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Innovation at Brock: 3 Qs with Thomas Dunk

In September, the 10K crew went on location to the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair, to interview a dozen higher ed leaders about trends in innovation.

Thomas Dunk taught at Concordia, McMaster, and Toronto before entering administration, as Dean at Lakehead and Brock Universities, and most recently as interim Provost of Brock (2016-18). His sociology research focuses on the intersection of environmental controversies and regional economic transformations. In this special bonus episode, Ken asks Tom to answer 3 key questions about higher ed innovation.

Innovations at Brock?

Brock University is particularly proud of its investments in expanding experiential learning opportunities, from Canada’s fifth-largest co-op program to service learning and work-integrated learning in every program, on six different continents. Brock’s senate has approved a co-curricular map that records community engagement, leadership and personal growth activities in ten categories. Brock has a “BOOST” program that offers an alternative to academic suspension for struggling students, allowing them to take 3 courses and skills development training to get back on track. Brock is also innovating in flexible delivery, like its “Supercourses”, which compress 3-month courses into just 2 weeks. Brock also has a long history of offering transdisciplinary programs, like Cold Climate Oenology & Viticulture, Child & Youth Studies, and Sport Management.

The Decade Ahead?

Tom predicts continued growth in post-graduate diplomas and flexible delivery, and the integration of humanities and social sciences with the STEM disciplines (what is often called “STEAM”). People with highly technical skills will need “soft skills” to manage a complex, globalized and multicultural world. Growing political awareness has led to a resurgence of interest in Political Science, too.

Culture of Innovation?

Tom observes that bicameral governance by senate and board has its strengths, but requires the two to work together, share information and build trust. Ultimately trust is critical, or people retreat into themselves and become very conservative, rather than innovative. Insecurity does not breed courage, and people need to feel comfortable to risk experiment or entrepreneurial activity. We also need to encourage students, faculty and staff to undertake international experiences to broaden their worldview and bring back fresh new perspectives and ideas to the campus. Higher ed innovation requires funding, and sometimes what looks like resistance is not so much ideological as resource limitations. Every year our institutions bring in young students, faculty and staff with fresh ideas who promise to continue to innovate, push boundaries and make the world a better place.

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