Memo writers want U to aim higher

by Marni Ginther

Imagine exams and lectures were replaced by laboratories where students research course material on their own instead of taking notes from a professor.

Imagine Psychology 1001 began by covering the most current issues in the field, and students worked backward to learn the history of the field.

Two members of the University community in the Comparative and International Development Education program are imagining those kinds of classes and are working to make them a reality.

Professor Arthur Harkins and doctoral candidate John Moravec released a fourth version of their memorandum “Building a ‘Leapfrog’ University: Renovating Undergraduate Education,” on May 17.

The document, Harkins and Moravec said, is a response to University realignment recommendations, but aims to augment those recommendations with new ideas, not oppose them.

“What we were concerned with was that the University appeared to be trying to catch up with higher-status institutions,” Harkins said.

“It’s not worth our effort to just catch up,” Moravec said.

Instead, Harkins and Moravec argue research and innovation must begin soon and must begin at the undergraduate level. This would involve a huge shift in the way the University – and universities across the country – handle undergraduate education, they said.

But it also would begin to immediately produce more innovative graduates who are better suited for today’s job market, they said.

Harkins recalled his own undergraduate experience and how it inspired him to work on developing this new educational model.

“I went through (college) in two and a half years, but when I came out I felt numb,” he said. “I felt that the only things I really learned were in our weekend discussions in my house, where I lived with two graduate students.”

The leapfrog model builds on the idea of students interacting with professionals working in the field and researching with peers to play a more active role in discovering information themselves.

“Particularly at the undergraduate level, we’re talking about shifting away from taking in information and feeding it back in exams,” Harkins said. “Instead, (the leapfrog model) provides an alternative to that by duplicating what’s going on in industry, where Ö the effort is toward the production of new knowledge and innovative products and services. That’s the future of higher education.”

This shift from knowledge consumption to knowledge production is key to becoming one of the top public research universities in the world, Harkins and Moravec said.

“Virtually every country in Europe is studying ways in which it can convert its education system in that direction,” Harkins said.

Since its initial release Feb. 22, the memorandum has circulated throughout University faculty members and administrators, including the president and provost.

“I think we have had considerable positive response to what we’re talking about,” Moravec said.

E. Thomas Sullivan, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, released a statement about the leapfrog document last week.

“I’m pleased to see their research paralleling our strategic positioning activities at the University, and that each is complementary,” he said.

One development in the University that is at least partly caused by the leapfrog memorandum is the Horizon Forum.

Made up of faculty members in the College of Education and Human Development and sponsored by its Office of Continuing Professional Studies, the forum met for its first session in April. Members discussed the potential for the University to use “leapfrog” methods to become one of the top public research universities in the world.

Moravec and Harkins also said they’ve spotted some faculty members wearing leapfrog buttons around the college.

“People are excited,” Moravec said.