What should a 21st century university look like?

That's a question the new Center for 21st Century Universities wants to explore by studying the impact of disruptive technologies and education ideas on undergraduate education.

“The driving idea behind the center is to take a 100 year view of what universities will be like in the 21st century,” said Rich DeMillo, the director of the center and former dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech.

In the 20th century, there has been virtually no experimentation with the form of a university. And in an age where technology drives the pace of change, that's not good, he said.

But the center will make it easy to experiment with what a university should look like.

Right now, we don't know what a 21st century university looks like. That's why the center will cultivate as much diversity in ideas and technology as it can.

Georgia Tech has a track record of rethinking education. When the dot-com bust in 2000 scared students away from computer science, the university took apart and reworked its well-established curriculum. As a result, Georgia Tech started gaining students while virtually every computer science program in the U.S. lost them.

“We decided to take a radical approach to how computer scientists should be educated, and it turned out to be a terrific success,” he said.

By using disruptive technology better and spending money smarter, universities will be able to give students educational value, he said. At the same time, they can use increasingly scarce resources in valuable parts of the curriculum.

In most universities, bureaucratic clutter discourages faculty members from experimenting with technology. The center will make it easier to clear that clutter out of innovation's way, he said. Possible ways to do that include making special arrangements with university bureaucracies or accrediting agencies.

“We just want to lower the bar," DeMillo said. "We want to make it easy for creative faculty members who think that they have disruptive ideas about higher education to test their ideas out.”