Richard A. DeMillo, Ph.D. is currently the Executive Director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech.) He was appointed to that position after many years of service in industry and academia. DeMillo is an accomplished computer scientist who has led numerous federal government research grants on computer encryption and optimization. In his research center,
DeMillo focuses on how to increase the value proposition of higher education in the decades to come. He offers a technology-based strategy to deliver quality content to more students at a lower cost. DeMillo argues that traditional universities must be more open and efficient if they are to survive. With his two books, numerous publications, and frequent interviews, he is attempting to create a sense of urgency among academia and consumers of education. DeMillo’s Kairos-style argument warns that change is coming to academia. He feels the system must change to survive by adopting technology and mastery learning techniques.
In 2012, DeMillo co-wrote an article on his collaborative views of the adoption of open, online, college content. He and his colleagues argued that innovative universities will be the future leaders of higher-education. They believed that the application of technology to learning was the future of innovation in universities. DeMillo et al discussed teaching through massively open online courses (MOOCs) and its implications for distributed learning. (Baker) This was a furthering of his arguments offered in his 2011 book, Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities.
Later that same year, DeMillo wrote an article about three promises technology brings to higher education. These promises are significant but do undermine the model of traditional universities. He offered that open access to accredited content, global access to education via the internet, and viable web-based learning communities were the future. In DeMillo’s opinion, these technologies threaten the stranglehold campus based universities have had on higher education for centuries. (DeMillo, Keeping Technology Promises)
In 2013, Georgia Tech introduced an online Masters in Computer Science which was in keeping with DeMillo’s vision for the future of universities. His colleague and Dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, Zvi Galil, launched the program. It was designed to deliver top quality content from a top 10 ranked program to a broader audience at a fraction of the cost. (Kahn) Today, the degree serves over 6,000 students for less than $7,000 in total tuition. This represents a savings of over $35,000 for out-of-state students. In this manner, DeMillo and Galil embraced the new frontier foretold by DeMillo’s original 2011 book.
Three years later, DeMillo wrote his latest book on the future of university education. Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable contained the culmination of seven years of his thinking about the 21st Century University. In chapter 4, titled “Technology Curves”, DeMillo makes his strongest points about the merits of on-line education to overcome cost and quality issues with the existing college system. He wrote about why opponents of on-line education attack its impersonal nature. More than teaching in person, DeMillo says, “What does have an impact is feedback. The effect of feedback is stronger than almost any other single factor on student achievement” (Loc1992). The author goes on to point out that teaching small bites with frequent feedback loops between teacher and student is most effective. DeMillo adds that another challenge to on-line teaching can be grading. He offers that these courses have “an abundance of peers to act as potential reviewers”. In his mind, this application of lateral learning techniques makes on-line content more effective for student and instructor (Loc2091). He talked about a future where open, on-line content from the best professors can be delivered at a fraction of the cost all over the world with these types of aides. He concluded, “What happens when even better results for even more students can be achieved by hiring even fewer professors” (Loc2257). (DeMillo, Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable)
In 2017, an academic review of DeMillo’s book, Revolution in Higher Education, was written, focusing on his kairos argument about why universities can’t change quickly enough. He blames much of the challenge on bureaucratic tenured faculty and their “obliviousness to new realities”. With rising costs and declining quality, he argues that the only solution is to find more efficient ways to deliver quality content to more students. (Kepka)
In a jointly authored book chapter, Rafael Bras, Provost of Georgia Tech, and DeMillo wrote that those universities which do not innovate will fail to exist in the future. Even in 2017, they continue to refine DeMillo’s earlier kairos argument. The authors describe the challenge of innovating educational approaches within the slow moving, bureaucratic pace of a university. “One thing is certain: important technological change is often both disruptive and unavoidable. The list of industries that have tried and failed to resist the onslaught of technology is long and provides an important object lesson for higher education.” (Bras and DeMillo)
In a recent interview at Georgia Tech, DeMillo laid out his vision for the university of the future. When he was appointed Director in 2008, DeMillo began in earnest to think and write about the future of higher education. His Kairos-style thesis from 2012 still remains. Universities must change to remain relevant. DeMillo argues for mastery learning delivered through MOOCs. Mastery learning is small bites of information, delivered in repetition with assessments of learning progress. If learning is not observed, new methods are then employed. He sees MOOCs in combination with social network mentoring as a way to deliver mastery learning. DeMillo argues that these tools can lead to changes in the ways universities teach. This new way addresses the ills of the current system which is too costly and has declining quality. (DeMillo, 10 Questions: Rich DeMillo, Ph.D. CS ’72, A Disruptive Force in Higher Education)
Richard DeMillo is truly ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation of education. He has long believed and argued the urgency for universities to modernize in order to survive. Since his early days at Georgia Tech, he has been working towards launching MOOCs. He sees the reluctance to change by universities’ administrators and faculty as a brick holding them down. DeMillo has helped launch many programs along his vision, including an online master’s of computer science at Georgia Tech. This made the master’s degree much more affordable and accessible. DeMillo argues that without change, universities will soon cease to exist as we know them. He offers up MOOCs focused on mastery learning and peer mentoring as a solution. To date, DeMillo has made much headway towards modernizing and saving the institution of college. Only time will tell if his vision will save higher education.
DeMillo’s Websites at Georgia Institute of Technology
DeMillo’s LinkedIn and Twitter accounts
Baker, Paul M.A. et al. “The Evolving University: Disruptive Change and Institutional Innovation.” Procedia Computer Science 14 ( 2012 ) (2012): 330 – 335. Journal.
Bras, Rafael L. and Richard A. DeMillo. “The Leadership Challenges for Higher Education’s Digital Future.” Antony, James Soto. Challenges in Higher Education, Practical and Scholarly Soutions. New York: Routledge, 2017. 256-274. Book Chapter.
DeMillo, Richard A. 10 Questions: Rich DeMillo, Ph.D. CS ’72, A Disruptive Force in Higher Education Roger Slavens. 12 July 2017. Website.
—. “Keeping Technology Promises.” Association of Computing Machnery (2012): 37-39. Journal .
—. Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable. Boston: MIT Press, 2015. Book.
Kahn, Gabriel. The MOOC That Roared: How Georgia Tech’s new, super-cheap online master’s degree could radically change American higher education. 23 July 2013. Website. 20 July 2018.
Kepka, Jennifer A. “Book review of Revolution in Higher Education.” Open Praxis, International Council for Open and Distance Education (2017): 359-360. Journal.