Design For Change in Higher Education

Design for Change

By Jeff Grabill, Sarah Gretter, and Erik Skogberg

At the University of Leeds, we have embarked on arguably the most ambitious educational transformation initiative in higher education. Over the next ten years, we will review and refresh our undergraduate and taught postgraduate programs to make sure our curriculum prepares our students to be global citizens and are ready for the future of work– a future that will be challenging given unprecedented challenges, including the climate crisis, economic instability, and poverty. Our design horizon is an imaginative and effective approach to education that is transformative in its outcomes and impacts for students, inclusive and equitable, evidence-based and engaging with regard to our practice. 

So far, nothing we’ve written is particularly distinctive or controversial. We suspect that every higher education institution has similar horizons and aspirations. What is different at Leeds is that every school and program is engaged in this process of reimagining education. The work will also touch every aspect of our work: curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy, including issues of student experience in the co-curriculum. The depth and scale of the work is significant. 

The work at the University of Leeds is a remarkably large and complex change management effort, and as we argue in Design for Change in Higher Education, such change efforts are best understood as design and executed accordingly. Our argument is unusual for higher education, but we believe that it is essential. 

Any time we confront a situation in which we are moving from a current state of affairs to a new state, we have a situation that is well-suited for a design approach. But that condition is insufficient. In Design for Change in Higher Education, we argue for leveraging the power of learning experience design because it creates processes that are more participatory, student-focused, inquiry-driven, and necessarily iterative than the alternatives. In other words, educational innovation and change are best understood as design processes if we want them to be effective and culturally appropriate for the contexts of higher education. 

In our book, we spend a bit of time arguing for the need to innovate across higher education, but our focus is really on how. Drawing on our experience building a design agency inside higher education, we unpack the value of learning experience design, the role of assessment and research in design, the importance of conversations in participatory, inclusive, and effective design work, and design as a preferred approach for facilitating organizational and cultural change. Throughout the book, we contextualize our work through case examples and provide a roadmap for how to operationalize design inside higher education.

The work at the University of Leeds is a complex, multi-year design project. We are drawing on the lessons and practices to be found in Design for Change in Higher Education to facilitate our education strategy. In this regard, our work is participatory (led by faculty, staff, and students), inquiry-rich, iterative (shaped by a number of design phases), and deeply conversational. If you believe, as we do, that we can and should design the next iteration of higher education, then we invite you to read the book and join us in that conversation.


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Design for Change in Higher Education
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Written by: Jeffrey T. Grabill, Sarah Gretter, And Erik Skogsberg
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Jeffrey T. Grabill
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Jeffrey T. Grabill

Jeffrey T. Grabill (LEEDS, UK), formerly the associate provost for teaching, learning, and technology and the director of the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology at Michigan State University, is the deputy vice-chancellor for student education at the University of Leeds.
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