Earlier this month, Kaunas University of Technology EDU_Lab hosted Study Quality Day 2022. Organised since 2015, this year’s Study Quality Day invited a discussion about innovation in the study process. More than 100 representatives of Lithuanian universities took part in the seminar, panel discussions and five experiential labs.
“This meeting is a great opportunity for everyone to discuss the future trends of higher education together, to highlight the importance of innovation in the study process, and to discuss directions for promoting innovation in studies by sharing good practices,” said Asta Daunorienė, the Head of EDU_Lab Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning while greeting the participants, who, after the pandemic years, were finally able to meet live.
In the academic community, the discussion on the long- and short-term importance of innovation in the study process is more and more audible. What is innovation in the study context? Who is responsible for implementing it? What challenges do learners and teachers face while attempting to innovate in the study process?
According to Kristina Ukvalbergienė, the KTU Director of the Department of Academic Affairs, the classic definition of innovation would be the implementation of a certain new idea that creates added value for both the institution and the customer.
“We are always talking about a certain transformation, a certain change, in which a person is involved and who is affected by this transformation. Education itself is currently undergoing a certain transformation: first of all, it must be of high quality and sustainable, as it is the basis for societal development but at the same time it must meet the challenges of a rapidly changing and unpredictable globalised world,” said Ukvalbergienė.
Therefore, in education there is an increasing need to talk about innovations that transform the learning process, allowing one to acquire competencies in a much shorter time in a different way.
“Innovations in the context of higher education are related to the changing role of the teacher and co-creation in the study process, transferring the study process to real environments,” said Patrick Cohendet, professor at HEC Montréal university in Canada.
According to him, for innovations to come to the study process, universities should invite outside stakeholders to participate in courses. In his talk during Study Quality Day 2022, Prof Cohendet, who is a founder of MosaiC’s creativity and innovation centre, introduced a case of cooperation between HEC Montréal and Montréal Insectarium.
“Thanks to the solution we created together, the visitors of the Insectarium can now observe the life of the insects not only inside the premises but also in virtual environments. For example, they can follow the migration roads of a monarch butterfly,” said Prof Cohendet.
He believes that the difference between innovation and everyday engineering solutions is the innovation’s ability to spread.
“Technological new solutions can be considered innovations if they are accepted (and diffused) by other members of the organisation. A new day-to-day engineering solution which is not shared by others (and only used by one person) cannot be considered as an innovation,” said Prof Cohendet.
When different stakeholders are involved in the study process, they share their experiences from other fields of application, and in such a way, the ideas spread across the disciplines and communities. However, the teacher’s role is crucial in facilitating the interaction between the students and different stakeholders.
The teacher’s role in implementing innovation was also emphasised in the panel discussion moderated by Ukvalbergienė. According to Egidijus Kazanavičius, Professor at KTU Faculty of Informatics, all teachers are innovators by their nature. However, implementing innovations in the study process requires agility and awareness about the disposition of all involved in the process.
“Innovation in the study process is a set of skills that must be nurtured, taught and practised. All didactic methods and technologies must be put into a successive order: to educate students who create innovations, and later become full-fledged and different-thinking people, citizens and participants of a society who change the world,” says Prof Kazanavičius.
According to Monika Petraitė, Professor at KTU School of Economics and Business, the challenge to innovate should be created in an environment that is familiar to the learner. In such a way, the learner’s curiosity will be awakened.
“The teachers should always ask themselves: how can I transform my environments so as the learners would gain interdisciplinary competencies and can act, take decisions and continuously change,” says Prof Petraitė.
The experts agree that the role of the learners in accepting and participating in the implementation of innovations in the study process is very important.
“The present economic situation of society characterised by a concern of sustainable development, respect of the environment, the need of better inclusion of citizens in the processes of decision, reduction of inequalities, creates a context which makes the young generation particularly attentive to bring innovation as a priority in their studies,” Prof Cohendet of HEC Montréal believes.
In recent years, one of the most prominent innovations in the study process was the implementation of new technologies, such as virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. Are the learners always enthusiastic about using them?
“The students are willing to try out new technologies, however, everyone is different. Therefore, the successful implementation of innovation in the study process depends on all parties involved. The students have a responsibility to provide feedback to their teachers, to discuss their results and think about the needed changes in the process,” says Paulius Vaitiekus, the President of the Lithuanian Students Union.
However, despite ever-evolving technologies, the experts believe that a teacher will always be needed and present in the study process. Indrė Šuolienė, Head of the EdTech Centre at the National Agency for Education encourages the universities to look at education technologies from two perspectives: there are technologies for study organising processes and those, which have their content. She urges the institutions not to rush with implementing all of them, but rather to test and reflect on the effectivity, added value and acceptance by the learners of those implemented.
However, the innovation in the study process is not always based solely on implementing new technologies. During the five experiential labs of Study Quality Day 2022, the innovations introduced ranged from organising educational escape rooms to integrating LEGO methods in the studies.
After trying out a virtual escape room introduced by Dr Vilmantė Kumpikaitė-Valiūnienė of KTU School of Economics and Business and Audronė Daubarienė of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, the participants agreed that gamifying is a very rewarding form of active learning.
Challenge-based learning, introduced by Dr Inga Stasiulaitienė of the Faculty of Chemical Technology and Dr Benas Gabrielis Urbonavičius of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences inspired discussions of the participants on the short- and long-term sustainability of the solutions founded.
Creative solutions that can be used in STEM education inspired discussions about the application of active learning methods, such as problem-based learning, design-thinking and challenge-based learning for different tasks, and about the different solutions resulting from those. These methods were introduced by Dr Darius Eidukynas from KTU Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Design. Whereas Dr Jurgita Barynienė from the Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities was inviting the participants to a serious play and thinking by hand while applying the LEGO method for problem-solving.
“Sharing good practices is essential for fostering innovation culture in universities. As this event has revealed, implementing innovation in the higher education context is a multifaceted process, which involves many stakeholders. Therefore, good communication between the community members is a must. I am happy that Study Quality Day provides this opportunity,” said Daunorienė, Head of EDU_Lab, which has been organising the event for 7 years.