NCU Strategy: Personal "Education"
Competence blocks, microcertificates, small personalised forms of education, certified courses led by a well-trained staff – these are only a few elements of the strategy implemented at the NCU within the “Education" area.
One and a half year ago, the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń initiated the implementation of a new Strategy that would comply with modern challenges. The document was developed by the College of Rectors supported by specially appointed teams of academic and administration staff. The Institute of Higher Education Development also provided valuable support.
“The strategy defines our objectives for the forthcoming years. They are both ambitious and realistic. The point is to introduce the arrangements in a step-by-step manner so that the shaped vision could become the reality, announces Prof. dr hab. Andrzej Sokala, the NCU Rector."
The document indicates five main strategic objectives: 'People, 'Science', 'Education', 'Governance', and 'Relationships'. Let us check the progress visible in the 'Education' area.
My own path
Personalization, interdisciplinarity, interpersonalization of studies – these are the main challenges the NCU is to face within a few forthcoming years. “All the operational objectives and key activities in this field are to lead to the situation when, due to the personalized education path, each student taking advantage of the broad university offer will learn he or she considers applicable in a workplace. By giving jobs to our graduates, employers will confirm the accuracy of their choice and quality of education, says Prof. dr hab. Przemysław Nehring, Vice-Rector for Education.
Achieving these goals requires introducing changes in our thinking about the system of education and the adjustment of University regulations to the new situation. Even now, each NCU student can choose and attend two free-of–charge courses a year that are beyond the scope of their study. No other university in Poland offers such a benefit.
At the NCU, a certification system has been introduced, and some faculties make an increasingly active use of it by offering courses. It is connected with the graduation diploma which summarizes the learning effects in a given discipline. Students say they would like to present their specific skills, what they did exactly on their courses in, for instance, programming languages, says dr Anna Kola, the Vice-Dean for the Organization of Education at the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, a member of the “Education" team. “And this is the benefit of getting a certificate which specifies the topics the course covered. It is an attractive solution for both students and employers."
Certification is the easiest way to create small forms of education. It does not mean, however, that the traditional university education is over. The newly developed model is to allow shaping a new supplementary offer necessary in the modern world. There are young people who would like to spend a few years studying but also those who due to time, financial, or family issues cannot afford studying for a long time. “The image of a student is changing, explains dr Anna Kola. He or she is no longer a high school graduate, aged 19, who is just about to discover the rules that govern the world and not fully aware of what they want to do in the future. There is a growing group of students who wish to gain competences suitable for their chosen career paths, and we need to have a solid offer for them as well."
Up till now, post-graduate studies have been popular among graduates, but, as the very name says, they are dedicated to those who have already had diplomas. Microcertification, however, is not directed only to students, which is additionally emphasized by how attendants are called, and it is learners because they are interested in gaining specific competences. It is not clearly defined what kinds of competences these would be: professional or scientific. Courses can be either chargeable or free-of-charge if realized in the form of a project. They are arranged in structures and have their learning outcomes. “It is currently the most popular trend at universities, claims dr Anna Kola. It also involves e-learning to internationalize education and win students from the whole world. Such systems have already been functioning. Our students and staff complete their courses at universities such as Harvard, Yale, and other leading educational institutions all around the world. Now, it is our turn to follow this pathway."
Knowledge in a block
Our University is just taking its next step towards microcertification. Numerous actions have been initiated to implement competence blocks at the NCU. The Rector's directive is thus being prepared to change the regulations concerning the general University courses offering. The certified blocks of courses are to be offered as the general University courses (4-6 classes within one block), i.e. they are to be available to each NCU student. The blocks will be strictly connected with the so-called competences of the future, namely those which are important both at the beginning of the professional career path as well as if the requirements of the dynamically changing job market should force our graduates to be flexible when adjusting to new challenges, which means creativity, problem solving in non-standard situations, team-working, just to mention some. The courses are prepared in consultation with the Careers Service at the NCU which examines which competences are essential in the job market. Faculties are expected to investigate their resources and place one offer of a block. In the case of a multi-discipline faculty, the number of offers to place is two. Each block should involve 180 teaching hours which students can take advantage of within three, up to five years, of studies at our University regardless of their main discipline.
We are planning to personalize studies so that everyone could find something suitable, no matter what subject he or she is studying. As a target, students will be able to make their choices from a few dozen of certified general University blocks, explains Prof. Przemysław Nehring. Even if a student does not graduate, he or she will be given a certificate of accomplishment of the chosen competence block. The document will include information concerning the topics covered, ECTS number, and learning outcomes, a kind of “mini-diploma".
We have developed competence blocks to enable students to quickly get involved in the dynamically changing job market, and thus, to give them desirable competences, adds dr Anna Kola. The blocks are to be interconnected with some competence idea, for instance, a course in programming in a given language, preparation for teaching, or project management in a museum. The course can be related to the studied discipline, supplemented with classes offered by e.g. the NCU Career Service or optional classes offered by the Faculty. If classes were taught in English, we could immediately be competitive in the world market. We are a big university with high scientific, didactic, and infrastructural potential, and now is the time for us to take advantage of it.
The idea was consulted with students from various faculties. They emphasized that sometimes, during their studies, an employment opportunity appears. A potential employer may appreciate a candidate's knowledge, skills, and competences more if the candidate can prove them with certificates issued by the NCU. “We would like to change the popular belief that a university diploma is exclusively a document that confirms a successful accomplishment of a long process involving the acquisition of certain competences or understanding the academic ethos. It should also confirm gaining strictly defined competences useful both in the job market as well as in further scientific development, says –dr Anna Kola. We place importance on communication in a team, division of duties, stress management, budget management, and design which are applicable in either professional or scientific career. We exclude nobody, we include everybody, the idea which in strategy is called personalization.
As soon as the new directive changes the existing regulations concerning general university course offers, faculties will be able to place their proposals. They will be collected till the end of the next winter semester, and students in the 2024/2025 academic year will benefit from them for the first time.
YUFE of new opportunities
Opportunities of choosing an individual development path have expanded even more since the NCU joined the European universities consortium (YUFE, or the Young Universities for the Future of Europe). A pilot edition of the YUFE Minors program shed new light on smaller forms of learning, The offer is directed to Bachelor degree students who wish to extend their educational experience studying abroad for one semester, e.g. in Spain, the Netherlands, or Finland. Within the course of their studies, they can choose one Minor connected with their main discipline to broaden their horizons or opt for classes that correspond with their additional interests.
Currently, universities associated in YUFE are trying to develop one common discipline of study under the Sustainability Urban Studies working title and based on the blocking idea.
The assumption is that students of all the universities complete the first year of studies at their parent institutions. Further, they change their places of study choosing from the offers prepared by 10 other universities. One block of courses offered by a given university is called the Minor. Now, the issue of organizing the third year of study remains the problem to solve since extramural and state regulations differ among countries.
Minors have their structure, learning topics, block courses related to the main discipline of study. It is like a puzzle a student has to put together on his or her own, but is guided by a tutor. Classes may be held in a stationary or online form. “We would like to clip the educational process together with a diploma project. We would like projects to be not only empirical or theoretical, but preferably prepared with the use of the project-based learning method, explains dr Anna Kola. The innovative world is project-based, alike the didactic methods.
Regarding the Minors, the so-called challenge team is very essential. The point is that, apart from the acquisition of knowledge or gaining skills as well as social competences, students should take actions towards developing topic projects connected with a given Minor. These can be study visits, field investigations, or conference participations. The activities will be supervised by a tutor and should bring particular effects, preferably influencing the social reality.
We would like to constantly broaden our offer, suggesting shared studies or a double diploma realized within the bilateral or trilateral agreements, explains dr Anna Kola. We encourage faculties to look for such cooperation. If we constitute a part of YUFE, we should benefit from it. The Excellence Initiative – Research University Program (IDUB), which we benefit from, will certainly support financially our initiatives. “
Within the Education area, our strategic objective is to help our students, graduates to be, get prepared for the job market no matter if he or she accomplished their studies in history, medicine, biology, law or classical philology. Entering the job market, each of them should be able to say 'my university gave me opportunities to find my way'. To achieve the objective, apart from personalization and internationalization, a well-trained academic staff is a must. Therefore, in April 2022, a survey was conducted among the university staff involved in teaching and research as well as vice-deans for education to examine and diagnose their educational needs. “As a matter of principle, the results showed similarities, says Anna Wiśniewska, Head of the Department of Education. A member of the Education team. Very positive was the fact that the question concerning the need to improve teaching skills was answered 'yes' or 'definitely yes'."
Based on the results, the team prepared a series of teacher training workshops. From October till March, both in Toruń and Bydgoszcz, various workshops were organized in voice emission, developing teaching and creative competences covering areas such as the basics of teaching, general teaching methodology, and modern technologies. Especially for the Collegium Medicum staff, basic and advanced training was prepared in the application of the medical simulation method. 170 university teachers participated in the training sessions which were funded and realized within the Universitas Copernicana Thoruniensis In Futuro II Project. Participation was voluntary and free of charge.
“We measured the level of participants' satisfaction and evaluated each training session, says Anna Wiśniewska. Both, the participants and the teachers were satisfied. We have also asked the participants whether and how they applied the gained competences in their teaching practice, and we are waiting for feedback."
I do appreciate the wide range of available offers, says dr Emilia Ziółkowska-Ganc from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the NCU. On the one hand, we could attend teaching methodology workshops, learn how to technically apply certain tools or process multimedia materials we use during our classes. On the other hand, we were presented the fundamentals of psychology and behaviorism which showed us how to deal with ourselves as well as communicate with others. I can implement the knowledge I have gained not only in my teaching practice but also in a broader context, for example during conferences, popular science activities, various lectures, or other kinds of events outside the academic environment. Training sessions particularly sought by our participants will be continued in the future. According to new recommendations, young academic teachers should also take part in obligatory training in voice emission and modern teaching methods. Faculties, however, submit requests for courses in teaching methodology for particular subjects.
"Teaching methods need to be modified, we have to consider what is happening outside, and both our students and the job market have different expectations, sums up Prof. Przemysław Nehring. And this is why we should constantly self-develop in order to teach young people how to practically approach problems and find solutions. The Strategy combines three objectives: education, research and shaping relations with the social environment. Smart teaching and learning management will result in spectacular scientific achievements and the development of the whole University."