PROMOTING NEW EXPERTISE IN HIGHER EDUCATION BY INTEGRATING RESEARCH AND INNOVATION ACTIVITIES IN THE HIGHER EDUCATION LEARNING PROCESSES
The higher education institutions (HEIs) of today are expected to educate professionals for the future working life, which requires both professional expertise on specific field and multiple other skills that are mostly related to the new processes of working. In the field of engineering sciences, for example, detailed knowledge on specific technique or technologic field needs to be combined with project management knowledge, social and communication skills, business intelligence and financial knowledge. An engineering professional needs to be able to clearly and understandably express his/her ideas, views, and plans and be able to communicate them to other people both in writing and orally. This also calls for social competences. Moreover, multidisciplinary knowledge from different fields, for example knowledge on information and communication technology (ICT) combined with expertise on health care, is highly valued. In addition, the graduating students are expected to have experience on processes of working life and abilities to cope changes, stress and uncertainty.
In order to find solutions to these challenges, the research, development and innovation (RDI) activities are integrated in practical teaching and learning in Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS). The RDI activities include research and development projects that are mainly implemented on external funding from various sources, e.g. European Union. The students’ participation in the project activities is implemented by project courses that are integrated in the curricula of the degree programmes. The courses that are implemented mainly or partly by integrating them in R&D projects are called project courses. The student participation in the project activities might include e.g. preparing a thesis, implementing specific assignments, working as a project assistant or completing other tasks. Thus, the level of involvement and the workload varies.
Students’ participation in the RDI activities forms a linkage between teaching and research: it connects these processes and contributes to the development of innovative learning environments in HEIs. Further, students’ involvement in RDI promotes students’ professional skills, innovative working methods and appliance of theoretical knowledge into practice. However, integration of RDI activities and teaching requires new tools both for the students and the teachers. For the students, participation in RDI integrated teaching calls for active attitude to learning, internal motivation and ability to apply theoretical knowledge into practice. From the teacher’s perspective, the project courses challenge the traditional ideas of the course contents, teaching methods, learning outcomes, evaluation criteria and estimation of students’ workload.
In this paper, we discuss the benefits and challenges of project course implementation in universities of applied sciences (UAS) and present some methods and practical tips for teachers and other experts on higher education. Based on our experiences on RDI integrated teaching in TUAS, we present the outcomes and discuss the future perspectives of teaching and learning.