Educating for a Creative Era
By David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville
Issue 14 Spring | Summer 2015
Richard Florida speaks about the “rise of the creative class.” Tom Friedman tells us “the world is flat,” and Dan Pink says we need a “whole new [creative] mind.” David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville, educators and authors of A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education, join the ranks of these important thought leaders to advocate for fundamental education reform. In this article, they share why the nine-century long consensus of the university as an assembly of experts is now irrevocably misaligned with the world in which we live. They posit a new model of higher education that unleashes broadly educated and cultivated designers.
This worked well enough in an era that valued expertise. From the founding of the university to the industrial revolution and the years after World War II, returns on expertise largely increased. The university as an assembly of experts produced lawyers, engineers, industrial designers, accountants, and English majors who were content to absorb deep knowledge of their disciplines. However, the invention of the microprocessor, the Internet and the web browser changed the world of knowledge and work irrevocably.
Widespread access to the fruits of centuries of human knowledge online diminishes the value of knowing any one thing in particular. Certainly massive open online courses (MOOCS) show this to be the case for the usual “expert” activities of college teaching. Even in the realms of research and business, younger and younger entrepreneurs are making breakthrough discoveries or starting companies without waiting to obtain a university degree. The rapidly increasing financial burden of post-secondary education exacerbates this growing disconnect. Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal once labeled universities as “indulgences that amass enormous debt for the sort of secular salvation that a diploma represents.”
Whether one agrees with Thiel’s strident criticism or not, it is clear this disconnect demonstrates how knowing is no longer enough, and that particular cognitive expertise needs to be balanced by something else. A Whole New Engineer tackles this at the level of individuals by appealing to a combination of ideas from developmental psychologists. We propose that Howard Gardiner’s work on multiple intelligences and Carol Dweck’s growth versus fixed mindsets together form the concept of six minds of a whole new engineer:
1 Analytical mind
2 Design mind
3 People mind
4 Linguistic mind
5 Body mind
6 Mindful mind
Educating students to use all six minds cultivates a set of “sharp soft skills” akin to those developed by executive coaches in service to their clients. These skills are especially necessary and urgent today, as our ability to generate vast amounts of rich knowledge has almost completely overwhelmed our ability to integrate that knowledge and put it to use for the benefit of humankind.
EVERY PERSON AN UNLEASHED DESIGNER
It is our belief that we have entered a new era where knowing is no longer superior to doing, and where we must all be educated to access this universal bounty of knowledge in service to doing something of meaning. In other words, in this new era of creativity we must all be educated as designers in the broad sense of the term. While knowing remains important, it must now be balanced with skills that enable young people to feel confident that they can go out into the world to have meaningful impact.
In our curriculum at Olin College, in Illinois and elsewhere, we found the essential changes necessary to instill this confidence were surprisingly emotional and cultural. In fact, education reform today is fundamentally an unleashing of education in which trust begets courage begets initiative begets failure begets authentic learning. With this reframing, education is less about learning a particular thing than it is about learning to learn, and continuously learning in service to meaningful doing.
FROM KNOWING TO DOING WITH MEANING
Although the movement behind A Whole New Engineer was meant to transform engineering education, many of the ideas and stories of the movement will find a welcome home in other disciplines. Students and teachers of all backgrounds can simply replace the word “engineer” with the word “designer” and join in a new era of educating to help overcome the tyranny of knowing over doing.
While content, curriculum and pedagogy are important, emotion and culture are the crucial elements of change. By engaging all six minds – analytical, design, people, linguistic, body and mindful – educators can instill joy, trust, connection and openness in students to catalyze a whole new workforce for the 21st Century.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
from fixed mindsets to growth mindsets
on learning to learn rather than learning a particular thing
a curriculum to engage the six minds
confidence around ‘doing with meaning’
About the Authors
David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville
David E. Goldberg (left) is President of the non-profit Big Beacon, the change consulting firm ThreeJoy, and also a noted computer scientist, civil engineer and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He resigned his tenure and distinguished professorship in 2010 to work full time for the transformation of engineering education.
Mark Somerville (right) is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics at Olin College, where he also serves as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Development.
Goldberg and Somerville are the co-authors, with Catherine Whitney, of “A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education,” published earlier this year by ThreeJoy Associates and available in hardcover and all major e-book formats.
A Whole New Engineer: www.wholenewengineer.org
Big Beacon: www.bigbeacon.org