Rethinking Innovation in Higher Education

Norman Augustine is pictured at the podium as he shares innovation insights with the audience during UMUC's Orkand Lecture Series event on March 25, 2015.

“Simply trying to do harder what you’ve been doing all along is a formula for failure,” Norm Augustine told the faculty, staff, and students who attended his presentation at UMUC on March 25, 2015.

Wow! What a treat it was to listen to aerospace industry expert Norman R. Augustine at the UMUC Orkand Lecture. The lecture topic was Innovation Lessons from Industry: Applying Breakthrough Ideas in Higher Education. Norm Augustine, retired chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation and member, University System of Maryland Board of Regents offered much more than insights. It was the reflection of decades of innovation in an industry that has consistently improved product, delivery and reduced costs.

Norm Augustine talked about the importance of education in a time of great discovery. Higher education has never been more important and yet so many students cannot achieve the dream. Decreasing public funding is a reality. We can bemoan it and argue against it but ultimately we need to change our financial model. To do that, we must think differently and question everything. Generally, that means allowing outsiders to look at our problems and ask us why. Why do we do it this way? A great example given by Norm Augustine was the need to reduce the overall weight of a rocket.  The casing of the rockets had always been painted white, but one young engineer not associated with the project asked why this was necessary.  While others struggled, he looked at it differently. Those inside the rocket building process could not fathom not painting the rocket.  By removing the paint from the equation, the desired weight reduction was reached.

Of course changing the paint is too simple of an analogy for education. Instead we must think of improving outcomes for students because the need for more educated professionals is paramount to our success as a civilization. As UMUC President Javier Miyares has said, it is time to stop asking what is wrong with students who do not complete college and instead ask why we in higher education are not able to educate these students. Innovation is critical to a successful future. Innovation means thinking differently, finding new technologies to support students better, and changing the procedures/processes. Norm Augustine told us the future lies in connecting new technologies with great faculty.

UMUC Orkand Lecture attendees pictured with Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Member USM Board of Regents.

Left to right: Matthew (Matt) Prineas, PhD, Vice Provost and Dean, The Undergraduate School, Kara Van Dam, PhD, Vice Provost, The Learner and Faculty Experience, Joann Boughman, Sr. Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Marie Cini, PhD, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Member USM Board of Regents, President Javier Miyares, Karen Vignare, PhD, Vice Provost, Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success, Marcia Watson, PhD, Vice Provost, Academic Affairs, William T. “Bill” Wood, Wood Law Offices, LLC, Richard Blewitt, Managing Partner, R & B Associates and President, The Blewitt Foundation.

The Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success is collaborating with multiple units on campus to pilot adaptive technologies. We are in the early days of these technologies, but combining them with new work in learning science seems so promising. These technologies personalize learning in a way that has not been possible either online or in a classroom. By combining these tools with great faculty, we can improve student outcomes.

As Norm Augustine said, it takes great leadership from all parts of the university to make the future. UMUC is well-positioned to continue its leadership but at the same time it risks a willingness to sit still and bask in the reflection of being a pioneer. We owe it to our current and future students to do better today and tomorrow than we did yesterday. We can and we should. Norm Augustine let us know the depth of change in industry was more fundamental than most in education think and we must be willing to learn from that example to move higher education into the future.

Thank you for the inspiration.

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