Institute for Transformational Learning drives academic innovation

Steven Mintz

Higher education institutions face a choice: Play offense, play defense or stand on the sidelines. The UT System, through its Institute for Transformational Learning (ITL), chose to play offense and address head-on the severe challenges that public post-secondary education faces: insufficiently high retention and graduation rates, escalating costs, business models under severe strain and uncertain learning and post-graduation employment outcomes.

The ITL’s three-pronged strategy was to work hand-in-glove with faculty to design, test, and implement new educational models to bring more students to a bright future; design and implement the digital infrastructure needed to support the future of higher education; and build campus capacity to market and deliver state-of-the-art online programming, offer wrap-around student support services, and make effective use of data analytics.

Its accomplishments including working in partnership with two medical schools to help design state-of-the-art competency-based curricula; a biomedical sciences “Middle School to Medical School” pathway that attracted national attention; and a host of online initiatives, including a Cybersecurity program from UT San Antonio and UTxHealth, a multi-campus initiative to capitalize on the UT System’s strengths in the health sciences.

Its work on alternate credentials, a universal competency-based transcript, a multi-institutional credentials marketplace, structured pathways, military crosswalks, curriculum mapping aligned with marketable skills and fresh approaches to student life cycle management services will continue to be pursued widely, across and outside the UT System.

All across the country — including at UT-Austin — colleges and universities are establishing centers and institutes to drive academic innovation, harness educational technologies, champion technology-enhanced teaching and learning, and provide seed funding for breakthrough educational models.  The ITL has served as the model for such initiatives and attracted millions of dollars in outside funding to support innovation.  

Innovation is an iterative process and I feel confident that the ITL vision — with its emphasis on mastery, well-defined pathways undergirded by detailed knowledge mapping, personalization of pace and learning trajectory, interactive courseware with advanced simulations, bilingual content, powerful social experiences and a host of micro-credentials aligned with the job market — will have a long-term impact on the broad access institutions that serve the bulk of the nation’s students.

Steven Mintz is Professor of History and Founding Executive Director of the UT System’s Institute for Transformational Learning.