Ashoka U: Changemaking on Campuses

18 Feb

(Update: I’ve already raised over $1,200 on Indiegogo, and a couple hundred outside of the online campaign. If you haven’t yet, check out the campaign page to learn more about Eduventure 2012!)

The Ashoka U Exchange was the first leg of the Eduventure 2012 endeavor to learn about what innovations are happening in the higher education space to creatively prepare changemakers for the future of our world. The conference happened over a course of two days and included several sessions as well as a TEDxAshokaU. I interviewed several student participants, which you can watch in the video above (I apologize for the sound quality), and I will soon be posting other videos and interviews from the conference in the next few days. As I say in the video, the conference was not only focused on how to begin to teach “social entrepreneruship” on college campuses, but how we can begin to use the same creative, entrepreneurial thinking in order to change the higher education system through disruptive innovation.

Some of my biggest takeways from the conference:

  • For a while now I have been trying to figure out the connection between two of my interests: Social Entrepreneurship/Innovation and Alternative Education. A lot of people I know in these spaces have one foot in each realm, so I knew that others have seen and understood this connection as well and saw them as interrelated. After attending the 2012 Ashoka U Exchange Conference, I am closer to being able to verbalize why these two realms are connected. Successful entrepreneurs tend to think in a creative, action-oriented manner, and don’t allow themselves to be limited by the dominant system. They want to be game-changers, people who find a new service, product, program, or system that can change the world. I think that this in a way describes many of the Eduventurists I have interviewed. They don’t wait for permission to start learning on their own or following a different path. They know what is needed and they go for it. Which is why I see a new kind of higher education program needed for creative and entrepreneurial learners who seek more autonomy, diversity, and experience in their learning, yet still need certain support structures and networks. Please comment if you would like to add on to (or even have a difference of opinion) on this point!
  • The way social entrepreneurs learn can serve as a model and solution for learning in most other disciplines. It calls for an interdisciplinary approach, as well as for the ability to adapt to new situations and to navigate chaos. Entrepreneurs of any kind need to be able to predict the future and sense what is happening in the world and in the market. Now with so much of our world changing very rapidly due to technology, globalization, and other factors, many professions call for this mindset. So although I’m focusing on social entrepreneurship education, the ways of learning that I am finding out about can (and in my opinion should) be applied to many different educational settings and programs.
  • Many school administrators and staff admire students who take the initiative to play an active role in helping to shape the academic environment (of course this is of course not true of all academic settings, unfortunately). The presidents and faculty of several schools who were attending the Exchange, including those of Tulane University, Arizona State University, Babson College, and New York University continually voice this sentiment while speaking about how the student voice was a big part of why they decided to begin to embed more opportunities for social innovation and entrepreneurship learning.
  • Many of these universities (ranging from large state and private schools to smaller independent schools) were aware of disruptive change that was facing their universities, and were taking seriously the challenge to begin to create a new system. President Cowen of Tulane University (and an advisor to President Obama) even said, “We are lost in higher education. We are running our institutions in a 20th century mindset, without clarity for what the 21st century holds.”
  • Many students I interviewed were saying that they were hoping for more institutions to value and recognize experiential learning. For people working in the social sector, experience is key. A woman representing the business school at Duke University was saying that when they first started teaching social entrepreneurship, they recognized their limitations in keeping the learning within the four walls of the classroom. They now have students interning with local social enterprises, as well as offering “challenges” with real grant money as a prize for students working to create their own. 
  • It seems that many young people are worried about how to find the intersection of what they are good at, what they enjoy, and how they can make a living. Particularly for students at this conference, a huge motivation is to make a difference in the world. There needs to be a lot more guidance for students who are worried about how they can sustain themselves but also contribute to positively impacting our world. One organization in particular had a great session where participants brainstormed ways in which they could create or find a job that included the necessary pieces. Check out Echoing Green and their book/toolkit “Work on Purpose” to learn more!
  • There was a lot of talk about technology and education. I think the term “technology” turns many traditional educators off because it sounds very impersonal. However, I believe that when used appropriately, technology can enhance the social experience of learning and create a more collaborative and inviting classroom experience. It was interesting to see the surprised and positive reactions of educators at the conference when they learned about certain tools and methodologies for how to conscientiously harness this power. And as one panelist said in a session on competencies needed by the future: “Information used to be scarce. Now it is abundant. What is now scarce is talent and skill.” The particular talent needed is the ability to make sense of and act on the overload of information that we now have access to. So in all disciplines, across the board, we need to be preparing students to be able to make sense of this information in a highly skilled manner, and to then be able to make, do, and change our world.

This conference was also just a great place to meet new people, as well as people I had been in contact with online but never had never met in person until this point. I encourage other college-age students to consider attending next year! Visit the Ashoka U website to learn more. 

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One Response to “Ashoka U: Changemaking on Campuses”

  1. sophie February 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    two thoughts; 1) if you haven’t seen this, its a tedtalk on raising, and educating entrepeneurs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx3GuO41Jyg and some bits of it actually remind me vaguely of how i was raised, and of how i will someday, hopefully, raise my kids.
    2) we have to skype about this, BUT, when i was in bali, i went to a constellation workshop (which is kind of difficult to explain, but easier when spoken..) and one woman constellated her relationship with passion, money, and blocks in her life. constellations allow us to see energetic movements and relationships in our life that we may be unable or unwilling to see otherwise. what was phenomenal, was that the representatives for money and passion were basically stuck together. i’ll explain more, better later- but it’s good news!

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