By Ken Ryalls
In this, our 40th anniversary, I stand on the shoulders of giants, lucky enough to be leading IDEA with a highly committed team around me at a moment in time that is ripe with opportunity. As we are all (sometimes painfully) aware, higher education is arguably the most volatile industry in the United States today, with seemingly nothing about our world maintaining any sense of stability. New models of delivery, technological innovation, financial hardships for both institutions and students, changing employment models, accreditation demands, shifting views of the meaning and purpose of a degree, and fierce competition are just some of the issues we face every day. Perhaps I am to the point in my life where I am romanticizing everything as it was in the ‘good old days,’ but it does seem as though higher education is a much tougher job now than it was 15 years ago. This is true for those of you serving in the Academy, but it is also true for those of us at IDEA, passionately committed to supporting learning within the Academy. But the challenges and threats surrounding higher education are also opportunities, and we at IDEA are excited about the possibilities the future holds.
Those of you who are familiar with the history of IDEA will know that we did not get to be such a respected name in higher education by accident. When Don Hoyt first introduced the Student Ratings of Instruction system in 1975 it was truly visionary, accurately predicting a future of higher education that would value the voice of the student, that would focus on learning outcomes, and that would realize the complexity that is assessment of learning. By focusing on learning, by basing measurement on sound research, and by controlling for extraneous factors outside of the instructor’s control, Hoyt created a perfect tool for the measurement of student perception of learning - a tool that I would argue is still the gold standard today.
We are ready for the challenges that face higher education in ways that even the visionary Don Hoyt probably did not see coming. Our partner institutions need more learning support in areas that go well beyond the Student Ratings of Instruction, so we are responding with more feedback instruments, more research, and more professional support. We have revised our flagship instrument to better reflect a more relevant selection of learning outcomes, designed to provide a more comprehensive picture of learning. We have hired new researchers and new professional development specialists, and we are in the process of developing several new tools designed to help our partners assess and improve learning more holistically. Through a partnership with our friends at Campus Labs, we now offer the latest in technological innovations and data integration, along with a host of new ideas surrounding improvement of teaching and learning. We are also more formally recognizing the strength of our Community of Practice by implementing the IDEA Impact Fund, an opportunity for us to provide grants to IDEA Scholars who are interested in doing applied research to forward our understanding of teaching and learning. The IDEA Impact Fund will be launched soon in honor of our 40th Anniversary, and we are very excited about the possibilities the Impact Fund will bring.
As much as those of us who carry on the tradition of IDEA owe Don Hoyt, there are dozens of others who have led us to this moment in time, and who deserve their own plaque on the wall here at IDEA. Bill Cashin and Bill Pallett are names many of you are familiar with, but all of IDEA’s leaders over the years would be the first to tell you that they had people around them dedicated to making IDEA the best it could be. Those supporters included the amazing staff at IDEA, but they also came from faculty and staff at our partner institutions as well as teaching/learning professionals in the field, all committed to the improvement of teaching and learning. All of these people - founders, leaders, staff, and partners - form a Community of Practice around IDEA that made us what we are today. These giants instilled in the culture of IDEA a sense of values, values that eventually became the foundation guiding every decision we make. These values are Integrity, Quality, Collaboration, Service and Knowledge, and those of you who know the staff here at IDEA know that we strive every day to live up to the reputations earned by those who came before us.
The threats are real in our world, but so are the opportunities, and we at IDEA are poised for the future. We remain wholly committed to you, our partners, and pledge to continue to assist you in the noble endeavor of higher education. Here’s to a great 2015-16 academic year.