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What if we could start all over again and design higher education from scratch?  What would a university look like if there were no legacies from medieval knowledge traditions, Enlightenment epistemologies or taxonomies, or Industrial Age requirements, regulations, departments, majors, minors, distribution requirements, professional schools, or standardized assessment metrics, or contemporary problems ranging from defunding of public education to the burgeoning and ever increasing endowments of private universities? What kinds and forms of institutions of learning might we come up with? Or maybe we don’t need any institutions at all?  And how could our imagined universities help to inform our activism about transforming the actual institutions we inhabit now? 


Below the photo (of a student-generated two-day “FutureClass” at the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona), you’ll find a template and a series of open-ended questions to get us started on imagining the university from scratch.     #FutureEd    Check the Google Doc for updates.

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Starting in January 2014, designing a university from scratch will be a project undertaken by tens of thousands of participants in a MOOC I’m teaching on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.”  Here are some of the questions we’ll ask to get us started:


DESIGNING HIGHER EDUCATION FROM SCRATCH:   An Evolving Template  of Open-Ended Questions


Name of  our [imagined, fictive, future] university:

Logo, mascot, or motto:

Drawing or napkin sketch of the university:

We specialize in:

Our mission is:


(Where would the school be located?  Would it be in a building, online, take a whole city as its campus, or maybe the whole world?)


Our university is mobile through

Our students are mobile through

Our university is part of a network of

Our students are networked to one another through



Our tuition is

Our tuition is paid by

For students who cannot afford our tuition, we offer

We do/do not accept philanthropic gifts

We use/do not use state funds

We use/do not use corporate funding

We do/do not have trustees

Our (future) alums will have no role/a role in our future by———


 Our ideal students are:

We identify our ideal student by word-of-mouth from

We identify our ideal students by/not by test scores

We identify our ideal students by/not by GPA

We identify our ideal students by/not by an open competition

We identify our ideal students by

We contact our ideal students by

We advertise to our ideal students by

We recruit our key students by

We define diversity as

We ensure that diversity by

Our students are all in the age group of X to Y

Our pre-requisites for admission are:



 Our specialty is

We have courses in

We do not have courses, we have

Our courses take place in

You do not pass a course in a specific subject, content area, or skill until you

Our curriculum is arranged by :

We have/do not have required courses in:

We have/do not have distribution courses:

We have/do not have majors in:

Our major in X looks like:

We have/do not have minors in:

Our minor in X looks like:

No, we do not organize knowledge by majors and minors, we organize knowledge by:

An example of how we organize knowledge in X is

We offer/do not offer liberal arts or general education that looks like

We are specialist and follow the European and international model of only accepting students into a specialized area

The speciliazed areas we cover are



We have/do not have textbooks that are

Besides textbooks, we use

Different courses use different kinds of books and other learning materials such as



Our students are/are not engaged in original research

The areas of original research are

Our students conduct original research in collaboration with




Classes are/are not graded

Attendance (physical, virtual) is/is not expected/required

You pass a class by

You fail a class by

There is no such thing as passing/failing a course because

We know when you have succeeded at our university, when . . .:

We recognize achievement by this assessment system:

We do not recognize achievement but assume peers will by this system:

We do not recognize achievement but assume our students will recognize it themselves by:

We acknowledge exceptional mastery by

We do not acknowledge one student as more exceptional than another

We have requirements for graduation and they are

We award graduation certificates for

We do not award any graduation credentials because

We ensure civil, creative behavior by students by

We have/do not have a judiciary system run by



We chose our teachers by

We do not have any teachers because

We use peer mentoring and peer teaching because

We support peer-to-peer learning by

We use/do not use MOOCs or other online classes instead of classroom teachers

We have/do not have  flipped classrooms because

We have all full-time teachers, who have benefits and job security, because

All our teachers are contingent/adjunct faculty because

Some of our teachers are contingent/adjunct faculty because

All of our teachers have tenure if they

None of our teachers have tenure because

All of our teachers have tenure with built in renewal requirements that are



All of our administrators are former teachers

All of our administrators are current teachers

We have a team of professional administrators

We do not have administrators because

We do/do not have a professional non-teaching staff who run the physical plant of the university

We do/do not have a professional non-teaching staff who run admissions, recruitment and other functions

We do/do not have a professional non-teaching staff who care for the grounds (if we have grounds)

We do/do not have a professional non-teaching staff who design and manage technology

We do/do not have a professional non-teaching housekeeping staff



We have/do not have residential living facilities

We have/do not have varsity sports teams

We have/do not have intramural sports

We do/do not have clubs, social events such as

We do/do not have outside lectures, speakers

We do/do not have performances

We have/do not have community engagement programs

We have/do not have undergraduate research experiences

We have/do not have fraternities and sororities

We have/do not have arts facilities

We have/do not have labs

We have/do not have computer and technology maker spaces

We do/do not give out tablets/iPads to all entering students

We do/do not have enterprise educational software



Our students go on to be

Our students go on to professional schools in

Our students go on to graduate schools in

When students leave our institution, they are



We are using ideas generated from this exercise to make this real world innovation


The photographs are of FutureClass, a two-day series of workshops, panels, exercises, and activities put on by five of my students in a tent outside the Museum of Modern Art as part of Mozilla’s Drumbeat Festival. Nov 3-5, 2010

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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