A new way to learn

Imagine college without classrooms and lectures. What if the college experience no longer came with general education requirements, professors with tenure, or majors?  Dean Christine Ortiz plans to make that concept a reality when she steps down from her prestigious position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in order to create a new kind of university, one that will be shockingly different from all of the existing colleges in the United States.  The defining feature of the new university will be a focus on depth, rather than breadth, of learning. The institution will be run more like a graduate school, with students working on focused, long-term projects. Lectures will be exchanged for online, interactive forums. In place of classrooms and typical academic buildings, Ortiz says the learning environment will essentially be “one integrated giant laboratory.”

While Ortiz clearly has a vision, many of the details of her plan have not been finalized, such as where funding will come from and whether prospective students will be attracted to a completely new, untested form of education at a university that lacks the prestige of other higher education institutions.  Aside from logistical issues, there are questions to be raised about the concept itself. Along with many colleges in the United States, the College of William and Mary values a liberal arts education. At its core, this is the idea that by exposing undergraduate students to a variety of subjects throughout their college career, they will be able to bring a multidisciplinary perspective to their field of specialization.

Liberal arts schools like the College are especially valuable because, oftentimes, students enter college completely unsure of what they want to do. The College’s General Education Requirements and new COLL curriculum enable students to dabble in a wide range of subjects while finding their interests. This exploratory process is often the very mechanism by which students discover where their passions lie.  Ortiz’s new university would completely eliminate that valuable process and require students to specialize immediately. While this may be advantageous for the small portion of students who enter college knowing what they want to do, it would rob most students of the opportunity to explore various subjects before picking an area of specialization.    If Ortiz’s vision is realized, it is clear that the new university would be a revolutionary form of higher education. However, logistical issues must be solved and the concept needs to be refined before this new form of education can truly be put to the test.

Email Carley Schanck at ceschanck@email.wm.edu


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