In partnership with the US Department of Education and IDEO, Level recently co-sponsored the Reimagining Higher Education Challenge, which asked people to answer the question: How might we better prepare all learners for the needs of tomorrow by reimagining higher education? Because the goal is to yield tangible solutions for higher education, Level decided to invite the challenge winners to a weeklong Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Boston and help them turn their great ideas into a reality.  

Martin Miller is the Entrepreneurship Program Director and Instructor at Level. He sat down with David Soo, Senior Policy Advisor at the US Department of Education, to discuss higher education and innovation.

Martin: Why is it important for the U.S. Department of Education to get involved in reimagining higher education?
David: Encouraging innovation is important.  The Department seeks to encourage innovation in many ways, including through grant programs like First in the World and through participation in experiments like EQUIP, both of which Northeastern University is participating in. The Reimagining Higher Education Challenge is another way to involve a lot more people in the process; students, faculty, and anybody who cares about education. It’s been great to see the winners come together for the Level entrepreneurship bootcamp.

Martin: Yeah, in-person interaction and finding commonalities in ways of thinking can be much more powerful than an online message board.
David: It’s an important point. Both online education and face-to-face engagement can be useful in different ways. Online engagement can cast a wider net and bring in people from across the world, but sometimes there can be some very powerful effects from face-to-face interaction.

Martin: What were you looking for with the Open IDEO challenge?
David: We wanted the challenge prompt to be as open as possible, but with a focus on solutions related to lifelong learning, relevance to the workforce and equity. 

Martin:Who bears the responsibility for making these changes happen? Does this come from the government?
David: In the case of this challenge, the role for the federal government is to bring people together to source the best ideas and encourage people to work together.  We recognize that the ideas that will transform the higher education system will not come from the government in a top-down manner; they will instead come from come from colleges and universities, entrepreneurs, developers, students, philanthropy, and companies.

OpenIDEO Challenge winners exercising their creativity at Level's Entrepreneurship Bootcamp
OpenIDEO Challenge winners exercising their creativity at Level’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

Martin: What do you see as the role of traditional universities in the future of higher education?
David: Today’s higher education system includes universities, colleges, non-traditional providers and workforce training. In these changing times, the most successful universities will be the ones that are flexible and can navigate new realities. Northeastern has sought to innovate and creates new opportunities to respond to the changing environment, such as this Level Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for OpenIDEO winners. 

Martin: What are you excited about in higher education right now?
David: I’m excited that there’s so much innovation occurring right now, from new applications of learning science incorporating learning analytics to new ways of advising and mentoring students to new providers of education. There are a lot of exciting instances of recent higher education innovation in our recently published Higher Education supplement to the National Education Technology Plan


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