The Future of Higher Education: A Conversation with Dr. Cathy N. Davidson and Georgetown University Provost Robert M. Groves

This fall the Office of the President and the Designing the Future(s) of the University Initiative hosted Cathy N. Davidson, Ph.D., in conversation with Georgetown University Provost Robert M. Groves on the future of higher education and her new book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux. Davidson is the Founding Director of the Futures Initiative and Distinguished Professor of English at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), among many other roles. Her insights on the changing higher education landscape have sparked further conversations at Georgetown about the role of the university in addressing a complex, equitable future, and the crucial role excellent teaching plays in constructing that vision.

Davidson outlined the history of higher education and highlighted the ways in which familiar higher education practices (grading scales, academic departments, and the distribution of credits, just to name a few) remain largely reflective of the Industrial Revolution. And yet, she noted, the world underwent tremendous change with the emergence of the Digital Age and the invention of the internet in the late 20th century; new technologies have redefined and complexified the ways we relate to each other, to ideas, and the world. In her talk and recent book, Davidson suggests higher education institutions must now respond to these massive changes in order to prepare students for our interconnected world and the future of it.

Alongside this discussion of teaching to this “world in flux,” Davidson spoke about the roles universities must play in contributing to greater access and social mobility. Groves further examines this subject following the event in his blog post, “Taking Charge of Change.” Groves suggests that as we continue to value those best practices in higher education that endure across time, “we might [also] focus more consistent attention on how we can do our institution’s part at building a better, more equitable world.” His message, much like Davidson’s, is future-looking, rooted in a framework of best practices, equity, and care for students.

While addressing the current university culture and striving towards a more equitable world may seem daunting tasks, “[h]ow we teach,” Groves writes in his post, “is part of that solution.” Davidson and Groves suggest that good teaching practices in tandem with collaborative technologies can transform the university into the place it needs to be, both now and in the future.

Davidson shared her experiences reimagining an early massive open online course (MOOC) she taught as an interactive, global seminar as an example of technology’s strength—what she called “the human affordance of having global context in a very personal way.” Davidson also led the audience in an analog active learning exercise that engaged all audience members: she distributed notecards and asked the audience to list three things they would change were they to become “King of Georgetown” tomorrow. (The Future(s) Initiative collected the cards, and posted a few samples in their blog on the event.) These examples show that massive, institution-wide change can start at the individual level of teaching.

This approach to excellent teaching through best practices and collaborative technologies is one we hold close at CNDLS. It informs our focus on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research and best practices in teaching and learning, our commitment to faculty support, and our work on the [cutting edge] of technology-enhanced learning and online programs. As the new year and semester begin, we look forward to continuing this work and offering support to the Georgetown community.

Are you a faculty member looking for pedagogy or technology resources in the new semester? You can head to our Teaching Commons, check out our Mid-Semester Group Feedback sessions, or schedule a consultation for in-person feedback on your teaching. Our Inclusive Pedagogy page features resources and programs to support equity and inclusion in the classroom. Check out our Technology Enhanced Learning and Online Programs work for ideas on how to best create an interconnected, digitally-fluent classroom space. Or, stop by our offices in Car Barn 314 anytime to speak with a member of the CNDLS team.

You can watch Davidson and Groves’ full conversation here. Davidson’s new book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, is currently in print.