Blog Post

Designing Higher Education from Scratch - Libertates University

The students in Professor Cathy N. Davidson's face-to-face course at Duke University have created a first draft of some basic, preliminary ideas for their collaborative project on "Designing Higher Education from Scratch." Please find below a "napkin sketch" for your comments and feedback, created by a project team in the Duke "History and Future of Higher Education" course. For more information about this project, please see this post.

Libertates University




Motto: The Freedom to Nurture Learning and a Future

Our mission: We believe in an education system that is personalized--not standardized, comprehensive but not a check-list, and exploratory not mandatory.

We specialize in: Social awareness, Collaborative Learning, and Innovation

Who we are: A student-driven, living-learning community where students have the opportunity to re-imagine their learning experience in a year-round, three year program. Students have the opportunity to engage with mentors and intellectual interests in a number of customizable exploratory tracks, with the flexibility to explore the intersections and interconnectedness between these areas of focus.

Every year, we will have a state of Libertates University address, to discuss how we are meeting our mission and what we can and should do to address our mission

Our Location: Home base location/city TBD.

Our university is mobile through collaborations with an onsite shared work-space (a la “Impact Hub”) and a Marker/Fab Lab and networks affiliated with it.

Our students are mobile through programs abroad and the travel/intercultural track.

Our university is part of a network of similar institutions that share similar missions,


We pride ourselves on: our commitment to academic freedom, flexibility, student-focused education, and our great food ( a nonsequitur, I know but ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY key to building community) We value learners who have these skills, abilities, or qualities: open-minded, inquisitive, innovative, collaborative, thoughtful Our learners know that we value these skills, abilities, or qualities because: we offer venues and opportunities to foster them. For example, the Maker Lab and our academic structure. Our learning content is designed to transfer these skills, abilities, or qualities by: Avoiding cookie-cutter education while maintaining high standard of academics. We know our learners have these skills, abilities, or qualities when they:submit their final portfolio and reflection/“statement of purpose” People who work with our learners recognize them for being:passionate, driven, and highly collaborative Our organization is part of a network that we value because: without a diverse network, our institution would not be able to succeed alone. Our learners are networked to one another through: common work/learning spaces and online networks (anyone, even a student, staff, or community member, can teach/co-teach/team teach a MOOC, a course, a supplemental course or a workshop during Workshop week, an event that takes place each year after spring break) Our learners are interested in and motivated by: an insatiable thirst for learning, innovation, and de-standardization


Our university is international in scope YES, but localized to address local contextual and cultural needs

At our university, we believe the role of higher education in society is to enable students to engage critically with a vast array of subjects, people, and cultures, with the hope that they will realize their responsibility to society.

We believe those without a post-secondary education should have training in vocational and practical life skills. Our institution offers vocational components and some vocational training as well as collaborating with institutions, craftsman, and makers with specializations in diverse vocational skills.

We believe general education is important for everyone because we believe in the spread of knowledge and personal betterment through learning.

We believe general education doesn’t stop in our current information age.


We do not have courses, we have workshops, modules, tracks, and learning communities led by mentors.

Our “courses” take place in non-traditional and adaptable meeting places that seek to dismantle and deconstruct the traditional classroom model. The community is also an integral part of our educational environment.

You do not pass a course in a specific subject, content area, or skill until you submit a personal statement and receive a written evaluation from the instructor.

Our curriculum is arranged by (some examples of possible tracks) :

Activist Option/Track All service learning, community service, non-profit work, internships, volunteering, and social activism counts toward credit and can be used to supplement or completely fulfill the requirements of a degree. This can be completely student-led, conducted in teams, or worked out in a more standard fashion with academic advisors.

Travel, Experiential Option/Track All travel experience and writing and work in international or cross cultural contexts count as credit. Again, how this is applied as credit is flexible.

Conservatory Option/Track This is for the student who is very certain about what field they want to specialize in and want to have an accelerated and hyper-focused program in only one field or subfield. They would have to complete relevant courses, projects, and research only in this field. This is based on the conservatory model of some fine arts schools.

Build-Your-Own or Flexible Option/Track The student can build their own “major” or combine parts of the different tracks to complement their individualized plan.

Liberal Studies Track Similar to a Master of Liberal Studies program but for undergrad. For those students who only want a liberal arts or general education and/or a degree that is exploratory and broad.


First year: exploration Second year: defining, refining Third year: specializing

We do not have required courses!

We do not have distribution courses and instead we have customizable modules for variable tracks.

We do not have majors, we have specializations!

We do not organize knowledge by majors and minors, we organize knowledge by areas, fields, and personal research questions/investigation approaches.

We offer liberal arts or general education only to those who desire such an education from our institution.

We have specialized areas but they are flexible, customizable, and adaptable!

_Special Features: Learning testing: Disover how you best learn through intensive testing. Fablab: Life Skills Workshops throughout your University Experience- every student will have the opportunity to graduate knowing how to code, have basic financial literacy and other life skills. _


Our current assessment system is Assessment by mentors, based on a written evaluation. There will not be assessment by computers There will be authentic assessment (assessment of real-world tasks). There will be rubrics for the skill driven workshops or classes. There will not be multiple-choice tests There will not be letter grades, but a system based on written evaluations from instructors/mentors and portfolios and personal statements prepared by the students themselves. There will be an end of year self assessment.



We believe in the necessity of experimentation- which means the outcome is unknown, but the process and learning the outcome are equally important factors.


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