    Thanks for your insightful comments. I think you are right about the importance of what we know form 100 years of F2F learning opportunities as the foundation of where we are going. For non-land-grant audiences I note that we have been building networks with learners for decades and these are the models for other public universities to follow.


  18. Yes, and I don’t think it is a challenge we cannot overcome. After all, Universities have an amazing reputation for being, yes – slow to make process changes for sure, but also reliable places for cutting edge research and innovation. If we can take that “innovative” culture and bring it to the administration side of a University – we would be in a much better place. And I think we can do it!

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