Glickman and White: "Managing for Innovation"

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November 2007

In Managing for Innovation (New Directions for Higher Education Number 137, Spring 2007, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco), editors Theodore S. Glickman and Susan C. White bring together a number of recent examples of innovation used within higher education to make more effective and efficient use of resources.

Kevin Kinser, in “Innovation in Higher Education: A Case Study of the Western Governors University” (WGU), shows how challenges led to adaptations in the implementation of but not the goals behind the innovative design and creation of WGU. Begun in 1995, the goal of WGU was to offer access to higher education in an environment of declining state funding, through a competency-based, distance education model. WGU originally planned to include:

  • regional accreditation from all accrediting agencies working in the 19 participating states
  • online courses developed and provided by other institutions
  • off-the-shelf competency assessment tools
  • financial self-support via tuition

As the founders developed WGU, these elements did not play out as expected.

  • WGU could more quickly obtain national accreditation for distance education (one year, compared to the seven years it took for regional accreditation).
  • Online courses developed by others had too much variation and WGU could more effectively contract with only a few institutions to provide specific, desired courses.
  • WGU could not find off-the-shelf competency assessments that met their standards, and thus WGU developed their own assessments internally.
  • It took eight years for WGU to be able to sustain itself on tuition income.

Additionally, while WGU has few teaching faculty, during development they learned that, in distance learning, mentoring, coaching, and advising students has a significant role. Consequently, in the WGU model, these individuals are considered as faculty rather than staff. Thus, while the innovative approach that led to the establishment of WGU was not executed exactly as planned, the designers learned and adjusted as they progressed. As a result, the desired outcome and goal of a school to provide competency-based, distance education for a growing population in a time of decreasing funds was achieved.

In “Universal Design Across the Curriculum,” Robbin Zeff demonstrates how innovations implemented with one specific objective can have numerous unanticipated benefits. The concept of universal design of facilities and equipment, developing an item to be useable by all, rather than adapted after design, arose as one way to provide physical access to those with disabilities. As the concept was implemented, it spread into application to curriculum design and assessment design.

Seven principles of universal design for products and environments were initially developed by architect Ron Mace:

  • equitable use
  • flexibility in use
  • simplicity and intuitiveness in understanding
  • perceptible information
  • tolerance for error
  • low physical effort
  • usability regardless of user’s body size or mobility

The Center for Applied Special Technology, founded in 1984 to look at ways to use technology to assist students with disabilities, reframed these principles as multiple means of representation (lecture, discussion), multiple means of expressions (written, spoken, posters), and multiple means of engagement. Their work often incorporated digital technology to address the learning needs of students with disabilities, and resulted in methods now in use across the whole population.

Joan McGuire, Sally Scott, and Stan Shaw at the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability at the University of Connecticut expanded the original seven principles into nine principles for universal design for instruction:

  • equitable use
  • flexibility in use
  • simple and intuitive instruction
  • perceptible information
  • tolerance for error
  • low physical effort
  • appropriate size and space for approach and use
  • a community of learners
  • instructional climate

The intent was that use of these principles, and faculty development based on these principles, would apply to all students with diverse learning styles, not only those with obvious disabilities.

Finally, in a time of focus on assessment, Sandra Thompson, Christopher Johnstone, and Martha Thurlow adapted the principles of universal design to assessment with: an inclusive population; precisely defined constructs; accessible, nonbiased items; ability to make accommodations; simple, clear, and intuitive instructions and procedures; maximum readability and comprehensibility; and maximum legibility, for an assessment design model to develop assessment approaches that would not have to be modified for different audiences.

These innovative applications of universal design show how the concept can be used to simplify design and eliminate the need for later, sometimes costly, adaptation.