By Federico Jensen
Is innovation the use of technology to teach and create new pedagogical tools? Is innovation creating different formats of studying so that students are not just receiving information but learning by doing? Is innovation giving students more influence in their education and curriculum creation? Is innovation setting the framework of education towards real problems of the society?
All of this was discussed at the Critical Edge Alliance (CEA) conference in Bogotá this June, where educators and students from the seven-member institutions as well as other universities met to discuss the topic of innovation in education. This was my second CEA conference after attending the one in Mumbai the year before, whose theme was “Higher Education for the 21st Century: Innovations in University-Society Partnerships,” in which we discussed how to create more synergies between higher education and society at large.
One of the most interesting aspects is the relation I could see between these two conferences and their themes, in that it seems that most of the innovations and curriculum changes are aimed at the need for education to be in touch with societal issues and realities and the creation of more interaction between higher education, the students and the societies they live in.
This is a good sign at least for the CEA institutions that they have their heads in reality and are attempting to understand what the needs of societies are at large and how can innovations in education be geared towards accomplishing some of these objectives. Of course, the example of technological and curricular changes however was only focused towards few students or isolated projects outside the main curriculums. Therefore, it is important that this knowledge, inspiration and conversation regarding these innovations continues and becomes a reality for most students, at least in CEA institutions.
This to me relates back to two of the highest points of the conference and stark contrast to the Mumbai conference. First, that the students and professors discussed all conference topics together and conversed in the same room for the whole conference, breaking the barrier between different academic levels and education perceptions. Second, and most importantly to me, was when the students, specially through the insistence of a student from Roskilde University (RUC), were able to be recognized as a true part of CEA and were invited to attend the big planning meeting and will subsequently be invited to all the next planning meetings of the organization after a process of selecting the students who should represent each CEA institution is finished.
To me, this was the biggest innovation of all, giving the students agency in their learning and power in decision making at academic institutions should be high on the agenda of any critical group of universities. It should also be high on the agenda of politically minded students who are trying to gain influence over an academia that time and time again forgets that it not only is there to serve the general society but also is there and is able to stand on their own feet, thanks to the students’ curiosity, energy and motivation to keep learning.
Now with the inclusion of another critical university (Paris 8) and the preparations for the new conference and other activities soon starting, I can only imagine the type of exciting products and ideas this collaboration among students and teachers can bring in the future. Therefore, the conclusion of this conference, to me, is that innovation is about collaborating and working together across disciplines and removing academic barriers and levels to create a better educational future for the society at large.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Federico Jensen is a master degree student of Global Studies at Roskilde University. Apart from his studies he works with tropical forest conservation at a Danish NGO and is the Vice-Chairman of the study board for international studies at Roskilde University. His main interests are the political economy of sustainable development and learning as a path to innovation and development.