help us to create richer representations of these higher-level goals. Achieving this
needs to be a major research goal.
We must also protect privacy. The goal is to allow everyone to learn from the
collective experience of the past — not to explore the particular history of any
individual. The tools we create to support decision making by students, faculty,
staff, and administrators must be built so that they provide access to extensive
information while protecting personal privacy. This is not an impossible task,
but it is one we must make a central requirement from the start.
The greatest challenges are cultural. To make higher education a learning
system, everyone involved is going to have to approach their work in new ways.
Higher education practitioners of all kinds —faculty, staff, and administrators
— will have to rethink how they make decisions. Personal experience, anecdote,
and tradition will have to give way to learning from the experience of all; to
research at all its levels. Students, too, will need to change. They will need to
accept the importance of participation in a learning education system, freely
sharing their experience with others.
Everyone involved in education has questions about what to do and how
to do it well. The best way to answer those questions is by learning from the
experience of everyone who has come before. To make this happen, we have to
take advantage of the information age in which we find ourselves and dissolve
the walls between research and practice in education. We need to gather, refine,
understand, curate, protect, and attend to the extensive data produced by
modern educational systems. We must build tools that help everyone in our
community use this data to answer the questions they have. And it’s not enough
to do this just occasionally, when we’re doing “capital R” research. We need to
do it all the time, as part of everyday practice.
When everyone involved in education is able to learn from the experience of
all, we’ll have become the kind of inclusive, efficient learning community we
aspire to be.
For works cited: go to www.phikappaphi.org/forum/summer2017
TIMOTHY McKAY is the Arthur F. Thurnau professor of physics and director of the LSA Honors Program at the University
of Michigan. He is a data scientist and author of Physics for the Life Sciences, to be published in 2018. McKay is a graduate of
Temple University and The University of Chicago.
To make higher education
a learning system,
everyone involved is going
to have to approach their
work in new ways.