A university’s role in educating our future leaders
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
In April, I raised a question and discussed the topic of "What makes a great professor these days?" Later, I attended two events at Cal Poly Pomona, which pushed me to think even deeper.
One event was the board of advisors meeting at the Collins College of Hospitality Management, where I exchanged ideas with the board members about our college's curricular plan. The other event was the annual PolyTeach Conference, in which Diana Oblinger, president emeritus of EDUCAUSE, conducted a keynote presentation.
Looking through my notes of these two events, I kept pondering: What role does a university play in educating our future leaders? In the following section, I am going to share my thoughts together with the notes I marked down. I encourage you to join this conversation. I believe it is a question that needs everyone's attention.
Help students develop technical and interpersonal skills
Students can probably develop most of the technical skills needed for work in their major and general education courses, but the workforce has changed dramatically since the Great Recession.
With the advancement of technology and the pressure of increasing hourly wages, companies are now finding ways to replace labor with machines and robots. The "botler" (robotic butler) concept introduced in the Aloft Hotel is a good example.
If students do not want to be replaced by machines, they had better be intelligent enough to control the machines and robots. Meanwhile, if we want our students to become leaders, meaning they will have to communicate and work with their followers and other leaders at work, then they must have good interpersonal skills. Allowing students to work in teams or to work with their professors in small groups can help.
Allow students to earn hybrid credentials
Many jobs today require candidates to have multiple skill sets. According to a recent report in Fortune magazine, "71 percent of in-demand skills are required across two or more job categories."
Just having one credential or one type of skill set will not be enough any more. For example, companies today may want to fill a marketing position with a candidate who knows about marketing and understands web development because social media and e-commerce are becoming more important in business communications.
Universities may consider offering multidisciplinary degree for students, allowing them to acquire two or more skill sets that are needed in the workforce.
Create a mentoring learning environment
Today's students look up to mentors — they want advice, but they do not want an authority figure to make decisions for them. I believe it is important for university professors to "step down" a little bit and be accessible to their students.
Universities may consider offering smaller classes and encouraging professors to provide personalized career advice to students.
Let students work on current real-world issues
Textbooks can be a great resource for students to acquire some important intellectual skills that are required in a discipline, but at the same time, professors should be encouraged to teach beyond the textbook knowledge. Through textbooks, students can learn theories, the core principles of science and the basic concepts of management, but because it usually takes several years to publish a textbook, many examples in the textbook are dated.
Therefore, I recommend professors to bring current events from the real world into the classroom and allow students to use the core principles and theories to solve some real-world issues. Teaching with case studies can also help in that regard.
Help students advance analytical skills
It is important to note that analytical skills go beyond just analyzing numbers. In fact, as compared to running data analysis, it can be more important for us to understand how to interpret results and how to make optimizing decisions through data analytics because most data analyses are now performed by machines.
Teaching students how to make informed decisions with real cases may help.
Foster a collaborative environment
A collaborative environment can benefit research, teaching and student learning.
First, a collaborative environment will allow professors to conduct interdisciplinary research, providing a great example for students to observe how collaborative intelligence is formed. Second, collaborations among different academic units may help students earn hybrid credentials, as I mentioned earlier.
Finally, such an environment can encourage students to learn collaboratively. For example, they can get involved with their professors by creating content. They can do collaborative work with their peers. They can also teach one another.
In a collaborative learning environment, the professor's role in a classroom will also change. Professors are there to give directions, set guidelines, facilitate student learning and provide immediate feedback to students. Professors are no long the "machine" that talks and talks in the front of the classroom.
What role do you see a university and a university professor play in student development?
Are there any changes you want us to make? I would like to hear your suggestions.
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