Leading Voices in Higher Education: David Helfand Lecture

Leading Voices in Higher Education: David Helfand Lecture


[ Music ] [ Applause ]>>[Background Music] Universities
in North America are on the verge of an apocalyptic terminal collapse. At least that’s what you have to believe
if you go to any bookstore and look under the education section
over the last few years. My count is up to 40, I must
confess I haven’t read them all, books predicting the demise
of the modern university. These attacks and critiques come from
the left, they come from the right, they come from inside academia, they come from
outside academia, everybody is very worried about the future of universities. Some months ago I actually reviewed two of these
books for the British science magazine nature and I began my review as follows. Universities are fractious places, they’re
populated by customers formerly known as students who pay large amounts of
increasingly borrowed money in exchange for very high grades from researchers with
large frequent FireMail accounts formerly known as professors who report to real
estate developers formerly known as university presidents. [Laughter] Now that of course is a caricature but as in most caricatures,
it has elements of truth. But let me stop right here and put
a big asterisk on this whole talk. I am certain that this marvelous
institution which I visited many times, which has produced my chief academic officer
has none of the problems I will describe today. [Laughter] So just sit there, relax
in observing the turbulence outside of these little sheltered
campus that you live on here. Well, why do people think
universities are in trouble or if you’re a little more pessimistic,
why are universities in trouble? I think one of the problems is
that universities have taken honor or been assigned by society too many tasks. They are supposed to be triggers
of urban renewal. They’re supposed to be engines
of economic growth. They’re supposed to cure sick people. They’re supposed to train the
next generation of scholars. They’re supposed to generate new knowledge and
spin off the biotech companies that result. They’re supposed to supply an endless number
of talking heads for the 24/7 new cycle. Now all of those things with
the possible exception of the talking heads, are social goods, right? Urban renewal is good and economic development
is good and curing sick people is certainly good and training scholars is good
and generating knowledge is good. But unfortunately, the way this has
evolved over the last century means that by doing all these things,
the one thing that most of the institutions including this one
were founded to do gets left behind, and that’s educating undergraduates. Educating in the sense of the Latin root
“educare” which means to bring up to rear. But really, in the root of that word “educare”
which means to open up and to lead forth. To open the minds of young people. To recognize where their ideas come from. And to perhaps change them. This is in my view, a problem. How did we get here? Well, let’s start with the professoriate
because that’s what I know best. I’ve been a member of it 35 years. All right. So we start out to become a
professor by getting a PhD. That is well known to be the process by which
one learns more and more about lesson lesson, when until one knows absolutely
everything about nothing. [Laugher] In that process, elaborate as
it is, often, and in my case completely, there was no mention of pedagogy
of teaching or of how people learn. When I walked into my first
classroom at Columbia in 1977, I had never taught anyone
anything, and they still be true. [Laughter] That’s a little odd when you
trained for profession that is to teach people and you get no education in the process of
teaching people in the process, it’s weird. Then, we have the reward system
which clearly, in most institutions, is heavily skewed towards punishing teaching. I mean, it’s in the language we use, right? You all have teaching loads and
research opportunities, right? [Laughter] You never have teaching
opportunities and research loads, you just have research opportunities
in teaching loads. Now when you’re writing your grant proposal
renewal at three o’clock in the morning, you know you’re a graduate
student, your post aren’t going to start unless you get it right,
research can be a load as well. And in fact, when you find other colleagues
who are interested and just kind of think of something new to do like this
committee I gather was thinking about, sometimes they get excited so
there are teaching opportunities but we never talked about the language that way. And finally, we’re asked to do
these things in an environment of increasingly constrained resources and
with pressure to do it more efficiently. My favorite comment on efficiency
comes from William Belmont [phonetic] and Bill Bowen [phonetic] about 50 years ago
when they wrote an article, an economics article and they said “You know, it still
takes four people 25 minutes to play a Beethoven string quartet
just like it did 200 years ago.” Education is not exactly equivalent to
playing a string quartet but it’s closer to that than manufacturing diapers. So making it more efficient is something
one has to do with I think great care. These all combines. This lack of training in teaching, this
reward system that punishes teaching, this drive for efficiency to create a certain
cynicism on both sides of the lectern. I like to call this the commodification
of education. And it was driven home to me by an incident
couple of years ago at Columbia that I’ll relate to you ’cause I think it sums up so much
of what is wrong about what we’re doing. While I was at Columbia 1977, I was
delighted to find that Columbia, uniquely, Columbia amongst all the major universities had
retained through the ’60s its core curriculum. That the faculty have the temerity to say, these
ideas are important, these books are important, everyone of you is going to read them in your
first two years, I don’t care what you’re going to do after that, this is
important, I really like that. But I was simultaneously appalled that of the
seven courses that make up the core curriculum of Columbia, the intellectual code of arms
of the institution as it was described in the catalogue, it was seven
humanities courses, zero science courses, zero social science courses
and zero mathematics courses. This might have been okay in 1919
where this curriculum was dreamt up, but it didn’t strike this good
preparation for the 21st century. Nonetheless, being a young and naive professor,
I thought, “Well, we have this system. We require people to take courses in their
first two years, I’ll just make up math and science courses and then
everything will be fine.” 27 years later, I succeeded in adding one
semester to Columbia’s core curriculum. So now it’s eight semesters, seven humanities
courses which have not changed since 1947 and a new course in science
called Frontiers of Science. In that class we teach as in the other
core classes in small 22 seminars. And I was a little discouraged about the lack of
interactivity, the lack of collaborative work, and the lack of excitement about some of
the ideas we were discussing in this class. But I have my 20 students like everybody
else and we would meet once a week to discuss for two hours, some new paper, some new
topic, some issue on the Frontiers of Science, this was not a great book science course. And one day, I happened to go and give a
talk to a bunch of fourth graders at a school in Manhattan on, you know, the universe
and I taught for maybe 30 minutes and there were 90 of them in the room. And when I was finished they were
precisely, 180 hands near, and both hand, both hands up like this, they had
questions and they went on and they went on and 45 minutes later they were getting dragged
out by their shirt collars by the teachers to go to lunch, they were curious. I did get on the bus, went
back up to Columbia walked into my class five minutes before class started,
20 students sitting around in the small room, you know, two of them were in Facebook, three
of them were texting, two of them were asleep but the rest of them were sitting there and
they’ve got their pad at the appropriate angle and their pencil ready to go and you
could just see what was behind their eyes. It was like, okay in an hour and 55 minutes
this will be over and five more of this and the semester will be over, I’ll be
one eight in my way to Harvard law school. [Laughter] And so I looked at them– I have
to tell you what we’re going to discuss, we’re going to discuss this amazing article. This article was so exciting that one of
my colleagues, a Nobel Laureate in physics who was also teaching in this class with me came
running up the stairs with this lap book open and almost [inaudible] on the top step because
he was so excited to show us this paper. What they had done was they’ve
taken a rabbit ovum and they’ve spliced in three
genes from jellyfish. One was a red fluorescent protein,
one was a green fluorescent protein, okay that’s not too exciting, but the clever
thing was the third one randomized the expression of the other two and they
produced 1500 distinct recognizable colors. And when this rabbit grew up they could
trace neuron by neuron from the retina to the visual cortex, every
neuronal conduction they call it the “technicolor brain” thus blew me
away, I thought this was so cool. So I was really excited, I come back from all
these energized fourth grader as I walk in and so I looked them and I said “Why
aren’t you more like fourth graders?” All right, so they’re Columbia
freshman they have to get their A to get into Harvard law school, they don’t recognize
a rhetorical question so five hands go up. [Laughter] I should’ve known better. But I said, “Yes?” And she said “Well, Professor
Helfand you have to understand. When you’re in fourth grade you don’t know how
much there is to know and so if you’re curious about something, you ask a question. But by the time you get to our age, 17, you
know, there’s sort of an infinite amount of stuff to know and it’s all on Google anyway
so what’s the point of asking a question?” The appropriate answer is what’s
the point of not shooting yourself, but I didn’t say that, I said “Oh.” Next person’s hands in the air. “Well Professor, the one you have to
understand, this is a seminar” and I said “Yeah, that’s what I thought, that’s why we’re suppose
to talk about things” he said “Oh oh oh, but you don’t understand, I mean the
point of being here is come on top, asking a question is a sign of
weakness so you never ask a question in the seminar, you only make statements.” In a lecture where you’re anonymous, you
can raise your hand and ask a question but in the seminar you only make statements. So it was getting pretty bad. I didn’t call on the next two
people and it didn’t get better. And then there was this kid
sitting in the front row. And I have to say he was form LA
’cause I’m from New York and I hate LA. Anyway, he was sitting here watching
the whole time in the front row and he finally puts his hand
up, he says “Professor Helfand, I think what you’re missing here is I’m
paying for a degree not for an education.” Now, you smug little liberal arts college
here, can say, well that’s arrogant, Columbia students, what do you expect. Except I told this story about three months
later at a meeting of university provost and presidents and other academic
administrators in Calgary. And, you know, they had the same reaction
you did except for the after dinner talk, they had been clever and they–
they’re probably having, you know, two other president stand up and talk. They had the presidents of the student
governments from the University of Calgary and University of Alberta. And the first one got up to speak and he said
“Before I start I have to say something.” Dr. Helfand says something today about,
you know, we’re paying for a degree and not for an education, I don’t
understand what he doesn’t get, of course that’s what we’re all doing. And three months after that I went to a
meeting of small liberal arts colleges in the Northwestern US sponsored by the
Murdock Trust where they provide money to get undergraduates involved in research
in a meaningful way and this was a conference where the undergraduates present all their
research but there was a side meeting of all the faculty and this very
distraught woman from one of the– I shall– unnamed liberal arts colleges that you
would’ve heard of in the Northwest stood up and said “You know what a student said to
me the other day, he said he was paying for a degree and not for an education.” I think this attitude is endemic and I think
it grows out of the cynicism that has grown up around a faculty that is not taught to teach and with a reward system that
punishes it for teaching. And instead of students who view education
as a commodity, that if they purchase it, they’ll have a higher than average expected
income over the rest of their lifetime. It would obviously be simpler to
fix this by doing it online, right? Send in your 250,000 dollars to
go to Columbia for four years and we’ll send you back the degree and no one will have their time
wasted, it will be much easier. It’s very troubling. So, what would one do about this? Suppose one had a completely
blank slate and said “I want to design a university for the 21st century. A globalized world which has problems that no
single discipline will ever solve and I’m going to be addressing students who are digital
natives and growing up in a culture where multitasking is celebrated.” So what would you do? Sort of amazingly to me, I
found myself in that situation. With David Strangway who had been president
of the University of British Columbia. In 1998, retired and decided to
take on a retirement project setting up the first not-for-profit, private
independent, liberal arts college in Canada. They’ve had a very interesting history. He grew up as the son of missionaries
in Angola for his entire childhood. Went back to Canada to go to
school and became a geophysicist and then became the head geophysicist
at NASA during the Apollo program, so he got to play with the moon rocks. One of the few people who
got to play with moon rocks. He then went on to MIT where he noticed
that there were students coming from places like Swarthmore and Williams and
Amherst and Dartmouth probably, who didn’t have as many physics and geology
courses as the students coming from Stanford and Berkeley and other places like that. But they always– or not always but often
ended up being the best graduate students. The most creative graduate students. The most articulate graduate students. The ones that came up with
interesting new ideas. And so this got things going around
that’s heavy then we’re back to Canada, he was provost of the University of Toronto,
became president for one year and then moved to UBC and elevated UBC from service
second year international university to a first year university over the course of
12 years of constant battles with faculty unions and students and supports they have and
everybody else, but he succeeded in doing this and in the process completing the disruption
of undergraduate education at the University of British Columbia where the average
class size for entering students is now 391 and you have a three percent
chance of having a class with fewer than 100 students in it in your first year. He recognized this and he thought back
to liberal arts colleges and he thought, “All right, that’s what we’re going to do,
we’re going to give Canada some change.” In Canada, you may not know this, but it was
pointed out, there are no private universities. In fact the concept doesn’t compute. The mayor of the town that
our university is located in, a lawyer someone with a law degree had a
big argument with me the first time we went out to dinner insisting that I
must be mistaken that Harvard, Yale and Columbia must be public
institutions, ’cause by definition, a university is a public institution. There is a deep cultural divide. So putting a private institution in Canada
and then they have to think of private not for profit university that
really reached people out. I mean if you’re going to be private
why don’t you make money you know that. Anyway, this concept doesn’t exist in
Canada, so that’s what he decided to do. He retired in 1998 from UBC but was immediately
named head of the Canadian Fund for Innovation which was a project to distribute about
three and a half billion dollars in funds to science research across Canada and
raise Canada’s research profile in the OACD that made him a very popular person
among science as you can well imagine but delayed the start of this university. In 2002, the British Columbia legislature
passed an act to create this university and made it distinctly different than
all the other universities in Canada. And in 2004, a large donation was received by
a single individual which allowed the beginning of construction of the university,
and the fall of 2007, we opened. What did we do? Well let’s first think about
the structure of the university. As was mentioned, we didn’t
build it on a 19th century model, the way most universities are today. I’m not sure what those 19th century Germans
were thinking about, I guess it was, “Well, we’ll bring a lot of smart people
together in a relatively small space and we’ll see what happens, maybe something
interesting will happen” and of course it did. They built silos around themselves, the more
energetic and aggressive ones built taller silos so they could throw rocks to the other silos
down below, they mount [inaudible] parties at night to steal the resources from the other
silos and we come up with the modern university. We thought, perhaps that wasn’t the best way
to approach problems like the globalization of trade and climate change
which probably will require more than one silos worth of people to fix. And so the first organizing principle of
our university is we have no departments. We then poured that into the concrete
by making the academic building circular so you can’t even sort to have departments
and we assign office by lottery. So people are sitting next to each other
all around this building, 40 offices or so and they’re randomly located. That seem like a good idea. And it turns out, it’s been a wonderful idea. The next thing you do is you want
to think about what your goals are. Now as I suggested earlier, I think
universities today have too many goals to do them all successfully so we
decided we would just have one. We wanted to create the most
effective and engaging education in the liberal arts and sciences
for undergraduates. No graduate programs, no research institutes,
no certificate programs, no engineering school, no business school, liberal arts and
sciences school for undergraduates. And so that was our focus. We made one tiny little change to have
normal functioning of the university. This word, we don’t call ourselves
professors, we call ourselves tutors because we don’t do what I’m doing now and
standing here lecturing at you professing, we in fact built that into the concrete
as well and that we have no lecture halls in the university, there’s
no room that looks like this. Every single classroom is a flat room
with an oval table with 21 chairs. The CBC did a wonderful documentary on this a
few months ago and they called it “21 Chairs Around the Table” I just love it. [Laughter] And what the 21 Chairs Around the
Table mean is that you can never have more than 20 students in the class and one professor,
although sometimes you have two professors and you only have 19 students in the class
and they got a record, was seven professors and 15 students in the class which
was 22 chairs and we have to steal one from another classroom but
that was a really fun class. So we’re tutors, we teach, we don’t profess and every class is an interactive
seminar style class. The next thing you want to
ask is how you’re going to deliver the curriculum you come up with. And here I come back to my
notions about multitasking. Most of your thinking is done with your
prefrontal cortex and it is well known that your prefrontal cortex is a serial
processor not a parallel processor. Yes you can walk and breathe and
think at the same time but only one of those involves your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex processes
information in a serial fashion. And therefore, multitasking is an
unmitigated disaster if you’re trying to educate someone and get them to think. Because distracting them
means the brain switches off at task and moves on to another one. There was a beautiful program, PBS,
about a year ago where they had this, the Stanford Computer Science majors, real
hotshot Stanford Computer Science majors. And they said, “Okay, we’re going
to give you this really hard test.” “Oh yeah, we’re Stanford
Computer Science, we can do that.” And they did it. And they put them in an isolation booth. And they ripped through this test
and they got almost perfect scores. And they said, “Okay, we’ll get another chance
for you since you did so well on that one.” And it was the same level of test. But you can use your ear buds this time. And then the third time, they let them
use their cellphones so they could text. And the fourth time, they let
them have their laptops open. And their scores progressively went down
from nearly perfect to about 58 percent. And then they asked them, they interviewed
them at the end of this and they said, “See, I told you I can multitask. It doesn’t make any difference
to my performance.” They didn’t even recognize
that they were performing at basically a failing level
as supposed to a A plus level. So, this to me is a problem. And therefore, and looking around, David
Strangway came across Colorado College. Now, Colorado College is to me,
a truly remarkable institution. Because when it was almost a hundred years
old, in 1969, the faculty, some of the faculty, not all of them said, “This is boring. We should do something more interesting.” And they invented the block system
which probably many of you know about. The block system means, you take four
courses over the course of the semester but you take them serially rather than
in parallel the way your brain works. And so, each course last approximately a month. We’ve adopted their calendar almost perfectly. You go to class from Monday to Friday, Monday
to Friday, Monday to Friday, Monday to Wednesday in an intensive, single-focused course. Meaning, a minimum of three and sometimes
24 hours a day with the expectation of at least five hours of work outside of class. And then when you get to that final
Wednesday, at 5’o clock, everything stops. You’re finished with that class. You get four days where no
academic work is allowed. If you’re teaching in the next block, you’re
going to say, “Oh yeah, you should read the, you know, War and Peace before Monday.” You can– that’s not allowed. You can not give assignments
until 5’o clock on Sunday evening. And then you start a new class. Now, I first heard about this that they decided. By the time I got there they decided they
were going to adopt this block system. And I said, “Well, you know, I can
see how this would work in English. Cause you could like take a Shakespeare
play and you could read the history and you could do the linguistics. You can even put on the play. You can really get deeply into it, it’d
be terrific but it won’t work in Physics.” ‘Cause, you know, in Physics, you have
these cumulative ideas that you have to build the one on top of the other. It takes time to assimilate them. You couldn’t possibly cram it into 18 days. I’m therefore very amused now when I go
back to Columbia and talk to my colleagues in the English department and I’m [inaudible]
about the block program, and they go, “Yeah, I see how this could work in Science but
of course, it would never work in English.” [Laughter] That’s an example of
the standard academic conservatism. Academics have this reputation in our society
and are pilloried for to be incredibly, hopelessly out-of-touch liberals. But in fact, in my astrophysical explorations, I’ve discovered that university faculty are the
most conservative species in the local universe, not just on earth, in the entire local universe. There are no more conservative people. Why is this? Because they know the system works. They came through this system. They came out the other end and they’re
famous Ivy League professors now. So clearly, it’s the ideal system. Failing to recognize that 99 percent
of their students are not going to become Ivy League professors, many 99.9 percent of them are not
going to become Ivy League professors. And ignoring the mounds of research that shows they’re doing what I’m doing
right now is a disaster if you want to actually communicate,
and get people to think, and get people to collaborate,
and get people to learn. It’s very curious, you know,
academics, treasure research. They love logical argument and they
willfully ignore and/or dump on any research in pedagogy about the way people learn. Anyway. So, I was skeptical about the block
system but I was willing to give it a try. And once I did, as with the other
31 full time faculty at Quest, all of whom went through an undergraduate
and graduate school in the semesters. All of whom have taught at other
institutions in semesters and zero. Precisely, zero of them will ever
go back to teaching in another way. I’ll give you just one example
of how the block system works. All of our students– and I’ll get to the
content of our curriculum in a minute, have to take a Math course in their first year. There’s a couple of choices. They don’t– I’ll have to– same Math course, but one of the choices is
Spherical Trigonometry. Now, it’s possible that we’re the
only university in North America that still teaches an entire
course on Spherical Trigonometry. Your GPS wouldn’t work without it but
in fact, it’s just not taught anymore. But in the 19th century, this is
a major intellectual development because Spherical Trigonometry meant doing
trigonometry on the surface of the sphere which is not the same as
doing it on a flat plane. How many angles? How many degrees in a triangle on a flat plane? 180. Very good. How many degrees in the triangle
on the surface of a sphere? [Laughter] [Inaudible Remark] Well,
you’ve all got numbers, right, and they’re all right because
the answer is undefined. It depends on how big the triangle is
and what the radius of the sphere is. So, this is essential for accurate navigation. It’s essential for accurate surveying. It was a big development in the 19th
century, nobody teaches it anymore, fine. But one of our Math pedagogues,
and we have three of the best Math pedagogues
also in the local university. One of them loves Spherical Trigonometry. He’s taught this class at
three other institutions. He’s taught it half a dozen times. He has a book coming out with Princeton
University press in January on “The History and Development of Spherical Trigonometry.” He knows this subject and he loves this subject. And somehow, when he walks into that classroom
the first day with 15 or 16 first year students, none of whom are going to be Math majors. Within hours, they all love
Spherical Trigonometry too. He gets this little loose side spheres,
they carry them around like pet rocks. They bring them into the cafeteria
and they draw their little triangles on the sphere and they argue with each other. Last time he taught the class which
was a few months ago, I would go out, the class met from 10 to 12 and 1 to 2. I would go out at 7 o’clock at night, all
the students were still in the classroom. Anyway, two Decembers ago
he was teaching this class. And at the end of the second week, he presented
a theorem that has first been published in 1807 and it’d been reprinted in
every textbook ever since. And these 16 first year students, none of whom
are going to be Math majors found a logical flaw in the proof of the theorem that it
escaped mathematicians for 204 years and caused Glen [phonetic] to
have to pull his galley proofs from Princeton University press
so he could correct the error. That’s the level of analytical
ability you can develop in a block. And that’s the level of engagement you
get from the students in the block. It’s extraordinary. It’s different by about two orders of magnitude
of a level you get in a classroom like this. I know, I’ve taught classes like this for
35 years, and I also actually have proven that I don’t teach them anything. I did an experiment. I gave them a class. They worked really hard. They have quantitative problem sets,
quantitative quizzes, quantitative exams. They got to the end of December, a lot of them
got A’s ’cause that’s what we do at Columbia. You know, few of them got B’s, maybe one
of them got a C, I don’t know, whatever. They all did really well in the exams. And then the following September,
I brought them back. And I gave them a test. I bribed them with pizza. I’ve got, it’s like 60 out
of the 80 of them back. I gave them a test. I gave the new students who I’ve not
yet given a single lecture do a test and the results were statistically
indistinguishable. [Laughter] They had paid their thousands
and thousands of dollars, I guess, and been entertained by me
for an entire semester and learned precisely nothing in this format. At Quest, I teach a class. One class, one and a half hours, half a class
on Minkowski diagrams and special relativity. How you can actually picture space and time
being interrelated into a common space time. I did that to students the
first year we were open. The fourth year, they were
the tour guides on campus. They would come to that sample classes I
would give and I’d use this as a sample class for visiting perspective
students and their parents. And they didn’t remember every detail, but
they were right on it in helping people think about how you abstract to the notion of space
and time and put it on a two-dimensional graph because they’d learned the process of thinking. All right, so then, there is the curriculum. What are we going to deliver in
this– sorry, I convinced you. I’m sure that the block system
is the only way to go. What are we going to deliver
on this block system in this circular building with no departments? Well, this is the mix of the old and the new. I still am a huge fan despite its
imbalance of Columbia’s core curriculum. I still think it’s important that students read and think broadly before they
choose what they’re going to do. And so, we had a two-year foundation program. The entire first two years, 16
blocks are all specified by us. They were different mixed in Columbia. They are three Life Science courses, two
Physical Science courses plus a Math course, three Humanities courses and three
Social Science courses and Arts courses and two Interdisciplinary courses. The whole spectrum. And the point of those, 18-day blocks
that they marched through is not to teach them a specific body of knowledge. It’s not the image of pouring from my full
picture into their empty little glasses. We have content of the courses. Obviously, you can’t teach anything without
having some content but the content is more or less irrelevant, because
the point of those courses is to teach them how an economist
ask questions about the world and goes about trying to answer them. And how a political theorist does this
and how a literary critic does this, how a philosopher does this,
and how a physicist does this. That’s what they do for their
whole first two years. Then, what do they do next? Well, we don’t have any departments,
so we don’t have any majors. So now, what are they going to do? Well, after specifying for them, what we think
they should learn in terms of the breadths of these perspectives they can bring the
problems they will solve throughout their lives. Learning to read critically, learning to write and to speak publicly, effectively
and persuasively. Every class has multiple times
when every student has to get up and give a presentation to the class. Our second block is a rhetoric class where
they learn to do that and to write effectively. It’s time for them to take
charge of their education. It’s time for them to tell us what their
passion about, what they want to pursue. And so, each of them takes a month in either
February or March of their second year when they’ve almost finished this curriculum
and develops a question, a personal question. This question must be interdisciplinary
in nature, they inevitably are naturally. It must involve experiential leaning,
out in a real world, working in an NGO, working in a hospital, working
in a research lab, working in a community organization,
working in a business. It must involve the selection of a faculty
mentor who will work with them for two years, one on one, and the selection of half a dozen
touchdown works which they will read along with their advisor and dissect as fundamental
to the question they were trying to answer. And must end in a project which they
must present to the whole university at the end of April of their senior year. These projects can be something that
looks almost like a master’s thesis, some of them do run to 100 pages and are very
impressive indeed, but it doesn’t have to be. Last year, we had a full production of
an original play, we had a graphic novel, and we’ve had a documentary film. So this has to be something
they present to everybody. What’s interesting is, of course,
they also have to select a bunch of courses they’re going to take. And the courses we offer are sort of like
second, third, fourth year courses you’d have it in the university, and physics,
and microeconomics, and political philosophy, and media and science. And yet, each person coming
to that class with that– there, there is content because the tutor has
an idea of what this class is going to be about, is enriched by the fact that each of them
is coming from their own perspective. Let me give you an idea of
some of these questions are. Some of them are extremely broad. What is need? That was pretty broad. One of them was, is democracy
a viable form of government to solve the problems of the 21st century? It cannot, it’s a little less obvious,
but the answer is in the United States. And the United States, really
obviously, the answer is no. But anyway. [Laughter]. So, that kind of question
doesn’t lead to an answer. You don’t expect a 22-year-old to
answer that question in two years. But it leads to an interest. It leads to a bunch of courses in media, and in
psychology, and in politics, and in economics. At least there are lots of
interesting courses to which that person contributes from that perspective. But then, it leads to something that
you find it’s interesting along the way. In the case of these students, now in a
graduate program and political philosophy, it led to a fascination with
different voting systems. Voting systems other than first-past-the-post and how well they reflect the
will of, in a democratic system. And so, her big paper was on that. Some of the questions are much more specific. On another one of our first graduates, her question was how do local
cultural norms affect the delivery of public health services
in developing countries? So, what would you do? So, she started off in a
hazmat suit in the Center of British Columbia collecting Lyme disease
ticks and understanding vector borne diseases by taking courses in epidemiology
and biochemistry. She then went for two months to a Spanish
language immersion class in Buenos Aires, and stop on the way back for the summer
and spent over three months in Honduras and El Salvador at a rural and urban health
clinic independently watching how centralized health service is being delivered and how
local cultural norms were affecting them, and taking courses in cultural anthropology
and sociology, and things like that. And then, her final project which
is just– I just love this subject. Her final project was to go to the
Bolivian Amazon where there been an outbreak of a particularly viral form
of hemorrhagic fever. This had something like a
20 percent mortality rate. And there was an outbreak and it was spreading. And so, the World Health
Organization, you know, helicopters and some western doctors to
find out what’s going on. And what they discovered was that
the local shaman for thousands of years knew how to cure a fever. He would rub naked rodents– I
mean rodents on your naked skin. I just got pictures of him rubbing
these big white rats on people’s skin. Of course, the rats were the
vectors for the hemorrhagic fever. And what she documented was the negotiation
between the World Health Organization doctors and the local Shaman trying to stop this
epidemic by communicating but not in way that the jargon of the World Health Organization
doctors did very well with the local shaman. But eventually, it was resolved. They issued a wonderful paper on this, and now
he’s in graduate school in social epidemiology. So, these are the kinds of
questions students come to. One of my favorites now given the reference
to food is one of my student’s questions. He just started his third year this
year is, what is the perfect meal? [Laughter] Now, you think, well,
that’s a pretty flaky question. You know, the kind of school is this, well,
he’s got a Venn diagram with the perfect meal in the middle and it’s got a
cultural component ’cause of course, that’s a highly cultural independent topic. It’s got a food production
and economic component. It’s got a nutritional component, and it’s got
a neuroscience static’s philosophy component of aesthetics and what makes a perfect meal. And he’s pursuing courses in those things. He’s pursuing made experiential learning. He started his own business system making
homemade pies out of fresh local fruits. He’s totally into this question and he’s
already got all this graduate programs and food security things like that picked
out when he gets done with this question. The point is the student can pursue something
that’s passionate, that they’re passionate about that allows them to bring to that passion
that kinds of analytical skills they’ve learned from all this different foundation
courses and produce something which in some case is really
are quite extraordinary. They’re certainly at the
level of master’s thesis. So, that’s the theory. What about the practice? How do we actually build this university? So, I have this little slideshow and
it’s what I give to perspective students. But I hope at least some of you are
interested enough that you might actually come out to visit us at Quest so I’ll feature all like perspective students,
or maybe perspective faculty. Another brilliant advantage of the
block program, a brilliant advantage of the block program is its
18 days out of your life. So, you don’t have to have semester to give
up to go teach at some interesting new place. You just have to have three and a half weeks. So, this allows us to do things like bringing
the Canadian Ambassador to Mozambique to teach our International
Relation’s course who in 30 years in the Foreign Service had never taught a
university course ’cause he can’t take four months up, he can take three
and a half weeks up. And the head of the Canadian
Center for Human Health– Human Biosafety Lab becoming
deep in epidemiology course. He can’t leave all these graduate students
and everything for, you know, months at a time but he can leave them for
three and a half weeks. They happens to be an avid rock
climber, we have the best rock climbing in North America so, you
know, it all worked out. But, you can come for a month and you
can teach a course and try this out. So, here’s my advertisement
for why you want to do that. So first, you have to choose a location. And we found a pretty nice location. It’s about 45 minutes North of Vancouver,
usually rated the most livable city in the world, a highly diverse interesting city. And it’s about 30 minutes from Whistler
which is always ranked as the best ski resort in North America, a little better than
your hills here, you did it, okay. And then you have to deal the campus. There’s an interesting financial
model about how this happen which I won’t bore you with,
but we built the campus. And in that campus, you have to have
things like an academic building. Here’s our circular academic building. We walk all the way around, it’s got a garden
in the middle, and the classrooms are spaced around the outside, top floor
is all faculty offices. And then each classroom, ’cause working
with 15 other people, that can be hard, has four breakout rooms where you can send the
students off in a course of a three hour class. You don’t stand up in lecture for three hours. Quest students will not let you go more
than 20 minutes before you shut it down. So, you think totally differently
about teaching. You send them off into these breakout rooms
where they work in groups of three or four and you circulate amongst
them, keeping them on task. Maybe each solving a different part of a complex
science problem, each analyzing different part of a political essay, each
coming up with debating points to bring back to the class 45 minutes later. You need a place for them to eat,
so you’ll lose a lot of local wood and make a pretty place for them to eat. You need a place for them to study
so you’ll lose even more local wood. And you make a library. And we described this education as
intimate, integrated, and international. This is about what goes on. This is one of the little breakout room. So, you got your white board, you
got your window, you got your table and your fourth chairs, you’ve got your
computers, every student has to have a laptop, sometimes you have them open, sometimes
you have them closed, you decide. And you have a tutor. They are debating some point in a class
probably of democracy and justice, one of the foundation courses
in the social sciences. It’s integrated and that we take them
out of the classroom as much as we can. There they are about a thousand kilometers north
of us on the coast of BC just south of Alaska where the Great Bear Rainforest is and
there are whale research station working with these two whale researchers to monitor
whale communication because there’s lots of whales up there in the summer time. And they are out there for two weeks at a
time, another advantage of the block system. You want to go in a field trip, you don’t worry
that they have a chemistry lab that afternoon or an English paper due the next day. If you’re in marine biology,
you can go out all day. If you’re in astronomy, you
can go out all night. [Laughs] If you’re in international development
for example, you’d take the class to Belize for three and a half weeks which
is what we did last February. If you’re in Volcanology, you take the
class on a 5,000 kilometer road trip to the entire western part of the North America
looking at all the volcanic structures that make up the geology of land which the
students just got back from last Monday. And we’re international. We currently have 36 countries
represented and a student body of 430. So, that’s pretty diverse. Just about half Canadian,
about a third from the US, and the rest from 34 other
countries all over the world. Our first graduating class had 49
students, two were from Bhutan. So, figure. We do things that are fun
together and we build community. We do the normal kinds of
things that universities do. We play sports. It’s interesting. The women soccer team with
our university two years ago which had 200 students, so a hundred women. The smallest university we play has
8,000 and we made it to the provincials, the finals the last two years in a row. We have a nice soccer field. As you can see, the setting is not bad. [Laughs] We distract the
visiting team with the mountains. And then of course, we’re up against
a provincial park right behind us. And it does snow there sometimes. And so, the students go off
and make sports of their own. The students are musical and cultural and artsy. They make films. They make photographs. You can go to our website
and see some of the films. And again, these long and extended field trips
are possible because of the block system here. They are looking for bears
in the Great Bear Rainforest. They found a great bear,
these are really big bears. And they even found the white bear. This is the symbol of our athletics team. It’s a Kermode. It’s a spirit bear. It’s not a polar bear. It’s a black bear but it’s–
and it’s not exactly albino, but it’s a mutant of which they’re
quite rare but there’s a number of them in this part of the world. And sometimes, you just sit
around and have lunch and relax. Again, the view’s not too shabby. But apart from long field trips, if you’re
in ecology or marine biology or geology or any number of these things including some
social science courses, say to do with addiction and treatment, you go out everyday. So, you go out just around the campus. We use the local environment and the local
community which has problems of its own to put the students in the real world. This is a foundation course. It’s not some fancy advanced ecology course. This is just a course that everybody takes. So, everybody takes those waiters out and
learns how to do ecology in the field. Or they learned how to survey
the river to determine whether or not the rivers flow whether one of every
project, could power the electricity needs of the campus, an engineering
report that they write. So, here are the names of the courses we teach. The first one is called the Cornerstone. Our benefactor is also a geologist so we have
lots of stones in the titles of our courses. The Cornerstone is really an introduction to
the level of work we expect at the university. It’s an introduction to the block
system and it provides our first point on our self evaluation system because
we give them diagnostics and mathematics and quantitative reasoning which are
not the same thing, and in writing. We then next introduce rhetoric. We did not start with the program like
this but their writing was atrocious, their public speaking was worse,
and we thought we can’t sit through these many bad presentations,
we better teach them how to do it. And so, they all take Rhetoric
as their second block. And then, they take the rest in any order they
want to, except the question which has to come in the spring of their second year. Then they go on and they take
courses around their questions. So, these are called concentration blocks. They go into depth, 6 to 12 courses directly
related to their question, a few electives. We have a non-native language
requirement for all students. And all students must do
experiential learning as part of their question from a block to a semester. And most of them do. One of my favorite statistics is in Canada. 2.6 percent of undergraduate study
abroad, at Quest, it’s 60 percent. They either are studying with one
of our ten partner universities in which we have the free exchange of– no
exchange of funds amendment all over the world, or they’re studying language in an emergent
destination which we strongly encouraged rather than just taking classes on campus, or
they are doing their experiential work– learning, working for some NGO in Kenya,
or working on a tea plantation in India. The things they come up with
are really quite amazing. That’s the faculty that does this. They don’t look so different than you. Maybe a little younger on average, I don’t
know, but you could fit in to that group. [Laughter] Well, I’m actually teaching
three courses this year but I was not there when this picture was taken ’cause
I was having my hip replaced which is why I’m limping around up here. On the right– on the left, you see the
faculty on the first day of the block. They’re really excited. On the right, you see the faculty on the end of
the block when they’re going off the deep end. We have students that work in laboratories. We have students that work in seminars. One of the classes for example,
is Molecular Biology, one version of this that everybody has to take. You walk in on the first day and
he says, “Okay, down the lab. You go down the lab, you take a cheek swab
and you have 18 days to do the full process of sequencing your mitochondrial DNA and
determining which haplotype you belong to.” That’s all you do. You’re in the lab the whole time. Get a little information allowed from
the tutors but that’s what you’re doing. You’re going through the gel electrophoresis. You’re looking for the little bands at the end. And, you know, maybe 30 percent
of the students actually do it. They are ecstatic. They can tell which of the 64
haplotypes out of Africa they are. It’s pretty neat. The rest of the students
learned that science is hard. [Laughter] Which is very important. We emphasized from day one that
failure is the way you learn. Failure is not a problem in this system. If you fail a course, it
means you weren’t working. But if you fail on something in a course,
it means you probably were working and you learned something from it. There’s something else very important that we
learned right after that and it shows you a lot of the culture of the institution. In Canada, they give primarily
merit-based scholarships, something that’s [inaudible]
to me and probably most of you. Right here, we use our financial aid resources
to give need-based scholarships, right? Well, since I’m the need-based
scholarship side and I’m in Canada, we do the financially disastrous
thing of doing both. So, we get both merit-based
scholarships and need-based scholarships. But in any event, the first year, we get
all those money in merit-based scholarships and we thought, “Well, damn it, those
students really better do well where they got to maintain a 3.5 or we’re going to
yank that scholarship away from them.” And within two months, we had
exactly what we were trying to avoid which is consciousness of grades. “Oh, but damn it, if you gave me a
B minus instead of a B, I would– instead of a C plus, I would
have not lost my scholarship.” So on a student initiative,
we changed the system. You don’t have to maintain any average
now to maintain your scholarship. But in every class you take, and that means
once a block you get a grade, under that grade, there’s a little check box and it says, by
the tutor, “This student is gaining from and contributing to the intellectual
environment in my classroom” yes or no? And you have to get a minimum of six out
of eight yeses to remain in the university. Ten people didn’t last year and they’re gone. One person who was an A student
didn’t last year and he’s gone. Because in this environment, the
students recognize and we recognize that it’s absolutely crucial that
those 15 or 18 or 19 students in your classroom are all engaged, because
their mutual learning depends on it. Half of the work approximately,
is collaborative. Of course, you have to read books yourself, you
have to write your own papers but presentations, research projects, problem sets are often done
either in pairs or in triplets or in quads. Something else is amazing about this group. You know, how when you give a lecture, people
come in the first day and they pick a seat and then they always come
back to the same seat, right? Well, our students never do that. They come in everyday and it’s five days a
week, right, and they sit at a different seat. And the reason is, ’cause one day I’ll go,
“Okay, you, two, you, two, you, two, you, two.” One day, I’ll go, “Count one, two,
three, one, two, three, one, two, three. The ones goes together, the
threes goes together.” They know that they can’t beat my system,
right, so they just sit with different people, and they learn different things,
and they work in different groups, and they learned group dynamics
and collaborative learning. So, what are the results? They stole my thunder, but
I’m going to tell you anyway. The National Survey of Student Engagement is
an instrument developed in 1999 by the School of Education at Indiana University
and has been taken by almost 2,000 schools in Canada and the US. Rather than being a student opinion
survey, did you like your education? Do you like the food in the cafeteria? Are your faculty members hot or whatever? [Laughter] Instead of that–
well, that’s a big thing on rate your professor in
case you haven’t looked. You might check yourself out. [Laughter] Instead of asking their
opinions, they’d asked what they do. It’s a 110 question survey. How many hours do you spend per
week discussing classroom work with your classmates outside of class? How many pages of papers have you written? How many hours have you spent
talking to your professor? Actually, that’s a good one. It only says, how many times have
you met your professor this semester? Zero, one, two, or more than two? And our students sort of go,
“Huh, you know, like everyday. Well, how does– where does
that fit on the ground?” Anyway, so there’s a 110
questions about what they do. And then the [inaudible] make these
in a statistically weighted way to measure five things about the
quality of undergraduate education, the level of academic challenge that
the students face, the amount of active and collaborative learning rather than the
passive learning you’re doing right now or not. The number of enriching educational experiences,
either inside or outside of the classroom, the intensity of the student-faculty
interaction, and the degree to which the campus environment as a whole supports the intellectual
purpose of the campus. And so, we took this for the first time
three years ago not knowing how we do, thinking our students are pretty
engaged so it’d probably be okay. And here are the results. So, there’s 67 other Canadian institutions. And the top bar is us. And it looks like we won on academic challenge. And it looks like we won on
student-faculty interaction. And it looks like we won on
active and collaborative learning. It’s not really nearly this close ’cause 94
percent of Quest students answered this survey. And that means it’s a reflection of
its variance of the total student body. The average for the rest of
these schools is 32 percent. The 32 most engaged percent will fill out a
110 question survey for no-grade and no-money. And so, divide all those other bars by three. [Laughter] Enriching educational experiences
and a supportive campus environment. This is just for the Canadian schools. In fact, USA Today collected the results
from 2009 and 2010 from 740 American schools and we were number one in North America
the first time we took this test. Needless to say, we signed up again. [Laughter] And so, the next year, our score has
increased and the average in Canada decreased. And this year, we just got
our results last week, two weeks ago, and our results increased again. That is we’re getting better. Same questions, different students, just
first years and fourth years are asked. And so, that’s some kind of external validation. We are still way behind on our internal
validation, on what have our students learned. We’re doing the CLA, the–
what does this stand for? Collegiate Learning Assessment, yeah, we’re
doing that this spring for the first time. We do have these benchmarks where
we have cornerstone diagnostics. We then come back to them in the question and
then back to them in the keystone project, other stone, the last class they take. But they’re so far mostly qualitative and
we want some more quantitative measures. So, we’re working on that. But, you know, I know why people don’t
start universities all the time now, ’cause it’s really hard. And some things you just don’t get
to like assessment which we should. Anyway, what we specializes in taking a
group of people like this and turning them into a group of people who looks like this. [Laughter] That’s our first graduating class. They are off to the Peace Corp., they’re off
to law school, they’re off to graduate programs and epidemiology and physical
anthropology at Stanford. They’re off doing lots of interesting things. I suspect, roughly half of them will go to
graduate school within two years of graduation, the other half– or professional school,
the other half may eventually or may not. But all of them we think we have prepared to
be articulate, persuasive speakers and writers, people who are instinctively collaborative,
who are naturally look at problems from different disciplines, and who are aware
of their global and their local community. Yesterday, one of our mathematicians was
giving a talk on how teaching mathematics at Quest had changed his view of mathematics and
he used this quote from Henri Poincare “The task of the educator is to make the child’s spirit
pass again where their forefathers have gone, involve– moving rapidly through certain
stages but suppressing none of them.” [Background Music] And I guess,
that’s sort of our goal as well. So, we built this campus and we built more
than a campus, now we’ve built an institution. It’s a very nice place to visit and I welcome
all of you who are interested to do so. Thank you very much. [ Applause ]

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