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The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out Hardcover – July 26, 2011
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"Scholars will find this work a good point of departure for asking more pointed questions about how nest to meet the demands of an increasingly disparate population of students (and potential students) who have different needs and expectations from previous generations of college-going individuals." — Journal of College Student Retention Vol. 15 (3)
From the Inside Flap
The language of crisis is nothing new in higher educationfor years critics have raised alarms about rising tuition, compromised access, out of control costs, and a host of other issues. Yet, though those issues are still part of the current crisis, it is not the same as past ones. For the first time, disruptive technologies are at work in higher education. For most of their histories, traditional universities and colleges have had no serious competition except from institutions with similar operating models. Now, though, there are disruptive competitors offering online degrees. Many of these institutions operate as for-profit entities, emphasizing marketable degrees for working adults. Traditional colleges and universities have valuable qualities and capacities that can offset those disruptors' advantagesbut not for everyone who aspires to higher education, and not without real innovation. How can institutions of higher education think constructively and creatively about their response to impending disruption?
Written by Clayton Christensen, the father of the theory of disruptive innovation, and his colleague, Henry J. Eyring, The Innovative University offers a nuanced and hopeful analysis of the traditional university and its DNA. It explores how and why universities must change to ensure future success.
Throughout the book Christensen and Eyring show what it takes to apply Christensen's acclaimed model of disruptive innovation to a higher education environment. Through a penetrating examination of the histories and current transformations of two very different universitiesHarvard and BYU-Idahoand using other illustrative examples of innovation in higher education, The Innovative University explores how universities can find innovative, less costly ways of performing their uniquely valuable functions and thereby save themselves from decline. The book explores the strategic choices and alternative ways in which traditional universities can change to ensure their ongoing economic vitality. To avoid the pitfalls of disruption and turn the scenario into a positive and productive one, universities must re-engineer their institutional DNA from the inside out.
The Innovative University reveals how the traditional university survives by breaking with tradition, but thrives by building upon what it's done best.
Top Customer Reviews
The major strength of the book is the track record and credibility of the authors. Christiansen's concept of disruptive innovation is well-regarded and influential in business circles and he has a stellar reputation as a teacher. As the foreword makes clear, the finished book itself is mainly the product of Henry Eyring, who worked with Kim Clark at Brigham Young; Clark is the well-respected former Dean from the Harvard Business School, where Christiansen has spent his academic career. Christiansen suffered a severe stroke that meant that his contribution to the book was constrained but his name is the primary attraction for readers. It was exactly that for me and much of my disappointment and frustration is that so little of the verve and crystalline clarity of his Creative Disruption comes through; his sad illness accounts for much of that.
The other strength is the shared experience and leadership of Kim Clark who took on the challenge of the presidency of Brigham Young and Feyring's helping turn around BYU-Idaho's low-ranked and ever lower business school as a moral mission experience and commitment as a leader. Both he, Clark and Christiansen are devout Mormons and everything I know of them is of three truly first-rate people. Together, the book draws on the intellectual power of Christiansen, the academic leadership experience of Clark and management/academic track record of Eyring. This gives the book credibility and reflects a true commitment to the essence of education.
That may be enough to attract you as a reader. It is definitely a worthy piece of work. It's cumbersomely structured and a little labored in its style. It has very much the flavor and article in a policy journal, such as Foreign Affairs, where the presentation is serious and aims at communicating substance rather than being a fun read or trying to sell some new idea.
Now for the weaknesses. Time for a quick Truth In Reviewing note; I was on the faculty of the Harvard Business School an aeon or so ago, got my masters and doctorate there, have been a professor at MIT, Stanford and comparable foreign universities. I know the territory well. I just don't recognize it from this book. It is very much the view from a school that is unique (HBS) within a unversity that is almost unique (Harvard -- it is very comparable to my alma mater Oxford University -- historic, central to many social and political issues and suffering from a syndrome of Very Important to itself and its alumni ). Far too much of the first 140 pages is the Harvard story. Harvard is not in any way representative of colleges and their challenges any more than, say, the last fifty years experiences of Duke University college basketball is of high school basketball -- same game, entirely different issues. HBS is in another sport -- Formula One car racing perhaps. The book again and again ignores a massive range of issues that don't matter for HBS/Harvard but absolutely dominate across the university landscape. There is just a short chapter on the tenure process, acknowledged as somewhat tough and distorting both research and teaching but very detached and abstract. You cannot understand anything about a college, department, or individual professor if you don't have fairly in-depth insight into the tenure track, tenure decisions, journal rankings, research funding, etc., etc. It's core to the DNA of universities and many times more complex and even more consequential than public school teacher unions and teacher accountability.
Another topic entirely omitted is the administrative burden of colleges. The issue of tuition increases is well-understood but the major problem is that administrative costs are typically over 40% of total income. State funding is being cut by as much as 20% across the board. One impact is that fewer students are being tiaght by tenure track professors. In some schools, as much as 75% of the teaching is done by adjuncts paid by the course. The fee is around $3,000, so that any adjunct carrying a full teaching load can expect to earn about $20,000 a year!!! None of this is even hinted at in the view from HBS, where the revenues are high, professors do not have to tread the academic journal mill to get tenure (to my knowledge, Christiansen has no academic publications), students are taught by real professors, and administration is first-rate. There is surprisingly little coverage from a BYU perspective. I don't recall a single sentence on either adjuncts or admin. The coverage of the book is so off base that it undermines the entire thrust and promise of its subtitle "Changing the DNA of higher education from the inside out." In terms of relevance and accuracy this is a one-star book.
The recommendations are broad and fuzzy. The authors accept that whatever the positive future turns out to be, it will increasingly exploit online learning. This should be given the 140 pages of indepth coverage, but looking forward instead of back, that is devoted to Harvard College/HBS history. There is not a single interesting or original comment about the practicalities of moving online. This is the true disruptive innovation where Phoenix has been a pace-setter, more and more colleges offering online MBAs, business shifting its inhouse training onto the Web, social networking, e-books, and many other foreces swirling around in a turbulent millstream of transition. This book talks at the level of "The Internet is really important and will play a big role in education. You will be able to get your degree....."
I'll end my review here without going into detail. I do want to help you make your own decision but for me personally this is a one-star book, if that, and I could write a dozen pages on where for me it entirely misses its targets. But it's a worthy effort by admirable people whose experience is broad and commitment deep. I can't recommend it to any audience. If you know the field, this is offbase and adds nothing new. If you are a general reader concerned about the decline of education in so many areas, it's misleading and doesn't offer more than bland general ideas and recommendations. If you are a professor at a state university, a dean or a n administrator, there's nothing new and much that I think you'd see as missing the point.
I have been doing research on the future of education both to find areas where I can improve "in the field" at my current job as a teacher, and also as part of research for a major graduate school (the latter being the primary impetus for this book.) I pre-ordered the book after reading "Disrupting Class," by Clayon Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson and Michael Horn. That book analyzes the future of education on a K-12 level, applying the ideas from Christensen's model of disruptive innovation to provide insight and I assumed this would do the same. It does not.
While Disrupting Class was (in my opinion) a fearless, hard look at what K-12 is, and the advances and changes in technology fit the structure of disruptive innovation, I felt that the authors had a harder time with this book. It may because they both spend their lives within the walls of the universities they discuss, but it did not seem like there was the same force behind the critique.
The book is developed by presenting a history of Harvard University and BYU-Idaho. In theory this offers insight into how modern college got to looking like it does today, but the history goes on for well over 200 pages, and I had a hard time finding much value in the process. It felt a little self indulgent to me. Only in the last 50-60 pages does the future of college really come into the discussion, and there there was hard analysis, most was soft recommendation.
The authors also made a critical, and somewhat ironic error (again in my opinion) in their analysis when they consider the role of the university. They state that the role of a university is in discovery, memory and mentoring (in essence, finding information, retaining information and passing on information.) They do not make mention or minimize (whether intentionally or inadvertently) other elements universities provide like certification, a network, a structure that provides discipline etc. This is seemingly because they focused on the knowledge (and the role a university plays,) instead of on the student and the role the university plays for him/her. Considering that a major focus of both of the works by Christensen is "student-centric" education, this seemed like a major misstep, and in my mind means they left out critical factors in their analysis. (They also ignore the role of free education online.)
As others have stated, the model of Disruptive Innovation does not seem to apply to higher education in the same way as it does to K-12 or other fields. The author's may agree with this stance, as there is far less use of the disruptive models in this book than in other books by Christensen. Unfortunately, the author's did not take the time to show why colleges are different and where those differences are. They simply reverted to trying to force some ideas into the structure, and let things remain a bit loose all around. Further, the book seemed to be designed for people working in colleges, and did not provide much insight to help people going to college (or sending kids to college) in making the most of the opportunity.
All in all, I found the actual book quite underwhelming for my purposes. It provided a rather long history of the development of college in this country, and hit on many ideas, albeit in a fairly loose form. The book does provide insights into a lot of areas and provides a starting point for consideration of many ideas (and the sources provided offer a tremendous amount of material worth looking at.)
I rate the book 2 stars because it did not "deliver" what it seemed to be designed to, and honestly, the book seemed like it could have been half the length. If you are interested in the history of education in this country or work in a school, there is value here (though for the latter, the final 60 pages may be more than enough.) If you are looking to understand how technology and globalization will affect how colleges function going forward, I am not sure this is the place.