UT president stresses need to adapt online

‘Inverted classrooms’ could help enrollment

 Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo, gives his sixth annual community address Thursday at the university.
Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo, gives his sixth annual community address Thursday at the university.

The University of Toledo must adapt to the new financial and structural realities of education in order to thrive, university president Dr. Lloyd Jacobs said Thursday during his annual State of the University address.

Many in higher education worry there’s an education bubble about to burst, Dr. Jacobs said, as the lingering recession and mounting costs to obtain a degree push college beyond many students' means. Enrollment at UT has declined in recent years, and the school has struggled with retaining students who do enroll.

Meanwhile, new technology has diminished universities' role as information gatekeepers.

UT must and will adapt, Dr. Jacobs said.

“So once again we ... are challenged with a choice: Adapt and integrate these offerings into our algorithms and modules, or ignore the revolution and hope it will go away before we wither and die,” he said. “I suggest we integrate these new learning modules.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Dedication of William and Carol Koester Alumni Pavilion.

One model for the delivery of information could be similar to those by Salman Khan, who developed thousands of short digital lectures to spread higher education to a mass audience. Several major institutions, including Harvard and Stanford universities, are also developing mass digital lecture programs.

Dr. Jacobs said UT may develop “inverted classrooms,” where content is largely studied individually, with classroom time spent on analysis and retrospection.

The university’s first foray into a model that uses some of that approach is its Innovative Customized Education project, a small pilot started this year that directs students to drive their own education, and moves professors from “experts in content to experts in learning,” said Ammon Allred, UT's director for curriculum of learning communities.

Ben Pryor, Vice Provost for Academic Program Development, said students in the ICE project will focus on a problem they want to work on.

A student studying the causes and impacts of poverty might develop an after-school program curriculum to serve impoverished youths, which could involve work in education, sociology, and other fields.

Professors would help students develop their projects and offer guidance, in some ways similar to how graduate students work with advisers.

Some of the student learning may be through online lectures, some in collaboration with other students, some with professor mediators.

Students who successfully complete their projects would get interdisciplinary credits. But project developers also say students could be eligible to earn credit for other courses, either through portfolio assessments or other reviews, Mr. Pryor said.

The concept is a way both for students to take ownership of their own education, and to speed them toward degree completion. That, developers hope, would both increase student retention in the early years, and decrease the amount of debt they must take on to receive degrees.

Many students struggle in their early college careers while they complete standard required courses, Mr. Allred said, frustrated either by failures or the disconnect between what they are learning and what they want to know.

“It’s hard for students sometimes to understand the relevance in what they are doing in these courses to things that matter to them,” Mr. Allred said.

Dr. Jacobs said UT will continue its research in solar energy and partner with the local solar industry.

A university professor recently received a National Science Foundation grant of $1.9 million for work on solar cells, and UT Innovation Enterprises partner firm ISOFOTON is developing a factory in Napoleon that could eventually employ as many as 330 workers.

Dr. Jacobs said the university will focus on developing deep relationships with a small number of international partners, in particular the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, PSG Institutions in Coimbatore, India, and one or several universities in China.

Mayor Mike Bell, who attended the speech, said he liked Dr. Jacobs’ focus on international engagement, as it paralleled similar efforts by his administration. The university plans to build strong relationships with institutions in India, Lebanon, and China.

“We both see the value in trying to increase our international partnerships,” Mayor Bell said.

Though focused on UT’s success, Dr. Jacobs also acknowledged a recent failure at the university’s Medical Center and expressed regret about the botched kidney transplant, but also praised the university’s response. The university’s kidney transplant program was voluntarily suspended last month after an Aug. 10 incident that led to a viable kidney being discarded instead of being transferred into the donor’s sister.

The kidney transplant surgeon at the center of an investigation into a botched surgery has temporarily lost his director title, and three staff members were suspended. One nurse ultimately resigned.

Dr. Jacobs said during his speech that the error was regrettable, but that the reaction to such errors was “of extreme importance.” He said the university notified oversight agencies immediately after the surgery, analyzed what went wrong, and tightened safeguards. He thanked staff Thursday for how they reacted.

“I join you in being sorry for the isolated incident,” Dr. Jacobs said, “but want you to know that I trust you and appreciate you.”