The Memo v3.0: Building a "Leapfrog" University
04 Apr 2006

The Memo v3.0: Building a "Leapfrog" University

Date:      04 April 2006 To:          All Participants From:    

04 Apr 2006

Date:      04 April 2006

To:          All Participants

From:     Arthur Harkins and John Moravec

Subject: Building a “Leapfrog” University: Renovating Undergraduate Education (Version 3.0)

Preface to Version 3.0

A New Paradigm founded on the convergence of globalization, rise of the knowledge society and accelerating change is emerging.

The first country to adopt the New Paradigm, bolster it with advanced communications technologies, and applies it in pre-K through graduate contexts, will either continue to lead or will acquire newfound leadership among emerging knowledge and innovation economies.

We are aware of the need for simplicity, but the problem is that the New Paradigm we describe is fundamentally cognitive in nature. It is the new educational mission required to support knowledge based innovation economies. New language and concepts are required.

Our focus, which will be amplified in an expanded Version 4.0 early next month, is the undergraduate education required to produce knowledge and direct it toward continuous innovation. We call for an entirely new undergraduate education mission –one that requires a different vocabulary and mindset compared to the now globally-distributed education missions for agricultural, industrial, and information-based societies.

Under the circumstances it will not do to simply call for interdisciplinarity, which mostly turns out to be cross-disciplinarity. Achieving the New Paradigm will require transdisciplinarity (the dynamic creation of new disciplines) and postdisciplinarity (the creation of routinely productive uniqueness at the level of the individual).

Progress since Version 2.0

To date, we have received over fifty (50) responses to the 1.0 and 2.0 release versions of this document – all positive. Respondents include University leadership, a department chair, senior faculty, students, a state leader, students and faculty from another public research university, and a leader of a major Minnesota company. This updated version incorporates their comments and insights toward supporting the University’s strategic vision.

Previous release versions of this memo and supporting appendix are available online at /leapfrog

Our Basic Concerns Revisited

The University of Minnesota is at a crossroads in its path for success in the 21st century. With a goal to become one of the top three public research universities in the world within a decade, the University is engaged in an ambitious strategic repositioning process. We can still do better.

We are concerned that the majority of recommendations from the strategic repositioning taskforces are leading us in a direction of reactive followership and potential stagnation. Rather than putting forth ambitious goals for the future of the University, the reports back conventional catch-up models over a call for “leapfrogging” to preferred future leadership. If the University ultimately engages in a plan to “catch-up” to other institutions, we are concerned that the likelihood of the University falling further behind in effectiveness and global competitiveness rankings will significantly increase.

(For definitions and examples of leapfrogging, see the appendix linked at /leapfrog.)

Here in Version 3.0, our focus is upon undergraduate education in the Leapfrog University. We believe that reforming undergraduate education to lead the competition in knowledge production and innovation is accomplishable; that it is appropriate, harmonizes with workforce needs, and better prepares students for post-graduate work.

Required: A New Emphasis on Undergraduates as Creatives

  • How can the University vastly expand its impact on undergraduates and vice-versa?
  • How do undergraduates routinely produce tacit and explicit knowledge, and then employ it innovatively?
  • Can the University move to create expectations of innovative leadership among its undergraduate students?
  • How can this daily expression of personal capital growth become part of expected services delivered by the University?
  • How can the University expand both personal capital and social capital, in part by making the substance of each more individualized and purposively developmental?
  • Can the University of Minnesota shift from industrial/information-age models of human capital preparation to knowledge/innovation models?
  • Can the University seriously focus on recognizing and developing the uniqueness and variety of undergraduates through technology-supported, individualized learning services?
  • Can the University focus more on student innovations as opposed to context-free testing and rigidly constrained paper topics?
  • Can the University become more experiential and experimental as it moves toward knowledge based, innovation-supportive learning services?
  • Can the University support development of the innovative individual through lifelong subscription services?
  • Can the University provide new subscription networking for its alumni, productively linking them to one another and to undergraduate students?

We assert that every functional adult, including undergraduates, is already practicing an implicit skill set with strong ties to the broad development goals of tertiary education, especially those common to research universities. We also claim that the average undergraduate exerts far more inventive and innovative activity than credit is given for, and that tertiary education should address itself to facilitating the processes of invention and innovation while generatively collaborating with undergraduates.

The arguments for this association are two:(1) that the ‘ordinary’ undergraduate could benefit enormously from continuous contact with a Leapfrog University, especially if the undergraduate body is part of a society moving toward continuous innovation; and (2) that a Leapfrog University would gain enormously from inputs of information, knowledge, and ideas from its undergraduates. The proposed task of a Leapfrog University becomes two-fold: (1) to assist the ‘ordinary’ undergraduate to become ‘extraordinary’ in ways that emerge from collaborations between the two parties; and (2) to evolve the Leapfrog University and its undergraduates as co-leaders in knowledge development and its subsequent innovative applications.

We submit that the ordinary undergraduate’s skill set includes a host of capabilities common to the professional practices of research universities. We believe that such skills should become the core of knowledge producing, innovation-focused curricula and pedagogies. Some of these skills, all associated with expansions of personal and social capital, are:

  • inductive and deductive thought;
  • construction of theorems and hypotheses within more or less well-known contexts;
  • generation of new ideas and knowledge through applications of analogies, similes and metaphors;
  • conscious and intuitive decision-making;
  • time and task management;
  • creation of alternative futures through projections and systemic constructions;
  • use of philosophy, including logic, values, ontologies and epistemologies,
  • tactical and strategic constructions of candidate realities, decisions, and actions;
  • reassessments of the past, present, and anticipated or preferred futures,
  • reassessments of self and others in differing contexts;
  • constructions of mental simulations as heuristic and self-instructive virtual realities and worlds;
  • role playing, role shifting, and role creation;
  • dualistic and non-dualistic thought;
  • continuous generation of multiple perspectives of systems in their simplicity, complexity and organization;
  • self-leadership and the leadership of others;
  • construction of decision algorithms;
  • continuous experimentalism in negotiating daily decisions;
  • continuous reassessment of the value of personal experience and outside resources;
  • emotion management;
  • focusing on intellectual leadership;
  • knowledge of and engagement with hard, soft, and bio technologies;
  • the generation of correlational and causal associations;
  • engagement in information searches and data mining;
  • development and interpretation of meaning;
  • creative understandings of impact potentials;
  • creation, application, and extensions of knowledge-in-context;
  • uses and creations of language suitable for engaging in the preceding activities;
  • continuous creation and redefinition of alternative personal and collective cultures; and,
  • ongoing creation of preferred futures and reinterpretations of pasts and presents.

These skills may be understood as evidence of an implicate professionalism demonstrated in countless daily acts carried out by literally billions of ordinary people. We define implicate professionalism as the protean layer of competencies, skills and performances that characterize expressions of personal and social capital. It is these complex forms of implicate professionalism that a knowledge creating, innovation focused Leapfrog University, through individually constructed services, can and must develop among undergraduates.

A Pocket Overview of Technologies Relevant to Leapfrog University 

To support knowledge based learning for an innovation society, a handful of technologies is listed below. The Leapfrog University must design and build institutional flexibility to rapidly adopt/incorporate/evolve these technologies into transformative practices rather than using them to support old practices.  

  • Tiny terabyte disk drives; pocketable optical and quantum computers operating at room temperatures; circuitry woven into clothing or sprayed onto skin; early implants; large percentage of flat surfaces receive painted-on interactive displays; heads-up delivery of high-resolution images to the retina; automatic language and dialect translations; obsolescence of the keyboard; ‘nano-marketing’ to individual consumers worldwide; projections of the eclipse of homo sapiens by a wide range of intelligent technological and genomic varieties of humanity.
  • Jobs whirl into and out of existence quickly, sometimes overnight.
  • More and more, human work creates jobs that are carried out by automata. Traditional separations of living, learning and working have vanished, as the same technologies are used in all three domains. Learning is experiential, through simulations and direct, real-world involvement. Performance and innovation are paramount.
  • Humans are expected to move forward, creating low-cost, highly efficient automated processes in their wake. Innovative knowledge workers make up perhaps 90% of the work force. Intelligent machines, capable of competing with innovative Knowledge Workers, are on the 20-year horizon. The individual resume replaces the transcript.

The Subscription-Based Leapfrog University

Contributed by John Tomsyck and Arthur Harkins

Continuous education is now a mandate for innovative knowledge workers.

It is inevitable that high-cost degrees with short shelf lives will garner more attention, most of it negative. Ways must be found to continuously update degrees to keep them current and marketable.

In a future of fluid careers there will be a dramatic need for high levels of networking. Individuals and organizations will both need better means for efficiently “finding” each other in the future.

A Leapfrog University can take more advantage of electron-based education by supplementing classroom and Web-based courses with subscription networking services. The Leapfrog University defines its subscribers as University Fellows.

Fellows are provided networks to keep them in touch with peers and faculty. In part, such networks are modeled after highly successful Web social networking sites. As in the cases of faculty and students, Fellows supply knowledge content and upload it to their networks.

Many certificates and several degrees can be earned across the life spans of Leapfrog University graduates if electron-based services are properly integrated with Web courses. For University Fellows, the prospect of becoming distant and detached alumni will become far less likely.

The Leapfrog University’s “brand” reflects the goal of supporting innovative knowledge workers. This support, delivered on a subscription basis with supplementary networking, includes work from across fields and disciplines, building an inclusive innovation-focused community. Students, including undergraduates, are expected to network with Leapfrog University graduates and to supply their own knowledge content.

Subscription-basing in support of University Fellow networks can also support a reinvigorated approach to the marketing of Web credit and non-credit courses.

Coming Up in Version 4.0

The importance of Requisite Variety in Leapfrog University

Requisite Variety refers to the levels of internal diversity required to detect and to cope with internal and external problems, turning these into innovational opportunities and successes. Proactive and reactive response times are critically important factors in the successful growth and application of Requisite Variety.

Types of Knowledge Production in Leapfrog University

Knowledge results from the conversion of information to actionable form. Routine knowledge production at the undergraduate level would constitute a major paradigm change for tertiary education and would constitute the backbone of a world-leading Leapfrog University. We will review six types of knowledge production, only two of which are routinely employed in undergraduate education.

The important of Chaordic Leadership in Leapfrog University

Chaordic Leadership refers to the capacity of all Leapfrog University community members to perform and innovate at the ‘event horizons’ between order and chaos. It is within and near the event horizons that transformative leadership can function routinely and successfully in Leapfrog University. Chaordic leadership is required of everyone in the community.

An Invitation: Help Us Construct the Next Draft

The authors of this memorandum invite comments, corrections and additions to what we have written. We especially request your thoughts on the application of innovative and dynamic design principles to the University’s future.

The initiators request that the University community and the public provide comments, corrections and additions to their position on achieving the University’s goal. The 4.0 draft, to be released in early May, 2006, will take into account feedback received up to that time.


About the initiators:

Arthur Harkins, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration and faculty director of the Graduate Certificate in Innovation Studies program at the University of Minnesota.

John Moravec is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration at the University of Minnesota. Moravec’s doctoral dissertation research is focused on the future of knowledge production in Minnesota higher education.


Arthur Harkins, University of MN,, 612/743-7528

John Moravec, University of MN,, 612/325-5992

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