Cross-discipline Creativity Key to Students' Success
What is creativity? Where does it come from? How do you teach it? Asia University has designed creative spaces and distinct study programs to steer students towards their passions.
Cross-discipline Creativity Key to Students' SuccessBy Jenny Cheng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 617 )
How would you go about designing a home for Taiwan-born film director Ang Lee? He You-cheng, a fourth-year student at the Department of Interior Design of Asia University, has watched virtually all Lee’s movies in a bid to find out how Lee thinks and what kind of atmosphere he likes.
Studying at the university’s College of Creative Design is an experience that differs somewhat from conventional design courses. In the design of interior decoration aesthetics course, second-year students are asked to design, decorate and accessorize spaces of the same size so that they can tell the lives and stories of different people.
Aside from offering unconventional programs, Lee Yuan-ron, dean of the Department of Interior Design, notes that the College has also overhauled the traditional top-to-bottom approach of the teacher-student-relationship. “In the past, the teacher was always right, but we now allow different answers and possibilities.” The college also plans to allow students to earn credits from achievements made outside the traditional classroom setting such as awards, entrepreneurial skills and patents.
Students at the Department of Psychology at Asia University use an eye tracker to learn eye movement patterns that are typical for patients with internet addiction.
The college’s Maker Space, which opened its doors last year, has a high-tech feel to it. It can be divided into smaller spaces with sliding glass doors, letting students discuss their projects in small groups and write their ideas directly on the door panels. The Maker Space not only breaks with traditional classroom design; classes held here do not necessarily focus on design and aesthetics but also on down-to-earth business knowledge such as intellectual property rights, fundraising platforms and marketing. Students will need such expertise in the future when applying for patents or commercializing product ideas.
University President Jeffrey Tsai says that the Maker Space offerings help students find their personal interests and strengthen their self-learning ability. Everyone a t the school is playing around with innovative ideas, be it in space or course design.
Last year, the university began to make it compulsory for first-year students to learn computer programming. Courses are taught at the general education center and divided into different levels. Coding-savvy students will be able to explore more possibilities in their design studies.
Internet Addiction Center
Faced with declining student numbers due to the low birth rate, Asia University decided to develop its own distinct niche. Tsai points out that it takes a business strategy, an action plan and performance to realize such a goal. “Universities need to position themselves clearly,” Tsai says.
From 2012, the university's departments began to think over their own strengths and distinct character. This collective soul-searching led to the founding of Taiwan’s only Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Internet Addiction.
In contrast to traditional psychology departments, first- and second-year students are not separated into groups at Asia University. Ko Huei-chen, chair of the Department of Psychology, believes that internet addiction and cyberbullying are emerging phenomena that psychologists need to address. Consequently, Ko decided to change her department’s direction with regards to both research and teaching.
In collaboration with China Medical University, also based in Taichung, the department set up a joint course on addiction prevention. Students at both universities finish all compulsory credits in their first two years of studies. In years three and four they can freely pick their courses, including the addiction prevention program.
Aside from changing the curriculum, the psychology department has also broken with the traditional mold of teaching. The share of theory-centered courses has been reduced, while discussions in small groups and teaching through practical work now take up the lion’s share of the curriculum. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, Ko has also invited faculty from other departments to teach classes. “It could be that professors from the departments of information engineering, product design and psychology teach a class together,” she explains.
Not only faculty collaborate across different colleges and departments. Students cooperate with their colleagues from other departments and colleges for service learning projects. The department’s students visit elementary schools and junior high schools to spread the word about ways to prevent internet addiction and cognitive-behavioral group therapy to treat the disorder. Since the students design these classes themselves, they need greater problem-solving and critical thinking skills than they do when passively sitting through lectures.
In small groups, the students put together picture books, shoot videos, and design games to let the junior high schoolers understand what constitutes cyberbullying. They talk about teen suicide and explain the importance of empathy, encouraging the youngsters to put themselves in the shoes of the person who is being bullied, mobbed or stalked online.
Hung Ti-hsuan, a second-year psychology master’s degree student, once used the resources of different departments for a prevention project. Hung developed an interactive game with the help of the Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering and the Department of Digital Media Design. The game’s scenario changes and leads to different outcomes depending on the user’s answers. Through the game, users learn that there are always alternative options and ways of thinking.
And then there is an app that reminds people when they spend too much time on their mobile phones. Should you manage not to touch your handset for a certain amount of time, you will be credited bonus points that make a virtual tree grow. “Students use programming design and psychological expertise to improve society. We are cultivating the talent needed to tackle the newly emerging issues of the future,” notes Ko, who is convinced that practical interdisciplinary work will become increasingly important.
Another strength that Asia University has been building over the past couple of years is making its graduates fit for the labor market. In response to Taiwan's aging society, the university has added several health-related departments such as optometry and occupational therapy, as well as interdisciplinary programs such as medical health design. Students may even take free preparation courses to become licensed lab technologists or earn other licenses to take a job with the Asia University Hospital immediately after graduation.
Every student has three tutors. Of these, the workplace tutor's job is to help students find work and to design collaborative programs with industry. “This is a substantive way of raising the employment rate,” says Tsai.
To promote change, the school’s executive officers adopt a coaching leadership style that provides ample room for joint discussions and consensus building. “When everyone has reached consensus, we do it,” Tsai says with pride.
Asia University, which was founded as the Taichung Healthcare and Management College in 2001, was elevated to university status less than 12 years ago. Despite its young age, the university has consistently received grants from the Ministry of Education’s Program for Promoting Teaching Excellence in Universities. In the T.H.E. (Times Higher Education) Asia University Rankings 2016, Asia University grabbed rank 132. In 2014 it ranked among the Top 100 of the world’s universities under 50. This year, the school made it onto the list of Taiwan’s top ten private universities.
Tsai frankly admits that performance-based compensation is crucial to promoting research. This means spending money on faculty recruitment and using incentives to encourage senior faculty to take young teachers under their wings when doing research and collaborating with industry. On top of government funding for research projects, the university separately subsidizes funding to provide a greater incentive to engage in research.
Demonstrating its resolve to carry out bold and decisive reforms, Asia University has added new departments in emerging fields and restructured traditional departments and institutes. All students learn programming languages and are offered internship opportunities as the university continues to collaborate with industry, keeping an eye on skill needs and employment trends. When doubters ask if such rapid change won’t come at the expense of stable development, the answer is, a t least for now, a clear “No.”
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz
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