Designing impact-driven education

At Impact at the Core, our mission is to develop education that encourages students to learn how to produce positive value for and with societal partners, implying that our work is concerned with changing higher education and its relation to society. In order to rethink the university's relationship with its surroundings and to explore opportunities to redesign our educational practices, we should find and create new paths, patterns and languages. We need to make space for the power of imagination and use different tools to think about and reflect on our work.

With the development of Impact-driven Education we challenge the current educational and organisational system we work in. While trying to blur boundaries, build bridges and blend disciplines, we find ourselves operating in a liminal space that is characterized by question marks. How should we navigate these new unknowns, and which landmarks can we use to recognise and understand this emerging (educational) environment?  With this project, we pose the question: what if we could use Rotterdam as a metaphor to visualise and make sense of this educational environment?

The City as Learning Environment

As educational pioneers, we are interested in integrating impact-driven, real-life learning into our educational programs, and are experimenting with the way we design, facilitate and experience learning and teaching processes. With the learning landscape we have tempered with Rotterdam’s dynamics, infrastructure, architecture and urban plan to show what we would like our educational system to look like. We transformed Rotterdam into a utopian city: a metaphor for the desired state of Impact-Driven Education. It is an open, inviting and interactive metropolis of the future, forever under construction. By using the buildings, social dimensions, functions and visual cues in the urban landscape, we can take a different perspective on how we are (organising) learning. 

Each area in the landscape represents one of the building blocks we use to design and organise our education. We have identified eight recurring pedagogical principles and design variables that guide us in conceptualising and operationalising this new way of making and doing education. These eight different principles both complement and interact with each other. They range from connecting with and involving external stakeholders in our educational design to assessing our student’s work. Ultimately, with Impact-driven Education, we want to give students the opportunity to develop their ‘impact capacity’: the capacity to respond to societal urgencies in a way that matches the values of Erasmus University and the students’ own personal interests and learning needs.

We bundled these eight principles in a framework that allows for a holistic approach to education, considering various influences that affect the learning process. This framework is inspired by the work of Backman et al. (2019), who propose using learning landscapes as a conceptual model through which students’ learning experiences can be examined. This concept emphasises that there is a diversity of influences that impact how students learn in the context of complex societal issues. Thus, one must consider the larger environment to identify the overlapping and dynamic ways different elements influence outcomes. The learning landscape for Impact-driven Education places the eight principles at the center, allowing for a non-linear methodology for exploring and designing education. 

From Vision to Reality

It is the eight areas that form the engine that moves us from a strategic mission into an operational reality.. On the one hand, we have five design prerequisites: fundamental ingredients of the learning process that deal with the integration of ‘the real world’ into an educational module. These five variables represent items that can be manipulated to fit the program context. In the drawing, they are metaphorically visualised with five local districts or zones: Erasmus MC, Het Park, the neighbourhood, Blaak and the Leuven/Wijnhaven.  

Five design prerequisites

Description: With Impact-driven Education, we depart from an authentic concern or a matter of care, as experienced by those living in that reality; by, for example, engaging with actors who have a genuine interest in an issue, who feel the problem themselves or have a responsibility to deal with it. We deliberately use the frame ‘matter of care’, as there are three dimensions of care: 1) a dimension of labour/work, 2) a dimension of affect/affections, and 3) a dimension of ethics/politics.  

Description: The interaction and collaboration with societal partners to better understand the situation and move towards an appropriate (new) direction.  

Description: “Fostering collaboration across and beyond disciplinary backgrounds to work with complex societal issues.  

Description: The ability to identify, empathise and shift between multiple perspectives, integrating both academic and situated knowledges.

Complementing the five design prerequisites, three ingredients enable an effective and successful learning journey and relate to the possible pedagogical approaches that can be taken. These three ingredients are our ‘known unknowns’ and require active piloting and intensive, careful work to figure out new (best) practices. These still somewhat foggy areas require imagination, power and leadership to find suitable ways forward. The way these areas are manifesting depends on shapeshifting, volatile and uncertain dimensions that are contextual in terms of time, space and power-dependent and are often relationship-bound. Influencing factors are institutional resources, financial, cultural, political, etcetera.  

In the drawing, you can identify these areas as either in transit(ion) or moving over and through other areas – for example, the balloons and lines of public transport that move through the city as tentacles. These objects are shrouded in clouds, hidden behind curtains, or under constant (de)construction. 

The three ingredients

Description: Rethinking the learning spaces and the role of the physical campus in the creation of knowledge and developing new spaces that enable safe experimentation in education.  

Description: The relationship among students, teachers and societal partners. It addresses the implementation and scaling of initiatives and the creation of a sustainable network of stakeholders involved in Impact-driven Education. 

Description: The teachers’ role(s) in the learning journey and methods for scaffolding and assessment for learning and growth.  

Drawings are created by studio Nadia Nena

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