Innovation from a UVA 4th Year: “Flash Seminars”

By Mike Signer | February 21, 2011 | 2 Comments

It’s always amazed me how Virginia’s universities, like the students who attend them, strive.  We are restless.  We don’t accept the mean as our standard.  We constantly push boundaries.

To take a few examples:  Christopher Newport University continues to strive, receiving $2.6 million to study the Chesapeake Bay.  Virginia Union gets stronger — recently partnering with the Navy SEALs “Mental Toughness, Never Quit” campaign.  Longwood College becomes  Longwood University and is now one of the best colleges in the Southeast.  VCU transforms downtown Richmond.  George Mason University’s law school is on the forefront of legal education.  Virginia Tech, where I’ve taught for four years, constantly grows new programs, offering over 70 majors and minors.

In an age of flash mobs and Facebook revolutions, it makes perfect sense that higher education would start to evolve around social media and the restless creativity of today’s youth.

The next boundary: reinventing classes themselves to suit the desires of students hungry for more impactful kinds of education.

Today in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s original idea of public universities dedicated to cultivating the new generation of civic-minded leaders prospers.  As the above list shows, the examples are big and small.  In the latter category, a great example of the Virginia spirit appears in today’s Washington Post, in an article about Laura Nelson, a fourth-year at UVA and Rhodes Scholarship winner, who’s come up with a creative new Virginia educational idea — “flash seminars.”

She invented the idea to create new communities for students frustrated with the undergraduate beer-and-circus environment.  “I found it difficult to find an intellectual community here,” she said.

Here’s how it works — students recruit a professor on an impromptu topic.  An email notice is sent out.  Students gather.  The “freewheeling format” has included topics like: “Is Making Us Stupid?” to “The Death Penalty and Victor Hugo” and “To Be Modern and Completely Dependent on Money.”

“What I love about it is, it’s purely for the love of learning,” said Teresa Sullivan, UVA’s president.

The great things about this Facebook-era innovation:  it’s free, bountiful, is bottom-up rather than top-down, and strengthens the commitment of Virginia students to learning for learning’s sake.

Thanks to Laura for keeping Jefferson’s spirit alive.

For more, check out today’s Washington Post’s article here.

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2 Responses to Innovation from a UVA 4th Year: “Flash Seminars”

  1. Stevie says:

    Terrific tips! I have been seeking something similar to this for a while now. Appreciation!

  2. Christine Gresser says:

    Love this idea! I would like to see liberal churches and synagogues taking this approach with sermons on street corners. “Flash congregations?” “Flash sermons?” Truly universal, affirming, sermons, examining ideas of making the world a better place, being in community, caring for one another, but from a spiritually liberal/progressive point of view, affirming differences, rather than fostering fear and divisiveness.

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