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In second year, Educational Innovation focused on making change

August 16, 2012 By Stacy Forster

If you want to get a master’s degree in economics at UW–Madison, the only way to do that right now is to start a doctorate in the subject, but opt not to complete it.

That will change starting next fall, as the department moves to offer a master’s degree program to help students with nontraditional backgrounds get started on the road to a doctoral program.

The new program has been developed in response to a changing need and a changing willingness to try something new – an approach that wouldn’t have been feasible without the university’s push toward Educational Innovation, says Maria Cancian, associate dean in the College of Letters & Science.

“The Department of Economics is rolling this program out in part to leverage the faculty and resources they have in new ways and generate new resources,” Cancian says. “But they’ve also developed this program because of a new willingness to think in more creative ways about who we should serve and how we should serve them.”

Expect to see more of those kinds of broad changes and new offerings as the campuswide Educational Innovation campaign, aimed at enhancing student learning while improving the university’s capacity and finding new revenue sources, heads into its second year.

The first year of Educational Innovation was spent identifying areas on campus where innovation is already happening and helping spread the word about a new way of thinking when it comes to delivering education at UW–Madison.

Now, the emphasis will move from raising awareness to implementation, says Interim Chancellor David Ward.

“We’ve identified areas on campus where innovation is occurring,” Ward says. “Now, we want to really raise the level of decision making from individuals to departments, to encourage departments to do broad integrated change.”

In addition to being an approach toward meeting the university’s budget challenges, Educational Innovation is UW–Madison’s response to MOOCs – mass open online courses – which have gained attention this year as such universities as Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Michigan and Pennsylvania, among others, have moved to offer in recent months.

“It’s our intent to experiment in our own UW–Madison way to enter this field so it’s best for our students and the state,” says Aaron Brower, vice provost for teaching and learning and a member of the Educational Innovation organizing team.

One such offering is an upcoming noncredit class from UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone, says Jeff Russell, dean of the Division of Continuing Studies and vice provost for lifelong learning and a member of the effort’s organizing team with Brower. Such a class extends the university’s reach in an area where it has a reputation of excellence, he says.

“It’s the digital version of the Wisconsin Idea,” Russell says. “How we impact and make changes beyond the walls of the university and the state to make these teachings more accessible to people that aren’t physically going to do it in a course or a classroom.”

Moving from vision and goals to outcomes marks a significant shift from last year, Russell says.

“How do we take this high level and create a campus environment and structure?” Russell asks, adding that “at the center of this is student learning. Whatever we do needs to enhance our research mission and eminence, and how do we think creatively about capacity and revenue, and start to boil that down and what it means to goals and outcomes.”

Still to be worked out are details about how units can receive incentives – such as being allowed to keep revenue generated by new offerings – for putting innovations in place.

Ward says the key to success will be when departments move decisively toward making change.

“It’s going to have to be done with ownership by departments,” he says.

Units are moving at different paces. The School of Nursing is forging ahead with a major instructional redesign, to be supported by its new building, while departments at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences are exploring a range of approaches.

The university will support the campus to make such changes, creating capacity to support the transition, as well as support through peer-to-peer connections, Brower says. Point people for each school and college are available as resources.

The 40 departments within the College of Letters & Science have been asked to think about the way they do things, and whether there are ways to do them more efficiently and better support excellence, Cancian says.

The only option not on the table? Leaving things the way they are.

“The status quo is not on the menu,” Cancian says. “Most of our departments are very good at what they do…but we can’t stick our heads in the sand and wait for things to be funded the way they used to be.”

Tags: learning