UNT President Neal Smatresk

Work to make UNT a leader in education innovation began Aug. 11, during President Neal Smatresk's annual Planning Implementation Workshop. Themed Transforming Education, the daylong workshop focused on what it will take for UNT to thrive as a global leader in education innovation.

The workshop focused on determining how UNT can continuously demonstrate its commitment to, and enhancement of, its teaching and learning mission through innovative use of technology. Vendors from UNT's Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment, and Redesign, McGraw Hill, InFocus, Promethean and NetDragon hosted technology displays at the beginning and end of the workshop. About 150 UNT administrators, deans, chairs, students, faculty and staff members participated in the workshop, which Jennifer Cowley, provost and vice president for academic affairs, co-facilitated. Read President Smatresk's message to campus about 2017-18 priorities.

Cowley (pictured below) led the day's presentations by discussing the characteristics and expectations of post-millennials. She called for UNT to shift the way it approaches education to best meet the needs and expectations of the students of the future.  

UNT Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jennifer Evans-Cowley

“The skills that this next generation needs are different from past generations - UNT should create greater focus in our curriculum on critical thinking, creativity and problem solving. The nature of work is rapidly evolving and we have to be preparing our students for paths where they may work in multiple industries in multiple roles,” Cowley said.

Faculty who have successfully implemented technology and team-based learning to improve student learning outcomes presented on their best practices, and Jacqueline Ryan Vickery, assistant professor of media arts, presented on research from her book Worried about the Wrong Things: Youth, Risk and Opportunity in the Digital World.

Working together as a table, attendees discussed how UNT must change to meet the needs of the next generation of students and outlined three advancements UNT must make to enhance learning among students.

“If we don't engage our students, then we'll lose them and not fulfill our responsibility to teach them,” said Kamesh Namuduri, professor of electrical engineering.

A pre-lunch panel discussion featuring UNT's partners from the Dallas Cowboys, Toyota Production System Support Center, New Media Consortium and NetDragon, focused on how strategic partnerships can advance higher education. Michael Berman, board member of the New Media Consortium, praised UNT's recent decision to join the nonprofit, which explores the use of new media and technologies. Scott Porter and Jamie Bonini from the Frisco-based Toyota Production System Support Center, described how UNT officials have transformed the faculty onboarding process to make it less cumbersome for new hires.

With the initial exercise in process improvement complete, UNT plans to continue working with Toyota to transform other processes and initiatives. Eric Sudol, vice president of corporate partnership sales and service for the Dallas Cowboys, encouraged UNT to take bold moves and be unafraid of new challenges.

“It is in the Dallas Cowboys' DNA to lead, be innovative and to be first. We always want to be first,” Sudol said.

Dejian Liu, founder and executive director of Chinese internet gaming and education delivery company NetDragon, shared that his company's entrepreneurial spirit and internet start-up culture could help UNT advance and become a leader in education innovation.

“I hope the way an internet company operates, our ability to quickly start new projects and shut down those that don't work, is something we can help UNT embrace,” said Liu, recently named UNT's executive dean-in-residence for education innovation.

Smatresk's lunchtime keynote touched on UNT's past three years of progress in the areas of enrollment, academic programs, facilities, research and internal process improvement, and how this growth lays the groundwork for UNT's future.

“Now is the time to make the crucial decision that we are not going to continue with the standard and average path, but forge a new path that propels us to become extraordinary global leaders,” Smatresk said.

To make true strides as a leader in education innovation, Smatresk believes UNT must become a disrupter to the traditional higher education mindset and be willing to make audacious changes that will facilitate growth.

By leveraging external partnerships and thoughtfully implementing technology, Smatresk said UNT can advance as a pioneer of education innovation.

“Without embracing education innovation, UNT will not grow. By embracing it, UNT will be in touch with the modern student who is coming here to have an experience beyond just going to school,” said Rama Dhuwaraha, UNT System associate vice chancellor and CIO.

Afternoon breakout sessions, led by UNT faculty and experts in higher education, focused on Design Thinking in Education, Digitized Spaces and Online Learning. Returning to small table groups for discussion, participants were challenged to think about the ideal UNT experience for incoming students and describe the changes that must take place to yield the desired experience.

“The student experience is the key. We must put that first and then use technology advances to achieve it,” said Kinshuk, dean of the College of Information.

At the end of the day, participants thought ahead to UNT in 2030 and drew pictures to depict how the student experience could be transformed.  

“In the year 2030, UNT will be defined by the digital age. It won't be optional that there is online learning, that all the rooms are collaborative and reconfigurable and full of digital writing surfaces and recording devices, it'll just be how it is,” said Patrick Pluscht, associate vice provost for learning enhancement. “Students will have more choices and will be able to customize degrees more fluidly than they can today.”

Marilyn Wiley, dean of the College of Business, imagines the professor's role will shift away from the traditional role of information gatekeeper.  

“I think a bigger piece for us is to help students navigate through a maze of the overwhelming quantity of information out there and discover what's relevant, what's factual, what's important and how it has a purpose in the student's life,” Wiley said.

— Meredith Moriak Wright, University Relations, Communications and Marketing.

2017 State of the University

Attend the 2017 State of the University at 3 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Murchison Performing Arts Center. Doors open at 2:15 p.m.

2017 Planning Workshop Recap
“Students are looking for experiential learning, not just sitting in a classroom. In order for us to really serve the students of tomorrow, we're going to have to start listening more to our current students, what they want and what they expect.”

— Rebecca Lothringer, executive director of undergraduate admissions


2017 Planning Implementation Workshop

“NetDragon is a technology company that likes creating tools and utilizing the latest technologies to do wonderful things. From my point of view, technology can help provide a greater reach to more people and UNT is a great place to benefit from advancing technology.”

— Dejian Liu, chairman of the board and executive director of NetDragon


2017 Planning Implementation Workshop

“Offering more online courses could stop bottlenecks in course availability and lead to better graduation rates.”

— Lisa Maxwell, director of advising services


2017 Planning Implementation Workshop

“To be leaders in education innovation, we need to make sure and identify the needs of students and then facilitate the development of our own faculty in learning how to use technology from machining and robotics to VR. It's important for this to be part of each semester's training for faculty to keep up — vital so that students don't see us as dinosaurs.”

— Tom McCoy, vice president for research and innovation