…education is preparation for appointments not yet made
- Howard Swearer
(Brown University President 1977 – 1988)
How much can a young brain really absorb in the three or four (in the case of a placement option) years of an undergraduate degree programme? It is a question I ask myself more and more every year and is no doubt amplified by the current economic backdrop. The Creative Technologies (CT) programme is by definition a multi- and inter-disciplinary course of study and so a range of diverse but (we feel) related topics are discussed. Our goal ultimately is to provide the framework whereby students can explore, think and grow; graduating as well-rounded, culturally informed, creative citizens embodying: effective communications, discipline in their work, critical and analytical thought, high-level technical skills and business awareness. It is a complex recipe aimed at enabling the long-term success of our graduates which must be a leading requisite, right?
Why this breadth of study? Would it not be easier to specialise in particular fields and thereby keep everything, well, simpler? Yes, it would certainly be easier to rationalise the course content down to a smaller number of specific areas but this does not reflect the world outside. Firstly, by looking beyond specialised fields we develop different but complementary skills and as a result the mind grows and new possibilities for creatively combining and applying new knowledge and skills are discovered. The information silos of previous generations are just not something we can return to. Secondly, this approach protects students from possible professional obsolescence due to a change in the economic or business landscape where their specialist field may unfortunately be no longer in demand; evidence of which has been all too abundant in recent years. Lastly, students will sometimes require a little assistance in “finding their groove” – what area/s excite them most, where their talent/s lie, what kind of opportunities exist and some future gazing by way of assessing the long-term prospects of a particular pathway. On numerous occasions we have (very happily) observed students join us with one set of interests and graduate with a greatly expanded set.
Breadth however presents a not so insignificant challenge; in order to enable a greater breadth of study within the context of a fixed period of study, the lesser the depth of enquiry in some of the areas. In short, the broader the range of subjects, the less time you have to go deep on specific subjects. The application of knowledge to projects and real-world situations, as we all know, takes time. Experience takes time.
Education at higher level is not simply a set of required courses and exam results. It is the summation of all three or four years curricular achievements, personal development (much of it outside the institution), experience studying abroad or on placement and the wealth of experience that students gather while working together in labs, studios, project groups and in performance related areas e.g. music, drama, games, sports etc. A well educated individual understands that learning is lifelong.
When we hear from business leaders and their requirements from graduates the agenda will quickly shift towards skills, or more correctly, the (often specialised and experienced) skills they need today. I suspect few will argue that, in the main, education globally has in recent years underestimated the extent of change brought about by our increasingly technology-enabled world; and the same could also be stated for industry. Many were caught off-guard and success (for both the academy and business) comes down to an ability to adapt, and do so quickly. Integrating new and old experience through a constant cycle of review, refresh, refine or reject. Business and the academy do not exist in mutually exclusive worlds and it is imperative (for all our sakes) that we find a way to effectively amalgamate the goals of work readiness and long-term career success.
So, what can they absorb? As it turns out, given the right attitude, and every possible support from the institution, students can absorb quite a lot. What we haven’t yet found however is a means to hack experience. As already mentioned, this requires time. Post-graduate (applied) study and – as proposed by our own Professor Paul Moore – professional apprenticeships would appear to be a logical means to enable the deepening of skills through the experience of more projects; something we can all accept as essential.