Mr. Thomson, you are a trainer, an entrepreneur (I refer to your co-founding of ELASTiC), and an academic manager at the ESEI International Business School in Barcelona. Currently you are redeveloping the master’s and bachelor’s programs to take a new approach to tertiary education with student-centred, experiential learning at its core. This seems like a very interesting initiative. Could you please tell us more about it?
Yes, this is a project I´m really passionate about. Basically this manifests itself in two different ways. In the ESEI masters, we are trying to decentralize the assessment process, to get students to take repsonsibility for it themselves. Students first establish criteria as to what constitutes an effective piece of academic writing, and they do so under our guidance. then, using those criteria, they assess each other on each assignment on a rotational basis, and they must also give feedback to explain the grade they give. They have done some training o the giving and receiving of feedback to help facilitate this process. The programme tutor will keep an eye on the grades and make small adjustments where the grade is too harsh or too light, but generally we find that they are quite accurate with their grading. this has three plus points: (a) that they increase their exposure to and skill with feedback (b) they really see how their peers approach the same tasks in the assessments and open their eyes to new ways of seeing and doing things, and (c) they internalize an understanding of what is expected of them in their thesis project, which carries 60% of the grade.
In the ESEI bachelors, we have a different aspect of student-centered learning, by having two experiential projects. in first year, we have a truly unique course called professional and personal development, which is actually evolving around the students themselves, and totally guided by them. They come up with small business ideas, events they want to plan etc, and we guide them, When they hit a problem with teamwork, we do an input session on teambuildin. When they decide they need help planning an event, we plug them into our network of contacts and ask for help. Sometimes guest speakers come in to help, and sometimes, our students go to see how a similar event works, and speak to the organisers about their approach. It´s a great adventure for all of us and the learning is 100% directed by the students. In second year, we work in collaboration with ESADE and the UIC in a project called social leadership. This is a pure experiential course, which helps our students understand that true leadership in a sustainable world comes from enriching the community around us. Our students do a course on public speaking skills- learning how voice, body, content and empathy create effective communication skills. They then go into local high schools in barcelona and teach the same things to teenagers there; helping them improve their presentation skills for their final projects in high school. It´s a transformative experience for our students, and the high schools are really appreciative of the opportunity this affords their students in turn.
Youth Time launched a project a couple of years ago called New Paradigm of Education. The main propose of the project is to let young people express their thoughts and views on what education should be in the future. What is your point of view? Is there is a need for a new paradigm for education? And in your view, what paradigm is realistically achievable as a replacement for the current one?
Yes, there is, and it is already happening. The use of traditional education in simple transfer of information has been supplanted by the internet. Now students, who can otherwise access information at the simple touch of a button, feel restless in classes in which they are presented with information from a lecturer with which they have no opportunities to interact. In prmary and high schools, project-based methodology is being phased in slowly in Spain, but universities still generally lag behind. Students need more opportunities to take control of their own learning and, for some, that is a scary thing. I think many people in educational management feel that if they take their grip from the steering wheel, the car will crash, but not so. This is where the idea of the flipped classroom comes in: “outsource” the simple transferral of information to outside the classroom (and equip students with more effective skills to filter and select that information), and use the classroom for interaction with the knowledge-projects, student-led seminars, multimedia activities, peer teaching etcetera. The teacher moves from the sage on the stage to the guide at the side, and that is, in my world of higher education, a fundamental shift that needs to happen.
Let’s talk about ELASTiC . What is this project about?
We are basically an educational consultancy, and our business model is that of a cooperative. We work in two principal areas. In businesses we provide language and communications skills training as well as executive education and coaching. In Schools we work on numerous projects all over Spain, from training teachers in CLIL and PBL to developing courses in STEM for children, to helping university professors improve their teaching methodology through working side-by-side in observation and input sessions. We emerged from the closure of the language faculty at ESADE business school a few years ago and many of our colleagues set up successful businesses following the language academy model. ELASTiC has always tried to be different, by going out into the community and not limiting ourselves to Barcelona or even Spain, we have found ourselves involved in a number of educational development projects at the heart of the teaching and training revolution. there´s nowhere we would rather be!
To be honest, what sort of new employee do you prefer: young professionals/students or experienced people who have been in the work force for a long time?
For me the defining factors are: (a) a balance of humility and assertivess that helps one listen to and accept feedback, but also take the initiative and not wait to be told what to do and (b) a willingness to learn. Whether you are 18 or 80 is not important, but rather the qualities you can bring to the role. Lack of experience can be tempered by creativity and willingness to learn. A great deal of experience is hugely beneficial only if the person is willing to adapt to changes in the context of their role, and to remain open to other ways of doing things.
And a question connected to the previous one. how you can actually evaluate the career potential of so-called millennials?
This is something that for me is a combination of instinct and researching what is on their CV. I leave psychometric testing to the experts, but what I would look for is a willingness to get up and get involved in something bigger than yourself. That can manifest itself on the CV in so many ways, such as volunteering, or being part of events such as Youth Time. it shows a desire to learn and connect. If that´s in place, then the potential is limitless with the right mentoring and support.
There is really a lot of stuff written about the digitizing of every single process, and about opportunities for millennials to accomplish their dreams by launching startups and so on. What do you think, is it really so? Or is actually sponsoring a startup and bringing it to some degree of success something just very few people will be able to accomplish, the same as in the past?
Not everyone is an entrepreneur, and we have to be careful of romanticising that pathway. It is hard work, and takes a certain personality type to make it work. Digitizing processes etc creates a wealth of opportunities, but it similarly creates a very competitive global marketplace. We have to be sure that we at least, in education, nurture creativity and curiosity, as well as critical thinking and the ability to take feedback. Most businesses I have seen fail are because people fall in love with an idea and personalize their attachment to it- they find it hard to accept that others don´t believe in it, even when the market is clearly telling them so. As an entrepreneur or intrapreneur there will always be opportunity, especially with increasing support from a variety of institutions and entities, but we need to focus on proper support and incubator projects which limit the damage caused by ideas which don´t come to fruition. I think this is happening more now, and it´s a welcome development.
And a last couple of questions about the Youth Time Global Forum. What would be the keynotes of your speech?
I just want to tell the story of what i see around me. What I have learned from projects and methods which i have seen working, and my vision of how higher education should be. We´ll talk a little about the current buzzwords in education, from the “experiential learning” and the “flipped classroom” to “21st century skills”. What are these things and why should we care? What problems do they really address and what real change can they bring about in education?
What do you expect from the Youth Time Global Forum? What are your personal goals?
Basically I am just happy to be part of something which provides a platform to discuss things that really matter. I´d love to meet others in education, students and teachers, and just see where it goes. That´s the beauty of these events-people are all there for the right reasons.