October 17, 2014

Introducing the Tang Institute

Phillips Academy innovation hub will pioneer new methods in education
by Phillips Academy

Phillips Academy, Andover, today launched a milestone initiative that is poised to help shape the future of secondary education. John Palfrey, head of school, introduced the Tang Institute at Andover, a hub for innovative approaches to teaching and learning and a catalyst for creating partnerships with educators around the world.

Backed by $15 million in support from the former president of the school’s board of trustees, Oscar Tang ’56, a New York-based investor and global philanthropist, the Tang Institute also has secured seed funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, in addition to other benefactors.

The Oct. 17 event drew together members of the campus community, university scholars, education experts and entrepreneurs, teachers and venture capitalists for an afternoon of moderated discussions, interactive presentations and a keynote address by Erin Driver-Linn, Harvard University associate provost and director of the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching.

“Our increasingly interconnected and global society demands that we adapt our approach to teaching and learning. The Tang Institute will drive us to explore new possibilities for our education systems while also strengthening the experiences of our own students and faculty,” said Palfrey.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support of many, especially Oscar Tang, who joins his successor Peter Currie (trustee president) and me in believing that Andover can—and should—create something akin to a Bell Labs for secondary education. Today’s launch marks great progress toward that vision. We are also grateful for the support of the MacArthur Foundation, our board of trustees and all who have invested in this effort.”

Palfrey also unveiled a new website (tanginstitute.com) and encouraged audience members to explore initial projects, most of which began over the past year, during the institute’s planning phase.

Visit the Tang Institute website >>

Among these projects, a majority of which are led by Andover faculty, are a number of early successes: a blended calculus course and new partnership with Khan Academy; global experiential partnerships with schools in places such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa; student and faculty research into learning mindsets; and a prototype for an astronomy web portal dedicated to the discovery of variable stars.

Tang expressed pride in his alma mater for affirming the school’s founding values, especially non sibi (not for self) and private school with a public purpose. “I’ve always believed that Andover is blessed with superb intellectual talent. Our faculty and the school are at their best when they share those gifts beyond campus,” he said.

There is also reciprocity in these partnerships, added Tang, and “much that we can learn from others who are working to address issues such as access to advanced coursework or opportunities for global engagement. My hope is that the institute will provide incentive for Andover to continue to lead and serve in this important way.”

Tang Institute Director Caroline Nolan, who came to Andover in fall 2013 from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, described the mission as “dually focused” on the Andover experience and advances in secondary education. By encouraging experimentation, interdisciplinary work, partnerships, connected learning and assessment, the institute seeks to have a lasting impact and global reach, she said.

Trustee President Peter Currie ’74 is already anticipating the institute’s potential to transform the learning experiences of Andover students, as well as those studying elsewhere. “Having exposure to team-based project work, mediated by global connectivity and hands-on experimentation, will serve young people extremely well in college and beyond,” he said. “The ability to test new ideas, iterate and adapt are highly sought qualities in today’s economy.”

These themes were echoed by Dean of Studies Patricia Russell, who has been guiding key aspects of the institute’s work since its inception. “The opportunity for our faculty and students to come together around creative ideas builds upon Andover’s long tradition of educational innovation and practice,” she said. “The model of a hub or incubator that can support our efforts to test and integrate these ideas is incredibly valuable to our program overall.”

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