innovation, invention and distribution

This week’s highlights within and around the Deans’ Seminar include:

Maris spoke on the topic of “Vermont, Silicon Valley, and the Future,” drawing attention in his conclusion to the stark difference between the exponential curve that represents the growth of computing capacity (and innovation in general) and the linear, incremental rate at which existing inventions, solutions, and technologies are currently being distributed for widespread benefit and access.

Maris has elaborated elsewhere on this ‘ethical move’ of emphasizing the importance of distribution, or access, as much as that of raw invention:

  • “Too often the link between invention and distribution is broken, leaving much of the world locked out of technological advances meant to improve all our lives.” (Feb 2015)
  • “There’s a great intersection right now between technology and health care, where the tools of the computer age are becoming tools to improve health and the quality of life for people around the world.” (March 2016)
  • “There’s a lot of talk of the redistribution of wealth, but the redistribution of health is more interesting to me.”  (Oct 2015)

For many here at the Institute this type of engagement is second nature. Graduate students in many of MIIS’ programs aspire to facilitate various forms of social change in the here and now, cultivating a healthy respect for the perspectives and needs of existing stakeholders, and the real-world constraints within which they must work.

While much of Maris’ attention is focused on predicting as yet unknown future trends, his role also involves helping portfolio companies such as 23andMe navigate FDA regulation and policy challenges.  Innovations at the intersection of technology and large data sets “bump up against the limits of what policy was made to address,” he explains.

It’s through cooperation with those policy makers, to help them understand what the company is trying to do.  And then the company needs to similarly understand why those regulations are in place … and then to adapt them together. It’s never one way or the other.  Our advocacy is on both sides.

The ‘distribution’ of teaching innovations

A key element of this semester’s Sprintensive curricular experiment centers on the opportunities that this project has afforded faculty to invest a significant amount of time and energy in jointly exploring, articulating, questioning, and adjusting everything from their practical teaching practices to the nature of their course content and their overall teaching philosophy.  The intensive format on which the Sprintensive model is based has been developed over the past decade by co-director Beryl Levinger in her Design, Partnering, Management and Innovation (DPMI) certificate program. However, this is the first time that she and her colleagues have been brought into direct and extended contact together to grapple with the implications for more formal teaching and learning environments — the challenges as well as the breakthroughs — of this approach.

Both events, one in Vermont and one in Monterey, present us with an on-going opportunity “to talk to each other, across campuses and programs, about our diverse strengths, the values that unite us, and the paths we might follow,” a major goal for the Envisioning Middlebury series as described by Provost Susan Baldridge.

President Laurie Patton has underscored that “the work we do this year will guide us in developing a strategic plan, but for this year the conversation is the strategy.”

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