David Helfand’s out-of-the-box thinking on higher ed

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” – Chinese Proverb

David Helfand gives a fascinating TEDTalk on “Designing a university for the new millennium” at TEDxWestVancouverED:

What I found insightful about this TEDTalk was how out of the box Helfand is about his thinking on higher education. He doesn’t believe in tenure (turned it down at Columbia University), believes faculty should not be divided into hierarchies and that their focus should be on the student learning, that they should not silo themselves into departments but instead interact with other disciplines. What he has done as president of Quest University is astounding. Quest University “offers only one degree, a bachelor of arts and sciences, has no departments, and students take just one four-week course at a time through its block plan” (Charbonneau 2015).

This is a radical break from the traditional university, and they’ve not only succeed, they are influencing other similar initiatives around the world. What I especially like about it is the focus on student learning, engaging students in ways that help them learn. Quest University was ranked “highest among Canadian universities on five key criteria: academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, supportive campus environment, active and collaborative learning, and enriching educational experience” (MacQueen 2011). That is pretty astounding, and there are certainly many lessons that traditional universities can and I believe, must learn, to stay viable in the 21st century higher education landscape.

 

References:

Charbonneau, L. (2015). David Helfand reflects back on a decade at the head of Quest University. Available at: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/news/news-article/david-helfand-reflects-back-on-a-decade-at-the-head-of-quest-university/ Accessed May 1, 2016.

MacQueen, Ken (24 February 2011), “The student’s Quest”, Maclean’s. Available at http://www.macleans.ca/culture/the-students-quest/