Do you think homework is overrated? Be honest! Everyone has their own learning process, but we’re betting you said yes.
Over the past few years, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) has been taking steps to redefine learning. Instead of sticking to the status quo of lectures and homework, the university has adapted a learning framework which encourages students to create and innovate.
Professor Kristin Wood, one of the brilliant minds behind SUTD’s innovative curriculum, sat down to explain his vision for an improved learning process.
“What universities create are people. The things we create – the patents, the papers – are secondary.”
Enhancing the learning process
In the academe, education is a way of life but research is what brings prestige. Many institutions for higher learning draw a fine line between education and research. As a result, students excel in their academics but struggle in applying what they know for the purpose of innovation.
Professor Wood believes that universities, first and foremost, create people. He advocates for the enrichment of students’ learning experiences because, to him, the individuals that an institution produces should be its most significant measure of success.
Of course, focusing on the education of students doesn’t mean that schools should allot less time in research. This distinction between education and research is one that Professor Wood wants to eliminate. Why separate them when putting these two disciplines together would be more beneficial for students?
It’s a radical vision which fits his goal of “changing the meaning and context of education at a higher level.” Through the integration of education and research, Professor Wood hopes to equip students with the mindset and skills that can innovate the world.
Developing future leaders
Singapore University of Technology and Design‘s curriculum already reflects Professor Wood’s vision to an extent. Undergraduate courses at the university are often driven by project-centered learning experiences. This means fewer lectures and homework in order to make room for projects meant to hone creativity and ideation.
“We want to interact with students in a way that would inspire them; that allows them to be hands-on, be pro-active, and hopefully, build independent innovators and self-learners out of those experiences,” Professor Wood elaborates.
So far, SUTD has received positive feedback for this shift in its internal learning processes. Employers who hired recent graduates from the university have commended them for being pro-active members of the team.
“They said our students were by far one of their more independent hires on the team. They were also very receptive to challenges – and I loved that.”
SUTD hasn’t stopped redefining education at the undergraduate level, however.
In a standard graduate program, a student gains in-depth knowledge of a specific subject. This is achieved under the guidance of an adviser who also happens to have an expertise in the same field. In SUTD, graduate programs take an interdisciplinary approach.
“On top of that [deep knowledge], they will be attached to multiple advisors from various disciplines. This allows them to span the interdisciplinary space like no other students have.”
A student gains in-depth knowledge of a specific subject while learning from a variety of disciplines along the way. This helps ensure that an individual’s approach to a problem is never one-dimensional.
Creating impact beyond the academe
Professor Wood strongly believes that universities must strive to create individuals who can make waves in the real world. As co-director of the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre, he sees his role revolve around two very important topics: design research and its application.
“The IDC is an outlet for me to not only create a scholarly impact, but for me to bring design to practice, to impact the economy as well as the community.”
Beyond improving the learning process within SUTD, his long-term vision is to be able to create individuals who are able to use research as a means of bringing positive change to the world.