M. Überall 1, R. Windbichler2, S. Schlögl 2

1PHT - Pädagogische Hochschule Tirol (AUSTRIA)
2MCI - The Entrepreneurial School (AUSTRIA)
We report on the feedback and lessons learned from a case study competition which used a mock (research) proposal writing task to foster students’ understanding of current issues in (European) health policy. The goal was to bring a sense of real-life to the classroom and consequently bridge the gap between theory and practice. As such, the competition created a practical, action-orientated approach to learning, in which information and knowledge was generated by participating students themselves, rather than transferred merely via direct teaching. This led to a deeper understanding of the chosen topic and offered an opportunity for both project-based and social learning experiences. Moreover, since applying for grants has become inevitable when working in health-related management fields, a goal of the course was to convey these necessary skills through a hands-on approach.

Students from two different master course programs (both related to health and social management) worked in small groups. They were given the task to propose a solution as to how concrete European health challenges may be tackled through innovative research, particularly focusing on information and communication technology. These proposals had to be packed into corresponding (research) funding applications, which were then submitted to an external jury of experts for assessment. Here the aim was to introduce students to the world of European research funding, while at the same time closing the gap between the theoretical discussion of a specific problem and the feasible implementation of a practical solution.

The idea for this proposal writing task was inspired by the concept of action-oriented learning, where knowledge and understanding of a specific topic (in the given case the chosen health challenge) is established and deepened through a concrete project. The process of working on a competitive funding proposal not only generated professional skills, but also conveyed valuable social experiences (e.g., group formation, finding topics, willingness to compromise, ability to discuss, etc.). Furthermore, proposals were prepared by interdisciplinary and multinational student teams, which not only strengthened students’ team working skills, but moreover prepared them for a potential task in their future professional life.

Due to ongoing COVID19-restrictions, the entire course had to be organized in an online setting which combined scheduled webinar-based skill trainings with time-flexible group coaching sessions. While this type of learning may have been cognitively harder and thus more demanding for students, it did introduce an additional dose of reality, for research proposals are usually written by multidisciplinary teams whose members are often distributed all around the globe. Furthermore, it fostered students’ eCollaboration skills, making them use various tools (e.g., online group discussions, online brainstorming, shared documents, etc.) but also exposing them to the problems and challenges of this type of teamwork (e.g., difficulties due to the lack of physical contact, technical problems such as weak internet connection, problems with data protection and data security, etc.).

In summary, we argue that this project-based proposal writing class format fostered students’ 21st century skills - both functional and social skills - while at the same time prepared them for important responsibilities in their future professional life.