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Feng Chia University

Educational Innovation Helps Students Face the Future

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Educational Innovation Helps Students Face the Future

Source:Chien-Tong Wang

Feng Chia University is in tune with society’s needs, using hands-on methods to pre-pare innovators for industry upgrading and transformation.

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Educational Innovation Helps Students Face the Future

By Jenny Cheng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 617 )

It is the first week of school, and several fifth-year architecture department students are busy putting up a small two-story hut about the size of two parking spaces next to the Feng Chia University library. Their work is part of a collaborative project between architect Hsieh Ying-chun and the university. The prototype building will be shown at an exhibition this September in Finland.

Feng Chia University has made working closely with industry its school policy. During an academic affairs meeting last year, Feng Chia University president Lee Bing-Jean looked at the management-level staff assembled before him and posed the following questions: “If universities are no longer the sole source of knowledge, how should universities conduct themselves? And how should teaching and instruction be adjusted?”

His excitement returning at the mention of that meeting, Lee recalls that no one was able to answer those questions he posed to them. Twelve years ago, when he was serving as dean of academic affairs, he tried to answer them himself, promoting the exchange of views and transformation through professional faculty groups, teaching forums, and numerous meetings.

Student Participants in Innovation

“We must cultivate innovators to take part in societal and industrial upgrading and transformation,” says the university president.

When “innovation” had become a buzzword for every school, adding new departments and programs was not enough to take on the world of the future. Targeting the needs of both industry and society, Lee started from basic instruction and curriculum, enlisting industry to innovate together with an eye towards demand.

Over 500 businesses have currently entered into industry-academia cooperative agreements with Feng Chia University, yielding a more than 90-percent job placement rate for students within three years of graduation. Last year, Feng Chia became the only base in all of Taiwan qualified to train instructors for Apple Computer’s educational center and openly offer certification courses to students from outside the university. At the same time, Feng Chia students were required to take one credit in apps. “Apps and programming are all tools, and only when you have the capacity to integrate tools and knowledge can you innovate,” observes Lee.

From Conception to Realization

Before the start of the school year, Lee had a professor from the Singapore Institute of Technology teach a class to faculty members on how to incorporate the C (Conceiving), D (Designing), I (Implementing), and O (Operating) model, keeping the professors’ knowledge up to date.

The system was to be integrated into curriculum teaching from university to institute to department. Explaining, Lee offers that, in the past, universities were focused on grades and not the outcome of education, and all projects were just feasibility analyses rather than being put into practice. Apart from finding issues, design, prototyping, and getting products operational are necessary to gain a complete education.

Notably, between 10 and 20 percent of general education and specialized department curriculums use project-based learning.

Outside of their specialized field, each student must complete five projects, including one freshman project, a graduation project produced over multiple semesters, and three preparatory projects in advance of the graduation project. The CDIO methodology is implemented in each project.

Towards this end, Feng Chia University has established a design workshop they call the D-School. For the industry design class, the vendor submits its requirements, and industry lecturers and school faculty jointly advise students, identifying and resolving problems together.

Each student team is allotted one or two requests for specialized skills such as app development, advertising and marketing, documentary filmmaking, opinion surveys, or data analysis. The school then engages lecturers from industry or existing faculty to hold courses geared toward the students’ needs.

Lee observes that professors used to offer only courses they were familiar with, regardless of their utility. In contrast, only by strengthening industry ties, practical learning, and integration can tomorrow’s talent be prepared today.

Breaking Disciplinary Boundaries

In addition to innovative teaching, the school has also engaged in innovative restructuring. Established over 50 years ago, the Feng Chia University Department of Architecture was reorganized last year to become Taiwan’s only dedicated architectural institute—the School of Architecture, offering Bachelor’s degrees in three different programs, i.e. innovative design, interior design, and architectural design. First- and second-year students are required to complete common foundational courses before selecting a specific program in their junior year.

From conventional departments to institutes, considerable flexibility has been added to the curriculum to extend architecture into different fields. “The talents of the future must constantly update themselves with current in-demand skills,” says Shwu-Ting Lee, Dean of the School of Architecture, adding that, with the rapid rate of technological change, the past emphasis on theory must now take a back seat as we face real-world transformations.

Consequently, over the course of an 18-week semester, the School of Architecture has introduced micro credit courses and modular curricula such as guest lectures, presentations, programming and projects to increase students’ autonomous choices and inter-disciplinary flexibility. Multiple professors from the MIT Media Lab have even been invited to take turns presenting abbreviated courses.

“Before I was straightjacketed by required courses. I wanted to take a micro-credit course in documentary filmmaking, but I didn’t have the time, which was a shame,” laments fifth-year student Chen Yu-hsuan

Lee relates that conventional architecture departments lack inter-disciplinary opportunities. For instance, solar panels incorporate electrical engineering know-how, employing sensors to adjust the panels to any angle. Something like spatial design for animated games will also be an even greater need for architecture departments, and inter-disciplinary approaches provide opportunities for change.

Apart from an inter-disciplinary approach, it is vital for students to get out into the world. Feng Chia students have built over 100 book houses during winter and summer breaks in remote regions of Taiwan, bridging architecture and social outreach to put down roots on the local level. Architecture also crosses over to transportation issues, stimulating rethinking of urban planning.

“I think about how to change up my courses on a daily basis,” says Lee. According to Eddie Kao, director for the Architecture Program, everything has become more experimental since the architecture department’s reorganization into the School of Architeture. He believes that greater connections must be forged with cities and society, so that change is not just limited to the campus.

Over the past 12 years, the venerable university has steadily pursued innovation. Opting not for flashy reform or recruiting strategies, they instead turn their feelings of anxiety into motivation to move forward.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman


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