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The Innovative Learning Institute gauntlet

May 13, 2014

"Innovation is creativity with a job to do."

-John Emmerling

"A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad."

-Theodore Roosevelt


I often get asked "What's up with the ILI?" It's a fair question and one that deserves answering so I'm dedicating this post to the Innovative Learning Institute. 

ILILet's start with what it is. On the one hand, the ILI is a unit reporting to me that consists of approximately 18 people and has 2 primary subunits - RIT Online and the Teaching and Learning Services. Dr. Neil Hair is the interim executive director of the ILI, Professor Therese Hannigan is the director of RIT Online and Ian Webber runs the Teaching and Learning Services (TLS). Think of the Teaching and Learning Services as the unit that provides unparalleled service and support to faculty engaged with teaching and learning. RIT Online on the other hand is our locus for online programs and courses, and for making sure the world knows of what we are doing in the online space. The courses and programs all reside in our traditional academic departments; RIT Online provides the wrapping in the form of aggressive marketing, the student support, and the virtual campus.

Why did we launch the ILI? Simply to reassert RIT's leadership with innovations in teaching and learning in higher education. I do not have enough digits to count the number of times people have said that RIT had been an online pioneer but now, not so much. Of course, the institution has been changing and therefore focused on priorities to raise its national and international profile. So the ILI and RIT Online are intended to "throw the gauntlet down" and reclaim RIT's leadership in the innovative learning space. 

Of course there were other factors to the launch of the ILI. The massive open online course (MOOC) movement provoked an intense discussion with the RIT trustees, faculty, and administration. We had a small team of faculty members investigate the landscape and they put forward a number of recommendations; these recommendations greatly informed the construction of the ILI. Finally, there was simply a number of interesting innovative technology developments that afforded new approaches to the delivery of instruction. The advent of inexpensive video capture, for example, led to the creation of the Kahn Academy and the advent of the flipped classroom. So the Teaching and Learning Services had to be at the table defining our next step. 

This brings us to the question: what is the direction of the ILI and what can we expect? To begin, Neil and I share the belief that customer service has to be front and center to the success of the ILI. By this, we mean that the TLS has to provide impeccable support to our faculty by helping them design their courses, supporting the delivery of their courses using MyCourses, and assisting the face-to-face courses on campus. Similarly, RIT Online serves to support the work of the faculty and departments wanting to offer online programs and online courses through demand research, marketing assistance, tracking online students, and experimentation with disruptive technologies. 

RIT Online is starting with a heavy focus on graduate education because that is where the largest market of students is for online programs. Neil and Therese have done extensive market research to understand who the students are, what they want, how they want them, and when they want them. This is why they have pioneered a notion of stackable certificates, starting with bundles of courses, progressing to advanced certificates and ending with full masters-level programs, targeting working professionals looking to add/build competencies and skills. With aggressive pricing to reflect that these students will be online and not on campus, a rich innovative virtual campus environment, and strong marketing techniques, RIT Online is headed for a major start this fall. I know of many faculty, department chairs, and deans who are helping to make the ILI a success. It is gratifying to see the enthusiasm. Faculty like Vic Perotti, Andy Phelps, Rudy Pugliese, Adam Smith, Peter Byrne, Stan Rickel, Peter Bajorski, Deanna Jacobs, Linda Underhill, Bill Wallence, have grabbed the ball and are running with it in creative and exciting ways. They are championing new courses and advanced certificate programs that will directly appeal to that student market out there that wants an RIT experience but online. 

I am confident that the ILI will be a positive force for RIT and I know that Neil and I share the aspiration that we want the RIT faculty to look at this unit as a real resource, providing exceptional value. Help us with your thoughts and input.