Innovation and transformation are two terms that are very much in fashion and are in danger of being weakened by excessive use. Just like each year’s summer hits. Everyone these days is making an effort to be innovative, promising transformation or encouraging others to do both. When you think about it, there is a reason these terms are used excessively. They are words that denote change and evolution, which are fundamental pillars in humanity’s development.
But what does it mean to be innovative or transforming in education? Many of us frequently turn to great thinkers, philosophers or experts to find the answer to this question and we forget to ask the protagonists of the future, our students. When I was writing this article, I conducted a survey among my master’s and bachelor’s degree students. I asked them what innovation means in education. The almost unanimous response was that innovation means improving. Lecturers, classes and the curriculum must be flexible and adapt to their concerns and the needs of the time and of each individual. Active participation and critical thought should be encouraged. We need to awaken their curiosity and find ways of keeping them interested. And finally, we must provide them with the tools that will make them productive in their future careers. All well and good. We already know what to do, now we simply need to know how to do it. How we implement flexibility, how we encourage thought and action, and how we make them productive.
There are many institutions, including BSM, that are making their curricula more flexible and making educational paths more plastic and permeable. There is clearly some way to go but it seems we are headed in the right direction.
Moreover, encouraging students to have an active attitude in spreading knowledge rather than a passive attitude in receiving it, is, in my opinion, the great challenge that students and teaching staff face. On both sides of the classroom, we have a tendency to take refuge in convenience. It is more convenient and simpler for the lecturer to prepare classes as highly-structured as possible in order to avoid conflict, confusion and discouragement. In the worst-case scenario, that results in reading out PowerPoint slides that students have access to online, and in the best-case scenario, showing them predetermined formulas that identify, analyse and solve different predesigned situations or problems. The most convenient and simplest thing for a student, in the worst-case scenario, is not attending class, and in the best-case scenario it is passively listening and taking notes. In order to smash this dynamic and transform the educational model, the challenge for lecturers is to accept a degree of “controlled” drift and pass part of the responsibility for learning on to the student, transforming him/herself from an imparter to a facilitator. The student’s challenge is to accept this responsibility and change from being a receiver to an imparter.
Education is based not so much on the action of teaching but instead on the action of learning. In order to do this, we must shift responsibility for a significant part of the teaching burden on to the student. It may appear that this is a simplified way of working for lecturers and institutions, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is simple if it is done incorrectly. But doing so in a useful, effective and rigorous way implies a great effort by both the student, the teacher and the institutions.
From the teacher’s perspective, we must accept the student as a valid interlocutor and imparter. The transition from a passive student model to an active student model requires an act of trust that must begin on the teacher’s side. Up until now, we have not given them that responsibility and starting to do so is complex. “How can they bear part of the teaching burden if they do not prepare, do not study, do not explain themselves well?”. These are legitimate fears. But if we are to transform education, we must break with preconceived ways of thinking, always within a context of effectiveness and rigorousness. As teachers, we must take on the role of leaders who know how to delegate without losing control, ensuring the quality and rigor society demands and needs.
The simple (and also complex) factor of passing on responsibility encourages students to take decisions, be proactive in dealing with situations with their own resources and empowers them to take action.
We must also encourage them to engage in critical thinking. In order to do that, we must provide them with the necessary tools to reason and question different alternatives in a particular situation or knowledge area. This range of focuses increases the complexity of teaching management. The challenge is therefore greater. We must pass on responsibility and encourage dispersion subject to academic rigour and control.
This is the true challenge for the education system. The challenge is not incorporating new technologies into classrooms. Incorporating technologies that can facilitate this transfer of responsibility is a minor challenge. We must establish the foundations for the inter-relational model in which exigency, rigour and action are shared and encouraged in both directions: from the student to the teacher and from the teacher to the student.