NEW APPROACH AND TOOLS FOR SYSTEMATIC INTEGRATION OF HIGHER EDUCATION WITH RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
The purpose of this study is to create a pedagogical approach and tools for systematic integration of higher education and university´s research and development projects. The appeal and usefulness of education decreases if learning methods cannot stay abreast with the workplace change. Instead of just reacting to the changes in working life, the development of pedagogical approaches in higher education should be the path-setter for that change. The Master's degree education at the Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) has a lot of potential as a creator new kinds of interaction models and multi-directional learning processes, because most of the students study while at work. UAS Master´s students employed in expert and developer tasks in companies and public organizations are in a central position in the workplace development and transfer of knowledge between UAS and working life. The challenge has been a closer integration of UAS education to the research, development and innovation (RDI) activities of the UAS to ensure that both the effectiveness of education and RDI activities would become stronger. This empirical paper is based on a three-year research and development project the goal of which has been to create a systematic approach and tools for the integration of higher education and RDI projects.
The project started by a two-year future-oriented service design process that went through the phases of:
1) understanding the contexts and needs of students and other stakeholders,
2) ideating with the students and instructors,
3) prototyping and rapid testing of new methods and tools, and
4) finally conceptualizing the learning approach and the tools.
The data generating methods used during this process include probes, interviews, and workshops with part-time Master degree students and their instructors. Almost 150 adult students, who study alongside their full-time job, were involved in the design process. After this service design process, the second phase of the project started in the beginning of 2016 and it still continues. The second phase has included the following steps: mapping the current status, analysis and creating the design drivers for the solution phase, ideation and rapid experiments, defining the integration model and key performance indicators, piloting, implementation, follow up and modifications if necessary. Rapid experiments during the three-year research and development project have enabled the creation of the pedagogical approach and several concrete tools for integrating the education and RDI projects. The approach, called Learning by Researching and Developing, is a continuum to the pedagogical approach called Learning by Developing where students are offered real working life experiences and projects during their studies. In addition to the novel approach, this paper introduces five tools supporting the systematic integration of higher education and RDI projects: the Visual information wall, Activity calendar, Project markets, Planning and Assessment template for Project Studies, and the New course “Research and development projects in the working life – how to get funding?” The new approach and tools demand courage but also inspire in everyday work and offer possibilities for collaborative learning, also for the educators and other UAS staff members.