Shaking Up Higher Education

Gone are the days of “hard” science over “soft”. Gone is the pointless segmentation between academic research and applied research, basic research and experimental research. Barriers are breaking down.

Courtesy Christian Guellerin © Jean-Charles Queffelec

Gone are the days of “hard” science over “soft”. Gone is the pointless segmentation between academic research and applied research, basic research and experimental research. Barriers are breaking down. 

Teaching programs are reorganizing around complex themes to encourage collaboration and transversality. Global warming, connected objects, the new mobility, factories of the future, robotics, and aging populations are the new themes around which engineers, designers, sociologists, sales teams, and anyone else of goodwill needs to unite.

Au revoir teachers?

The Internet has given us instant access to abundant and manifold knowledge. So we must ask, is the physical presence of the teacher indispensable? Not really. Not like it used to be. Look, for example, at the dramatic rise in MOOCs. This proves that many disciplines have adapted to distance learning–courses can now access conferences at the most prestigious universities and present the greatest scholars of our time.

We are witnessing the gradual end of lectures given in amphitheaters where the platform and desk determined the distance between teacher and apprentice. With so much knowledge accessible via a few clicks, students are spoiled for choice. Teachers are reviewing their roles and transforming their top-down teaching approach to a form of coaching. Their aim is to guide students in their learning rather than teaching. Being scholarly and learned will no longer be enough to earn your stripes as a professor.

Stimulating creativity without forcing it

But some things cannot be taught easily without the presence of a teacher, particularly when it comes to know-how. What we see happening in design schools today is proof of this and foreshadows the transformation of teacher-student relations. Design students are guided and encouraged by their teachers to share, test, experience, and reformulate. It is the students who conduct the lessons. They are are expected to come up with creative and innovative ideas. Born long after their teachers, today’s students have a better understanding of tomorrow’s world.

In this context the role of teachers is to stimulate creativity without forcing it. Teachers work to encourage students, to help them develop new ideas, to correct them, to support them in the moments of doubt inherent to all journeys into the unknown, to reassure them when they make mistakes and help them start over.

Focusing on the students

Teaching creativity, freedom, and responsibility is far more complex than teaching facts. This collaborative method puts the student at the heart of the academic process. The student is at the core of the program, not the subject. It is the student who brings the talent and inspiration.

This less directive teacher-student relationship may be the forerunner of the participative management models championed by modern theories of organization.

 Let us overturn hierarchies to give responsibility and fulfillment to all!

Christian Guellerin has been president of Cumulus, the International Association of Universities and Schools of Design, Art and Media since 2007. Under his leadership the organization grew from 80 to 178 establishments in 44 countries in 2008; today they’re expanding to China and India. He is also the executive director of the École de design Nantes Atlantique, which trains professionals to create and innovate for socio-economic development, with an interface between technology, economics, and the sciences. He writes frequently on design and pedagogy and teaches in several schools and universities in France and abroad.

Read more posts from Christian Guellerin here.

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