Creating SOPI: The Scholarship of Postsecondary Innovation

Investigating, and generalizing, from the Texas Institute for Transformational Learning story.

March 4, 2018

I’m going to attempt to coin a new acronym - SOPI: the Scholarship of Postsecondary Innovation.

Pronounced “soapy”.

SOPI consciously builds on SOTL - the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

What do you think?  How does an academic acronym get created? Where did SOTL come from? Why did it stick? 

Is SOPI a reasonable name for a new academic community of practice? Do we have the kernel of a new academic discipline?

The reason that we need a Scholarship of Postsecondary Innovation has everything to do the need to make sense out of events like the closing of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning (ITL). The story of the ITL, what the Institute was able to do not to do, is part of a larger higher education innovation narrative. 

We are living through a period of wicked problems and big changes in higher education. They should be studied.

Colleges and universities are not passive reactors to the forces of technology, competition, demography, and structural economic change in which they operate. Rather, colleges and universities - and the people who work at these schools and systems at every level - are active participants in shaping the future of postsecondary education. Their decisions and actions, and the impact that they drive, needs to be studied.

A SOPI community (or academic discipline?) would have the advantage of approaching an understanding of the Texas Institute for Transformational Learning story in a systematic, grounded, and contextualized manner.

I greatly appreciate Steven Mintz’s elaboration of the ITL story in his recent post, Texas's Big Bet on the Future of Higher Education. Steven was an insider to the birth and life of the Institute, and his perspective represents an important and necessary contribution.

We need to go beyond single perspectives and anecdotes, however, if we are going to both understand the Texas ITL story -  and if (more importantly), if we hope to generalize any lessons from ITL to the larger world of postsecondary innovation.

We need to develop a set of rigorous theoretical frameworks around postsecondary change and innovation. The study of postsecondary innovation should align with how we study any social phenomenon.  That involves a willingness to develop a set of testable hypotheses.  To then follow a rigorous and transparent research plan, with the goal of testing those hypotheses.

We need to develop a theory (or theories) of postsecondary innovation, and then commit to the work of figuring out if that theory (or theories) help us predict and explain higher education change.

I worry that without rigorous study, study anchored in theoretical frameworks and hypotheses testing, that we will learn the wrong lessons from Texas - and the wrong lessons from any number of postsecondary innovation efforts. We will let our biases and personal experiences determine our conclusions.

Who today is doing the work of SOPI (the Scholarship of Postsecondary Innovation)?

Are scholars in schools of education or centers for teaching and learning (CTLs) doing this research?

Do we have an academic discipline that combines the theoretical insights of organizational change with the deep contextual knowledge of studying higher education?

Where would an investigation of the Texas ITL live?

It is great that we are talking about this story on blogs and other social media. But don’t we need something less ephemeral than social media to advance the study of postsecondary innovation?

Who are the next generation of scholars that are being trained to systematically and critically examine events such as the Texas ITL?

What peer reviewed journals are moving forward our understanding of postsecondary innovation?

Will SOPI as an acronym stick? If so (or if not), where will the work of SOPI occur?

How do you think we should be studying postsecondary innovation?


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