Land Grant 2.0

Washington State University’s new Vice President for Economic Development and WSU Extension, John Gardner writes,

“My sense at reading the expectations of Washingtonians, the Regents, and our students is an amazing amount of consensus. They want a state university that gives them a leg up in the new economy, knows the new rules, and will assist WA and the Pacific Northwest to be among the innovation leaders globally.”


“A common theme in them all is the clear responsibility we have to build our capacity for creativity and research. And – importantly – an obligation to couple that research with application in adding value to our students, businesses, the environment, government and the economy as a whole.”

Several of Gardner’s posts indicate that he is trying to re-think “Extension” in a land-grant university and connect its historic mission with the Web 2.0 realities. This is a very interesting direction.

Regarding the last quote, its worth looking at ThinkCycle which seems to be engaged in an Extension-like coupling of universities with creative capacity to people with real problems. They say:

“At the heart of the community is an evolving database of reasonably well-posed problems and ongoing design solutions contributed by universities, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), companies and the general public. The system is primarily aimed at, but in no way limited to, using the design and engineering skills of the students and researchers in universities worldwide. One scenario is for professors to assign challenges to their students, assist them in working collaboratively with communities and organizations in developing countries while encouraging peer review from domain experts of evolving design solutions archived on ThinkCycle. Motivated teams of students may also work on critical design challenges as independent study projects with their departments. The objective is to document all evolving design solutions, rationale, processes, peer reviews and contributions within a searchable and cross-referenced system.

What strikes me about this approach is the global literacies that ThinkCycle is promoting which I marked in bold in the quotation above. Not only are students gaining experience on problems, they are building evidence of their competencies in what might be called a portfolio within the ThinkCycle system. Since the system is open for searching, one could imagine members of one team seeking out people in the system who have demonstrated expertise in a related area and enlisting their help.

What is important about this form of global university education is that it is authentic and open. Its not a closed couse in WebCT and the problems are not toys with right answers set by the instructor.

Elsewhere, Gardner says of Extension “Our faculty located in county offices across the state provide a network of local contacts, invaluable to knowing and responding to the needs of Washingtonians.” This knowing and responding could well involve students, as extension faculty bring problems into focus in the same way ThinkCycle does.

3 Responses to “Land Grant 2.0”

  1. SC Spaeth Says:

    I tried to get various people at WSU to see our work in DecS 340 as an expansion of the traditional mission of Teaching, Research and Extension from the domain of faculty and graduate students to all students. I did not get much traction. Gardner’s leadership may help to advance that idea.

  2. SC Spaeth Says:

    The network of extension agents is wonderful, well-distributed and should be exploited for all it is worth. But it is also on the expense side of the ledger. Undergraduate students pay us to tell them what to do. If we can’t figure out how to invite them into more engaging and productive activities (ala HD 410, DecS 340 and others) we don’t deserve to be in the global big ring.

  3. Reimagining both learning & learning institutions « One small step for man Says:

    […] a result of looking for colleagues interested in ideas that could transform the university (and the Land Grant mission) in line with the thinking above (see our DML […]

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