National University of Singapore and UTown

In a quest to extend my knowledge and understanding of higher education around the world, I had the occasion to visit the National University of Singapore (NUS) in April 2014.  A quick bus tour through the campus revealed a large, urban campus not unlike a U.S. research university filled with research facilities, academic buildings, residence halls, sport complexes, administration buildings, faculty offices and much more.

NUS logo

NUS began as a small medical college and in less than a century has become a large, vibrant complex for higher education in Singapore and in Asia.  A review of NUS’s website further reveals the depth and breadth of the university and its importance to the region. Impressive!


And then we visited the newest addition to the University – University Town (known as UTown).  Even more impressive!  UTown is described as “an educational hub complete with residential spaces, teaching facilities and study clusters, UTown has created a lively intellectual, social and cultural environment that distinguishes the University through excellence in learning and student engagement”.

logo_utownUTown ERCimage-about-erc-learning-cafe

image-about-townplaza  As we toured the complex, we were informed by the undergraduate and graduate student guides of the benefits and uniqueness of the newly developed UTown.  We visited the Educational Resources Center with its highly interactive use of space and technology followed by the Cafe and Plaza areas designed specifically to engage students (undergraduate, graduate) in conversations.  Undergraduate students and graduate students live in the multi-story and multi-building complex with the graduate students serving as mentors and resident advisors.  According to our guides, the students have a voice in the services provided and the selection of the businesses allowed in UTown; if the service is not high quality, the businesses will not be allowed to continue in UTown (very different decision-making processes here).  

Located with UTown is the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE), an international research campus and innovation hub with access to students and faculty of NUS.  CREATE houses a vibrant research community with interdisciplinary research centers, technology incubators and access to Singapore corporate laboratories.

NUS University-Town (UTown) provided us a glimpse into higher education in the future which values innovation, sustainability and technological enhancements and actively promotes interdisciplinary educational opportunities, research experiences, and corporate and civic engagement.  Key to success seems to be its attention to and the robust efforts toward work-life integration.

Although smaller in scale, the efforts of the Virginia Tech Graduate School especially the Graduate Life Center (GLC) and the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative have followed along a similar path.  NUS UTown stands now as a model and provides excellent examples of programs and initiatives for us to consider.


In the early 1990s a colleague used the word “futurisktic” or at least that’s what I thought I heard. (Note: I tried to give him credit years ago but he claims not to have coined the word).  Anyway, I was intrigued by the word that cleverly combined future and risk and I quickly adopted it for use in my musings about the future and in some of my presentations and publications.

Seth Godin wrote a recent blog in which he argued that “every presentation worth doing has just one purpose” and that is to make change happen.  According to Godin, “change, of course, opens doors, it creates possibilities and it’s fraught with danger and apparent risk.

 Much easier to deny this than it is to embrace it.”  Godin’s advice seems to fit with what I identify as futurisktic.

As a concept, “futurisktic” implies keeping an eye to and a vision for the future with attention to the opportunities and challenges (risks) associated with progress.  Being futurisktic is about change.  It is about embracing risk as an integral aspect of change.  Risk should not be viewed as a negative but risk taking will likely force us out of our comfort zones.  By doing so, it allows us to acknowledge and embrace the meaningfulness and value of change.  I’m not arguing for change simply for change sake or simply taking risks without thought.  Being futurisktic is about pushing ourselves and pushing the limits as is so wonderfully exemplified in the video entitled the future is ours.

Another example among many is the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the learning revolution in which he describes the need for revolution not evolution. To actively engage in transformation and to acknowledge that often what stops us from making progress is the “tyranny of common sense.”  Robinson argues for and encourages us to become active participants in the learning revolution.

These examples are but a few of those that illustrate futurisktic endeavors.  They provide examples of intentional, purposeful and meaningful change – growth, progress and advancement.  We live in a time of rapid change.  As we engage change, I encourage us to be futuristic in our thinking with a willingness to take risks – that is, futurisktic!


Graduate education and web 2.0

I’ve been thinking a lot about the World Wide Web and social media and their impact and utility in graduate schools.  Conceptually I have understood the functionality associated with Web 1.0 and 2.0 and have sought to utilize these phases for enhanced digital interaction and communication.  What follows are some of my initial musings.

As a 21st century institution, the VT graduate school has undergone a transition from the traditional role as an administrative office to ‘a place and space for graduate education.’  Throughout the last century, graduate schools (not unlike other institutions) tended to operate as “top down” offices providing information (policy, procedures) through “static” means (catalogs, manuals) to “users” (constituencies, especially students) as the receivers of information.  Words similar to these have been used to describe the early days of the World Wide Web (1.0) – users could only view (receive) information and not contribute to the “webpages”, users (constituencies) as consumers of content not active participants, and the information wasn’t dynamic.  Although available since 1993, the use of web technology by graduate schools began in earnest mostly in the 21st century and reflected the Web 1.0 approach of delivery to consumers.  We took what we did and delivered it electronically.

The onset of Web 2.0 in 2002 and the availability of interactive tools and social media ultimately challenged graduate schools (as well as universities and national associations) to examine our operations and to embrace the change which was well underway.  Web 2.0 allows for uses beyond the static delivery of content.  It allows users to generate, interact and collaborate in virtual community.  Web 2.0 tools include wikis, blogs, and numerous social networking sites.  The VT Graduate School was one of the first in the nation to move to Web 2.0 conceptually and to build interactive tools (e.g., on-line catalog, featured graduate student, upcoming examinations) and to embrace social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook), all of which are inter-connected on the Graduate School website.   These examples and the development of the virtual GLC (vGLC) are still works in progress and ones that draw upon the greater interactivity of Web 2.0.

Today graduate schools must actively encourage sharing of information, the creation on content, and collaboration among the constituencies.  Although there is some “content to be delivered” the message and tools of Web 2.0 challenges graduate schools to think differently about what we do and how we do it and I’m not just referring to the administrative functions but the whole of the graduate education.  Using web technologies, graduate schools (2.0+) must rethink graduate education, embrace change and redefine “space and place” to include the brick and mortar of the physical space as well as the digital space and build graduate community.