Interview with Carlos A. Scolari
Between 2012-13, he coordinated an internal research project at Pompeu Fabra University funded by the Centre for Teaching Quality and Innovation (CQUID): #UPF2020 Designing the University of the Future. Could you describe the project?
It was an internal research project funded by PLAQUID (Projects to Support Teaching Quality and Innovation). The project included two young researchers from UPF’s Department of Communication: Ilaria Di Bonito and Maria-Jose Masanet. Carme Rovira (from CQUID) also took part. The original idea was to base our work on interviews and focus groups, though we later decided to hold a gamestorming session. As a result, our team was joined by an expert in these kinds of dynamics: Oriol Ripoll.
The project’s aims were threefold. On the one hand, we were interested in mapping disruptive educational providers, formats and practices (both in and outside universities) on a global scale. The project also sought to propose a series of new educational practices, formats and experiences. Lastly, we wanted to outline a new discourse in university renewal that went beyond traditional petitions for innovation and entrepreneurship.
This last point on university discourse perhaps deserves further explanation. Much is said at universities about “innovation” and creating “entrepreneurs”, but these concepts are often limited to discussion only. Certain words have become trendy, and though many sing their praises, institutions continue to use their own practices. Universities are machines that reproduce incredibly well! Lest we forget that universities have been around for 1,000 years, making them one of the oldest institutions in the West.
How did you become interested in performing this research?
I’ve been teaching for many years, and a number of colleagues and I share a highly critical view of university institutions. While the picture is very mixed and each situation is different, in the specific case of Spanish universities, there are some worrying signs ranging from institutional endogamy to a lack of pedagogical and content renewal. For instance, many lecturers still organize their classes into lectures, without considering the possibility of working otherwise. From an institutional perspective, one could say that universities are production lines that only produce bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees; today’s society demands an increased variety of “educational products”, shorter, more flexible and specific, which universities must include among their options. On the other hand, there are new educational providers –from learning communities (Peer to Peer University) and companies offering courses (Khan Academy) to Massive Open Online Courses (Coursera, Miríada)– which provide learning facilities outside traditional institutions. As part of the #UPF2020 Project, we were interested in mapping this new ground and proposing potential initiatives.
In light of your previous comments, do you think universities lack innovation, meaning that they have not yet adapted to a “high-tech and dynamic cultural ecosystem”?
Universities have the same problem as virtually the entire educational system: they are anchored in an industrial society earmarked for extinction. An information and knowledge-based society needs training facilities which are more flexible, modular and capable of being updated quickly. If a Spanish university wants to introduce a new bachelor’s degree, the process takes between two and three years to implement, while a postgraduate degree takes a bit less… As I said before, there are new educational providers that propose new teaching-learning dynamics. Some were born on the fringes of the university (like Coursera), while others are totally unrelated to the institution. Universities should take note of these providers and use their experience to renew themselves. Anything universities don’t know how to, don’t want to or can’t do, the other providers will.
What does the #UPF2020 Project propose for universities of the future?
In addition to a series of concepts required to renew university discourse –and to not repeat the already worn-out discourse about “innovation”– the #UPF2020 Project pinpointed specific actions ranging from teaching staff training to reducing bureaucracy and creating administrative and information “protocol-free areas”, where lecturers and students can take full advantage of the institution’s resources and use them creatively. Companies like Google have already applied this system, enabling employees to spend part of their time working on personal projects. In many cases, this change in pedagogical dynamics is restricted by “hard” facilities designed to transmit knowledge in linear fashion; in this context, universities should work together to redesign their facilities and create flexible work areas that adapt to the various situations of learning. We also propose interdisciplinary final projects in which students from different degree courses and faculties take part. University degrees should offer customizable training paths and start experimenting with shorter formats. To facilitate the dissemination of these ideas, we have created a short document in four languages (Spanish, Catalan, English and Italian) for public and open distribution. We are looking to open debate and share experiences with the entire international university community.