Education
Opinion Article
April 15, 2021

How can we bring innovation to the Higher Education system?

Innovation has been associated with advances in all kinds of new technologies, applied to different societal contexts. However, this is an oversimplified view of the concept, and to stimulate innovation in Higher Education or even bring it into the educational space we do not necessarily need to teach how to use those new technologies in the diverse domains of knowledge.

The need to bring new generations closer to new technologies that solve or facilitate the resolution of current problems is undeniable. Because they are an alternative to former solutions, new technologies presuppose innovation, but innovation based on technology is bound to be dated, since in a few years’ time these new ways of responding to a phenomenon may be already obsolete. Besides, an innovative educational system does not depend on the mere usage of digital pedagogical tools. Technology is not exclusive to innovation and vice versa.

Universities and polytechnic institutes have been innovation generating spaces par excellence, but they must also be spaces that promote innovative behaviors. Innovation as a personality trait reflects a “predisposition for change” and, as with any other individual trait, predispositions can be encouraged by the environment; in this case by the training agents.

If we want to bring innovation to higher education, rather than using or teaching how to use new digital tools, we must teach how to use the cognitive tool from which springs the digital — the mind. It is urgent to teach to question, because to find the best answer to a problem we have first to find the right question that anticipates it. Innovation comes from the very act of identifying or even categorizing the problem differently, forcing us to look at it from new angles. If we want to teach innovation we have to eliminate walls between departments and colleges, promoting the transversality of knowledge. Innovation depends on the multidisciplinarity of knowledges that are directed to the same goal and is grounded more on the collective than on the individual. In brief, to teach innovation we must do two essential things in classrooms: to stimulate debate, or dialogue, and also creativity.

Still, how can we promote creativity? The answer I propose is through curiosity. It is important to foster curiosity by means of curricular flexibility, however reassuring that classical syllabi on which technical knowledge is based will not be despised as a consequence of its lesser immediate applicability.

Current academic curricula aim increasingly to provide the student with technical knowledge, to a specialization in a single domain. In part because, as a response to a labor market that demands an increasingly technical profile, it is the student himself that avoids attending courses that at first glance do not supply those tools. As a consequence, immediate knowledge and of direct application is favored. This is a function that cannot be developed unidirectionally by the educational system, but rather in tandem with the labor market.

In the genesis of innovation is rupture, a differentiated response to a problem adapted to changes of several natures. But innovation should not merely seek to optimize resources, and rather be at the service of society by ensuring the common welfare and by respecting the basic values of civilization. Here we enter in the field of ethics applied to innovation.

We therefore need to develop together, in educational spaces, not only the ability to promote innovative behaviors, but also to reflect on, to understand, to judge and to use innovation autonomously and responsibly.

Ana Margarida Barreto

Ana Margarida Barreto

Assistant Professor at Nova FCSH, and member of Nova SBE Health Economics and Management Knowledge Center.

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