Education

Innovation on the Brain

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Local Colleges Take Education Higher

Quick, picture a college classroom. What do you imagine? If you see rows of students quietly taking notes as a professor stands at the chalkboard or lectures from a podium, think again. Today”s students are more likely to be found clustered in small groups, taking part in discussions or giving presentations. And many of their professors are giving up the chalk in favor of video from their laptops or other new advances in technology.

For example, recognizing that email is no longer fast enough for today”s students, professors at Georgia Gwinnett College send class updates via cell phone text messages. Gwinnett Technical College, meanwhile, employs Student Response Systems, credit-card-sized keypads that allow students to respond to questions in class, letting instructors know immediately whether a subject needs additional review.

Technology isn”t the only thing that”s changing on campus. Whereas freshmen classes were once made up mostly of students fresh out of high school, colleges are seeing more students of all ages, including mid-life career-changers. Year-round applications and start dates, more flexible course times and online courses are all making college more available to students with work or family obligations.

Thinking Ahead
Beyond flexible technology and scheduling, colleges are recognizing the importance of cultivating flexible thinking through problem-solving activities and creative learning experiences. Best-selling author Daniel Pink would tell you that this is part of a larger, necessary shift in our culture. Pink”s recent book A Whole New Mind argues that as many purely knowledge and information-based jobs are outsourced overseas or replaced by computers, it will take right-brain skills like creativity, empathy and big-picture thinking for workers in the modern economy to succeed. Citing the number of corporations hiring poets, designers, and other creative types, Pink goes so far as to argue that the Master of Fine Arts degree "is the new MBA."

Look around local colleges and universities, and it would seem that Pink is right on the money. Georgia Institute of Technology, one of the nation”s most respected research and engineering schools, now has a poetry program. That”s right. Poetry. Created by two separate endowments (one by H. Bruce McEver, an engineering alumnus with a love of writing), the program makes poetry available to all Georgia Tech students and the community at large through writing courses, free community workshops and readings by major visiting writers.

"I tell my students these classes help their lives, not just their careers. They will help them live better inner lives and be better lawyers, better doctors, better businesspeople," says Thomas Lux, Georgia Tech”s Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne, Jr. Chair in Poetry and author of more than a dozen books of poetry. "Imagination is a necessary thing for life, not just for art. Don”t engineers have to make leaps of the imagination? Don”t they have to think metaphorically as well as logically? Aren”t great scientists and engineers making a kind of poetry?"

From Theory to Practice
Georgia Gwinnett College is equally committed to fostering creativity and innovation among its students. The college, which opened its doors in August of 2006, takes a holistic approach to student development, emphasizing leadership, social and civic development, as well as academic skills. To this end, the college has integrated its offices of academic affairs and student affairs, teaching academic theory and giving students the chance to practice applying that theory through student clubs, civic activities, internships and more. The idea is to develop stud