Interdisciplinary curricula and multi-disciplinary education are at the heart of the strategies by which education institutions can train future oriented innovators. Learning for innovation does not only depend on cognitive processes but also on social interactions, participation in a community and other processes leading to a contemporary understanding of cognition as distributed and learning as essentially contextualized (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Duffy, 2009).
The context of learning can be designed optimal for innovation: mixing people from different schools in the area. Learners bringing their prior knowledge to the social and “never-experienced-before” multidisciplinary learning setting, where the target is to make an innovation. This requires deep understanding on innovation conception and process to direct the action towards a novel and usable solution.
Multidisciplinary teams actively construct knowledge based on what they already know and believe (including misconceptions!), but also creatively “living” the border terrain areas of their disciplines. While bringing together people from totally different industries and disciplines, new disciplines start to emerge. Who knows what disciplines are needed in the future?
In Metropolia UAS, we have integrated a 10 ECTS Innovation project to all curricula of 16000 students. We believe, that all students have the right to learn how to innovate. Most of the innovation projects are conducted in multidisciplinary teams, MINNO® Innovation projects, as a 7 weeks full time innovation process with companies. Now we are developing the concept further: We are piloting a local area innovation ecosystem model called TeenMINNO to rapidly raise the innovation competence of young people to ensure employment and prevent vocational path drop out. In Finland, only 5 - 15 % (depending on discipline) of UAS students has secondary vocational education background. Most of the students come to UAS from high school. The national economy would benefit if the secondary vocational students would continue their studies or get permanent jobs. Even more would the national economy benefit if the graduates would be more prepared for innovation and entrepreneurship.
In TeenMinno model, a local innovation ecosystem (see e.g. Ylikoski, Ylikoski-Oksanen and Hero 2015) is formed with local firms and their networks, students and their personal networks, educational institutions and innovation teacher pairs and their networks. Teachers negotiate with companies and other work life organizations to form open challenges for students. The local firms, secondary and higher vocational institutions and their students from different disciplines work together in multidisciplinary and multi-aged teams to develop innovations based on the open challenges. This quarantees that the innovation is optimally brought to the market place or for the benefit of the society together with the companies. It is important that the teams are as heterogeneous as possible. New ideas spring from collisions and “never-seen-before” -situations where the area of biggest risks but also the biggest opportunities is reached.
Mixing the secondary vocational and higher vocational students has several benefits. This thinking is based on the assumption that the “Teens”, i.e. the younger students aged 16-18 have more making skills and practical know-how. In the innovation process this is crucial e.g. in the prototype and go-to-market phases. The older students from UAS can have more responsibility, systems thinking, deeper content knowledge. So, the hypothesis is that these people complete each other not only in skills and knowledge, but also in orientation and independence towards work and joint action (see e.g. Rautkorpi and Hero 2016). The motivation and engagement to develop team integration and climate for innovation is expected to wake by competing against other teams. (Connelly, Tihanyi, Crook and Gangloff 2014)
TeenMinno thinking springs from the realization that an innovation process is a brilliant learning environment. Firstly, internalizing the innovation process can help in later work life: Orientation towards finding problems and future opportunities, co-creation and co-ideation methods, taking creativity into use, making prototypes, testing them, taking novel solutions to the market place or for the benefit for the society or people. This type of process knowledge is important in any field of work. Secondly, innovation process as a project conducted by a multidisciplinary team can develop innovation competence both on individual and on team level. Thirdly, motivation for students comes from the authentic challenge from work life, but also from meeting people from other disciplines. We assumed that motivation and engagement will be even better, if the innovation competence development is transparent and understandable. Based on this thinking we decided to pilot Superteam Tournaments - innovation contests where students are not only competing of the best innovation, but also for best competence development of the team.
Superteam Tournaments uses hackathons (e.g. Briscoe & Mulligan, 2014) tradition as inspiration. Hackathons are short competitions, e.g. 48 hours or a weekend, where participating teams encode or otherwise develop a technical solution for an open challenge. Still, Superteam Tournament model differs from an average hackathon considerably. Superteam tournaments are piloted twice in 2017 as 7 week intensive processes. Every day 9 am to 4 pm is marked in 80 students time schedules. Students come from different disciplines, but not from engineering this time.
After orientation seminar about innovation, open challenges are given to students. In the first pilot we mixed high technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, robotics and wearable technologies to national theatre, sports equipment and wool yarn producer companies to present an unexpected open challenge for the student teams. Students could choose two different challenges and were chosen to either of them. Teams of five were formed mixing secondary and higher vocational students. Facilitated by teacher pairs, the teams participate in 5 different contest rounds: Idea, concept, prototype, testing and implementation rounds. During the rounds students develop, report, pitch, and develop further, but also test and show the competence development with different methods. The beauty of the process lies in this: Superteam tournament is fully integrated in mandatory studies and the competence based peer-assessment is integrated in the whole process.
Laura-Maija Hero, Project manager/ TeenMINNO.
TeenMINNO is funded by ESF (European Social Fund) during 2016 - 2018.