BYUI’s innovative education model discussed in new book


People rarely discuss BYU-Idaho and Harvard in the same sentence, but it appears that is beginning to change.

BYUI is compared to Harvard in a book released this month which is making universities all over the country rethink their academic strategy. “The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out” discusses the changing landscape of higher education and what will happen if traditional universities do not change their models of education.

In the book, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen and BYUI administrator Henry J. Eyring compare Harvard and BYUI in terms of structure and history. Eyring said he thinks most people would be surprised at such comparisons.

The idea of writing this book began in 2008, when Eyring was thinking how novel it was that BYU Idaho began offering courses to students in Manhattan — a different practice than most traditional universities at the time. He mentioned the idea to his wife, who said, “Well, BYU Idaho has different DNA.” From that point on, Eyring said he wanted to compare the traditional model for today’s universities, like Harvard, and BYU Idaho’s disruptive model of education.

He turned to Christensen, whom he dubbed as the “father of the disruptive innovation theory.” Disruptive innovation is when an industry has a change occur in the process of making or creating a service or good. A good example of this are Japanese car manufacturers who invented a new way to cheaply create cars which could be specialized to a consumer’s desires, Eyring explained. This is different than other forms of innovation which focus on improving an already existent form of production or education.

Together, Christensen and Eyring explored the history of Harvard, particularly in the late 19th century, and found that many of today’s universities all follow the same basic formula, or have the same DNA, which Harvard began and popularized. However, with new technology, universities are facing many new opportunities and challenges.

“Clayton and I looked at how in particular with online tech, there is for the first time in 150 years the potential for disruptive innovation in higher education,” Eyring said.

BYUI is unique because it does many things which are not common at most universities, such as year-round school, the opportunity to take a mix of online classes and “regular” classes, and no official sports programs that represent the university. But what surprises many people is that this was all part of the plan.

When President Gordon B. Hinckley announced Ricks College was going to be changed to BYU-Idaho, he also announced that the fundamental “DNA” was going to change as well.

“BYU-Idaho will operate on an expanded year-round basis, incorporating innovative calendaring and scheduling while also taking advantage of advancements in technology which will enable the four-year institution to serve more students,” President Hinckley said during the announcement 11 years ago.  “In addition, BYU-Idaho will phase out its involvement in intercollegiate athletics and shift its emphasis to a year-round activity program designed to involve and meet the needs of a diverse student body.”

These ideas of changing a two-semester course to a year-round schedule and using online courses as the basis of education are unique. Eyring said he hopes universities will begin to adapt these ideas, otherwise the cost of traditional education may become so great that students will seek other options for higher education.

“We want to see traditional colleges and universities innovate so that they can survive,” Eyring said. “We also want to see more students have an opportunity of a college experience that involves a real college campus.”

Although the book was just released this month, the reviews so far are positive. Jeff Lindsay, co-author of  “Conquering Innovation Fatigue,” expressed his appreciation for the ideas discussed in “The Innovation University.”

“Like many of the best books about the future, this one is based upon a great deal of history,” Lindsay said on the “Conquering Innovation Fatigue” website. “Much of the book explores the stages of development in education and business models for two very different schools … The scholarship is outstanding, the writing crisp and clear, and the stories told interesting and instructive.”

The book took about three and a half years to produce, and was reviewed by many of the former presidents and deans of Harvard before publishing. It is available online and at bookstores across the country.

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