Rethinking Portland State
Author: Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: May 22, 2013

The classroom experience may radically change because of new ideas from faculty and staff.

STUDENTS ANYWHERE in the world can soon earn an undergraduate business degree, study the emerging field of complex systems science, or learn how to start a business with a social mission—all fully online through Portland State.

These are three of the initiatives that grew out of “reThink PSU,” a campuswide push to improve teaching and learning at the University by investing in innovation.

The new programs are different from other online classes and degrees because they are testing ideas and technology that could transform every student’s experience at Portland State, making classes more flexible, interactive, and affordable.

Sona Andrews, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, put out a call last fall for new ways to adapt to the rapid changes in higher education, such as the growth of online education, the rising cost of tuition, and the demand to educate a larger and more diverse student population.

On the table: $3 million in seed money for the most promising ideas.

The response was overwhelming. In December, faculty and staff submitted 162 proposals for everything from interactive classroom strategies to new online degrees. Awards were announced in May.

“This is a real opportunity for PSU to think creatively about the challenges we face and to create learning environments for students that address current and future needs,” Andrews says.

Some of the projects selected for funding focus on developing and supporting online, business, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, as well as assessing and awarding credits for prior learning.

The School of Business Administration plans to expand its reach with a set of related initiatives that could be a model for other schools, including two new online undergraduate business degrees, a new online certificate in social entrepreneurship, and more online support for internships and advising. The University currently offers four fully online degrees.

Jeanne Enders, associate dean for undergraduate business programs, says more students are asking for the flexibility of online classes, and real-time video is making it easier for students and faculty to interact without coming to campus.

“More and more professional work is being done in these kinds of environments,” Enders says. “If we miss this boat, it’s going to be hard to be relevant.”

THE FIRST fully online, part-time undergraduate business degrees will start in fall 2013. And the first online social entrepreneurship certificate will launch in spring 2014, tapping a growing market of adults who want to use business tools to address a social or environmental problem.

Technology is also changing the way students learn on campus.

For instance, Melanie Mitchell, a computer science professor, will post her introductory lectures online for students to watch on their own time and use her live class time for student projects. This approach, called a “flipped classroom,” will give students more time to work together to apply what they are learning to real problems.

Mitchell’s lectures will be part of a new cluster of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in complex systems science in partnership with the Santa Fe Institute, courses that are free and open to anyone.

The MOOCs have the potential to raise Portland State’s reputation in the emerging field of complex systems, the study of large, self-organized networks without a central control, such as ant colonies and the immune system, Mitchell says.

It seems to be working: Her first MOOC, launched in February, has already enrolled 6,600 students.

For the full list of proposed projects, go to