Higher education providers must prioritise student outcomes over focusing too heavily on pedagogical innovation and understand why it’s necessary to successfully implement change, university presidents told delegates at the QS Reimagine Education conference in London.
A panel of five HE leaders told the audience that focusing too heavily on the concept of innovation and implementation of new technology without clear outcomes could prevent change itself.
Relying on new technology as evidence alone of innovation in improving outcomes should be swerved.
“Innovation involves anything that results in better learning on the part of students”
“Everybody’s talking about building innovation centres and innovation labs, and I’m not even sure what the word means anymore,” said David Yager, president and chief executive of The University of the Arts in the US.
He noted that the most important skill desired from graduates according to Fortune 500 companies is “creativity”.
“The issue is still how do we impart the ability for our students to be the creative drivers for the future. We have amazing tools, we have amazing technologies that for me have moved far faster than our understanding of how to impart that kind of knowledge to our students.”
Yager added institutions must step back and assess how they are changing their curriculum so they can understand what they are trying to achieve.
He spoke about courses that are not discipline-based being a new approach.
The panel, which looked at reimagining education for the future, recommended universities continue to heavily focus on how they engage students within the learning experience.
“The classroom is changing,” said vice president of China’s SUSTech Lu Chun.
“Everybody has a laptop or mobile phone or [tablet] in front of them, so [are] the professors talking to the computer or are they talking to the students?”
According to Lu, research should not be exclusive to postgraduate studies and should be incorporated at an undergraduate level to boost experiential learning.
“From our practice, we try to engage students working on a real project, so they group together and learning by doing something is another way to engage students.”
“It actually allows them to develop very individualistic skills”
Roberto Diaz, president and chief executive of Curtis Institute of Music in the US, agreed, noting many of the skills students need to prepare for the future of work could only be learnt by experiencing them.
“Creativity is not something you can teach, but I think that you can empower people to actually realise that you have to trust and it’s ok to test your instincts,” he said.
“It actually allows them to develop very individualistic skills and way to look at themselves and their role in society.”
Technology is not the only means to achieve innovation and universities should identify other opportunities to improve the student experience, according to Craig Swenson, president and chief executive of Ashford University.
“I think there is a misconception often that innovation necessarily involves technology, and while that’s often the case, it’s often as true that innovation involves anything that results in better learning on the part of students,” he said.
“The less sexy aspect of innovation involves just creating formats and conditions and streamlining processes that allow the students to focus on their studies.”
“What we should be aware of is to learn from each other”
Swenson, whose US-based university has a large older student population, added the implementation of early preventative measures for at-risk students were necessary to aid success outcomes.
Both interdisciplinary and inter-university collaboration would also aid in reimagining education to meet future academic and societal needs, said president of Israel’s Interdisciplinary Centre Uriel Reichman.
“The most important thing is modesty,” he said.
“We’re all looking into a changing world, we’re trying all kinds of things… what we should be aware of is to learn from each other and share the knowledge that so many of you and we are trying to find out.”
Ashford’s Swenson concluded universities needed to facilitate a culture in which they could challenge their processes and procedures.
“What we’ve found is we do them that way because that’s the way we do them, and I think building culture that allows us to escape that gravitational pull is key to making changes.”
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