Cross-Institutional Collaboration: CNDLS Welcomes Senior Fellow Josh Kim, PhD

CNDLS is excited to introduce Josh Kim, Ph.D., Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, as our newest CNDLS Senior Fellow for Academic Transformation, Learning, and Design. As a Senior Fellow, Josh participates in educational and research initiatives with CNDLS, advises our Executive Director and senior leadership, represents CNDLS within the postsecondary community, and serves on the Advisory Board for the new Master’s Program in Learning and Design. We sat down with him to learn more about his role at Dartmouth and with CNDLS, and how he sees his work informing and strengthening the work of learning and design at Georgetown.

Dr. Kim, thank you for agreeing to be profiled for The Prospect Blog. To start, could you please tell us about your current role as Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at Dartmouth College?

First, I want to say how honored I am to be asked to be the first (to my knowledge) CNDLS Senior Fellow whose primary appointment is at a peer institution. My colleagues at Dartmouth, and the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) where I work, are excited that CNDLS has created this formal mechanism through which our two schools will deepen our collaboration.

At Dartmouth I am the Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at DCAL. This is a new position for DCAL, and a new position for me. The way I describe my job to my daughters (one a freshman at Brown University and the other a freshman next year at Roger Williams University) is that I spend my days (and nights) thinking about learning. Really, that’s it. Everything that I do at DCAL and with my colleagues at other schools (such as Georgetown) is to figure out together how we can make learning better at our colleges and universities.

The fact that we use technology to improve learning is much less important than the fact that both of our schools are totally committed to making learning better for our students. I’d say that the folks at both DCAL and CNDLS are exceptionally committed to improving learning at our institutions. We do this mostly working with the incredible faculty that teach at our schools. The big idea is that we want to provide our faculty with as many resources, from people to partner with to better classrooms to teach in to new technologies they can leverage, so that they can reach their teaching and learning goals. Everything depends on our partnerships with faculty.

From those faculty partnerships, we try to provide a space for experimentation and learning about learning. I like to think of at least part of the work that DCAL does—and I imagine what CNDLS does—as a space for educational R&D. We have lots of initiatives at DCAL that are designed to provide faculty with the resources and environment that they need to advance learning. At DCAL, I work on our open online learning program (DartmouthX—which, like GeorgetownX, is part of the edX Consortium), as well as on a program to redesign our larger enrollment introductory courses (called the Gateway Initiative). I also work closely with the various schools and departments at Dartmouth that are creating new online and low-residency programs. Finally, as part of my job at Dartmouth I spend time writing and speaking about digital learning and higher education innovation. Part of this work involves meeting with Dartmouth alumni and parents to talk about our work to advance learning at the College.

Would you mind elaborating on your area of research?

The area of research that I’m most interested in is discovering how our great liberal arts institutions, such as Dartmouth and Georgetown, will change and evolve to improve learning in the 21st century. How will we take advantage of new discoveries in learning science, new abilities in data-driven decision making, and new digital learning platforms to advance the traditional liberal arts education? I happen to be a huge believer in the mission and values of both Georgetown and Dartmouth – as well as many of our best institutions that offer a liberal arts education. Believing in the value of our institutions is not the same thing as saying that our institutions don’t need to change – we do. The question is: can we leverage new technologies and new organizational structures and new thinking to improve upon a liberal arts model of teaching and learning that has proven to be incredibly valuable and durable in the face of large-scale social and economic change?  

We are thrilled to be working with you and DCAL! Could you share a bit about what you are currently working on with CNDLS?

There are three main areas that constitute my collaborative work with CNDLS. First, we are working to build strong ties between CNDLS and DCAL. This work involves discovering where we can collaborate on projects and initiatives, such as our work in open online learning (GeorgetownX and DartmouthX), as well as our collaborations with peer institutions, foundations, and the Department of Education.

Secondly, I hope to contribute to the thinking behind—and perhaps the execution of—Georgetown’s new Master’s in Learning and Design. In particular, the Higher Education Leadership track is an area where I have great interest, as Georgetown is well-positioned to train the next generation of higher education leaders. (And I’m hoping that we can hire the graduates of the this MLD program at Dartmouth one of these days, as well-rounded instructional designers with a larger understanding of postsecondary change are hard to find).

Finally, I’ll be working closely with Eddie Maloney on a research agenda that we are now just starting to sketch out. We are hoping to engage in a range of scholarly activities—both together and with partners at other institutions—that lay the groundwork for a new academic discipline in learning innovation and postsecondary leadership.

There are so many projects and programs going on today in organizations like DCAL and CNDLS. Could you tell us what areas you’re most excited about?

There are three areas of the work going on at CNDLS that I’m particularly excited about.

First, I’m gratified that CNDLS is taking active steps to bring together our larger postsecondary learning community to talk about educational innovation and higher education change.  The idea of creating opportunities such as my Senior Fellowship is one example of how CNDLS is developing a structure for cross-institutional collaboration around leveraging new technologies and methods to improve student learning. I believe that my home institution of Dartmouth College, as well as other institutions that are involved in this collaboration that is centered at Georgetown, will realize great benefits by being able to learn from and collaborate with peers on learning innovation.

Secondly, I’m very excited that CNDLS has taken the leap of shepherding the new Master of Arts in Learning and Design. You can read a recent blog post I wrote for my Technology and Learning blog on Inside Higher Education about why this program is such a big deal for all of us in the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) world. My strong suspicion is that other CTL’s will look closely at this CNDLS model of combining a service unit with a center that does teaching and scholarship. As academics, we know that research and teaching are closely interlinked, and I think that we will learn that the work that CTLs do to promote learning on our campuses will also benefit teaching about this work—and involving our students directly in the experiential learning aspects of the work of advancing learning.

The third reason that I’m grateful to be able to collaborate with my fellow educators at CNDLS has everything to do with your Executive Director, Eddie Maloney, and the big ideas that he has been championing. When the history of early 21st century postsecondary education is written, I have no doubt that Eddie Maloney’s efforts to elevate the work that we do in digital learning innovation and higher education leadership to the status of an academic discipline will play a major role in this story. The idea that the scholarship, teaching, and service to the institution that we engage in at CNDLS, and at my home institution within DCAL, is a new academic discipline is controversial and contested. Due to Eddie’s vision, CNDLS has positioned itself to lead that conversation around the disciplinarity of the work of CTL’s like DCAL and other departments.  It’s exciting to have a seat at that conversation.

Thank you so much for your time- we are looking forward to this partnership and the fruits that we’re sure will come from it!