Jonas Čeponis: Universities cannot remain the same – they must change

Important | 2020-03-03

People face a lot of problems daily – at home, work, school or university. Challenges not only force us to get out of our comfort zone, to find the most relevant information and to look at the situation differently – they also educate us. For example, even after learning a new language, living abroad might cause challenges because of the local accents. However, a different environment can increase language proficiency. That is why learning today must be challenge-based. 

Students are now different. They manage to process large quantities of information because of the information overload. However, the younger generation does not pay attention continuously: it takes only 20 minutes for a student to lose interest in what the lecturer is saying. Young people not just want to sit still; they want to be proactive.

In addition, technological and economic development has changed the ways we learn and teach. Smartphones give people instant access to the information, therefore its selection becomes crucial. Universities must adapt to constant change and challenge-based learning becomes critical.

Apple Inc. success lies in challenge-based learning

The difference between standard learning and challenge-based is that the latter focuses on real global problems. Why challenges are important?

Let’s take Apply Inc. as an example. Probably everyone knows at least one product of this company. Its economic situation has been improving since 2008 and now Apple Inc. is one of the most profitable companies in the world, worth USD 1.42 trillion. What’s the secret? One might say that Apple’s success lies in good production design or operating system. However, there is one very important element that has made all of this possible – challenge-based innovation.

Challenge-based learning emerged from a project initiated by Apple Inc. in 2008. The project called “Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow – Today” aims to help schools and universities based in the US to get closer to creating the kind of learning environment current generation of students needs and wants.

Do you know the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”? Apple Inc. relies on challenge-based learning to respond to environmental challenges or problems and to find the best innovative solutions. The challenge-based learning method helped Apple Inc. to create new, innovative products and to promote them. The good news is that the method can be applied not only in the industry but also in education.

More than 200 thousand students

Universities today cannot remain the same – they must change. By implementing innovative methods, they need to impart knowledge and skills to meet future student needs. It is vital to be creative while dealing with global challenges.

ECIU University, launched in 2019, is the first European university where students and researchers cooperate with cities and businesses to solve real-life challenges. The innovative educational model is being implemented by the members of the ECIU (European Consortium of Innovative Universities) network. KTU joined ECIU network in 2016 and is the only Lithuanian university in the Consortium.

ECIU exceeds the borders of one continent – universities are from 12 different European countries and Mexico. More than 200 thousand students from individual universities make up ECIU University, founded under the initiative of European Universities. ECIU University unites 31 thousand employees, 83 faculties, 450 science institutes, 11 science valleys and more than 800 thousand alumni.

If students enrol into one of the Consortium member universities, they will tap into vast resources available through students, faculty and staff members of the ECIU network. ECIU believes in remodeling of European higher education and challenging traditional thinking. How can this be achieved?

Real problems – real solutions

ECIU University students, researchers and staff from the universities, business and community organisations work together to tackle interdisciplinary issues. Teams will work together to find the best solutions for the challenges. The working environment is similar to a start-up or hackathon, where collaborative projects might become innovations.

The challenges, which will be solved in the learning process are relevant to contemporary society. They are related to the issues we face in our everyday life. Moreover, the students will have the opportunity to join the teams from other countries and to work on the challenges they face. The international, interdisciplinary ECIU University teams will be able to communicate freely, not bordered by the frontiers of a university, a region or a country.

The world today is full of challenges, demanding imminent solutions. Just think about various ecology-related topics, fast fashion, consumerism, food waste, parking problems and much more. We face these issues daily. ECIU community will try to integrate challenge-based learning into the study programmes and students will work to find solutions to the problems for a better society.

Opportunity to study in many countries

By participating in the ECIU activities and by implementing this project, the KTU community has the opportunity to contribute to higher education remodelling and to initiate the necessary innovation to meet the future student needs. The consortium aims to create a framework that brings 12 strong innovative universities from different countries over the next 3 years.

ECIU University is putting a great emphasis on online learning. Different learning methods, blended learning allow students from different countries to get the best and most up-to-date knowledge from all the universities in different European countries. Also, ECIU has one associate member from Mexico – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

The aim of the ECIU University is to create a new concept for an international university that transcends Erasmus+ mobility programme and international relations concepts by using new academic, research and transfer methods that are more flexible and international.

The ECIU university students will also receive a “Competency Passport” where their skills and competencies will be recorded. This document is designed to increase employability as it will list the real skills and knowledge that the students acquire while solving challenges. Also, hands-on learning will allow students to experience real-world situations; they will work with companies, regional governments, the public, and students from other universities. This approach to university education will significantly increase in learners’ and teachers’ mobility.

A European Commission initiative, European Student Card will enable ECIU University students to travel across consortium member universities, to access all services and systems, just as they would at their home universities.

KTU students already face global challenges

Even if it seems like a far future, KTU already offers many ways to help students tackle the professional challenges of today. One of these is GIFTed Talent Academy. It is a talent development platform that provides possibilities for talented students to improve their abilities in science and business areas by participating in the “Challenge” activities.

First in Lithuania extensive GUIDed mentorship programme where almost 700 mentors coach students through all their study journey  – from the entrance to the university to the graduation – allows students to achieve the best of results.

The WANTed programme run by The Career and Education Centre, is organising KTU WANTed Career Days – the largest career contact fair for students and companies in the Baltic States. Also, the Centre offers a plethora of activities throughout the years of study so as students can start planning their future careers from the very start.

So, are we ready to face the challenges? It depends only on ourselves, and, in particular, on future students. We face different and unexpected challenges every day. It is impossible to predict all of them, but only with the help of future generations, working and improving together, we can solve them and create a society, which is ready to face the world of tomorrow.

Jonas Čeponis is the Vice-Rector for Studies at Kaunas University of Technology