Nowadays it is common to hear that we live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Accelerating changes are shaping our vision of the future. Universities have traditionally focused on making undergraduates ready to “face the world”, but today we are constantly reminded that when our students graduate they will go on to work in jobs that do not yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, and solving problems that are not yet even on our radar.
This is a challenge for everyone in higher education worldwide. How can we better educate our students? Researchers and educators such as Stanford University’s Nobel laureate Carl Wieman and Harvard University’s Eric Mazur emphasise the importance of transforming the traditional learning models used in undergraduate education.
With this in mind, Monterrey Institute of Technology decided to overhaul its educational model. In 2013, a new model, which we dubbed “Tec21”, started to take shape with input from academics and education experts and insights from our visits to more than 40 universities around the world.
Tec21 is centred on four pillars: challenge-based learning; flexibility in how, when and where students learn; inspirational faculty; and an engaging university experience.
Challenge-based learning is the pillar that perhaps most differentiates Tec21 from traditional educational models.
A Chinese proverb says: “Tell me, and I forget. Show me, and I remember. Involve me, and I understand.” Our challenge-based learning approach recognises the importance of actively involving students in tackling relevant problems within a real-world context, which is provided by challenges that are identified and selected by faculty together with an external partner from industry, non-governmental organisations, public sector bodies or specific communities.
Traditional models place the professor at the centre of the educational process; some more recent models place the student at the centre. Tec21 enshrines the challenge as the central motif that guides a learning process in which students and faculty interact closely.
Students are placed in situations where they have to connect, assess, enquire, innovate and propose solutions, requiring them to apply prior knowledge and skills as well as discover and develop new knowledge and capabilities necessary to master a challenge.
In traditional models, course design and delivery is typically performed by a single academic through lectures. In the new model, this is a collaborative and multidisciplinary activity performed by a team of faculty members who, together with the external partner, design the challenges to achieve the desired learning outcomes. We have incorporated into the curriculum activities traditionally considered to be extracurricular, such as social responsibility, leadership, entrepreneurship, cultural awareness and sensitivity and personal well-being. Students are also mentored by a team of faculty, which fosters closer relationships than lecture sessions.
We have deployed our new model incrementally, allowing us to test, measure and learn. In 2015, we launched “i-Week”, which involved more than 50,000 undergraduates from all disciplines in an immersive, week-long challenge-based learning experience. In 2016, we extended this experience to a full semester for some students.
Tec21 is a complex project. It has required upskilling and reskilling of faculty as well as changes to administrative processes and physical infrastructure across our 26 campuses in Mexico.
We have conducted studies to evaluate students’ academic achievement and engagement in this model, and we have assessed the learning experience with faculty. This has allowed us to identify areas for improvement. Finally, this autumn, after six years of continuous development, our 44 undergraduate degree programmes will fully integrate all the elements of Tec21 into their curricula.
Implementing this model, in which more than 50 per cent of undergraduate learning will be based around challenges rather than traditional lecture-based courses, we hope that our students will not only acquire the knowledge and competencies of their discipline but will also learn to face uncertainty and change, to learn on their own, to solve complex problems, to adapt to new situations, and to develop crucial skills and values such as effective communication, critical thinking, entrepreneurial mindset, ethics and citizenship.
Previously, value resided in knowledge; today, it lies in what one can do with knowledge, in learning how to learn and in adapting rapidly to new situations. We believe that having followed Tec21, our graduates will not only be ready to get a job but will also be equipped to create their own opportunities and to contribute to the development of their community and the world.
David Garza-Salazar is rector of Monterrey Institute of Technology.
Print headline: Challenged to rise
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