When the COVID 19 pandemic hit Iceland early in 2020, among the many concerns that were raised was the issue of university students’ summer employment opportunities. There was an expectation that the inevitable economic slowdown would have a significant negative impact on the availability of service jobs that many university students relied on for summer employment.
One measure that was implemented at the University of Iceland was to expand the availability of summer courses that university students could take for credit. Universities in Iceland have generally not offered many summer courses, if any at all. Therefore, it was clear that this plan, if it was to succeed, would require rapid development of suitable courses. To make this possible, the University of Iceland quickly negotiated a programme with the Ministry of Education and MOOC provider EdX, with which the University already collaborated on the construction of MOOCs. The programme that emerged made it possible for University instructors to quickly develop courses that combined high quality MOOCs available on the EdX platform with additional instruction and assessments, for which the students would receive full ECTS credits. The programme was a great success in its first year and was continued for the summer of 2021.
Among the courses offered by the University’s School of Education in the summer of 2021, was a course on innovation in education. The aim of the course was to increase students’ knowledge about innovation and innovation processes, and to promote entrepreneurial skills and attitudes.
The course consisted of an introductory class meeting, three EdX MOOCs, and a design-thinking workshop at the end. During the introductory meeting students met the coordinating instructors and were informed about the format of the course and what the students would be expected to do, including: completing the three EdX MOOCs; participating in the design thinking workshop; and completing a final report on what they learned and how they expected to apply their new skills in their present or future work.
The three MOOCs that students took as part of the course focused on various aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship and were not necessarily directly related to education, although the course was offered through the School of Education. Students had to complete all requirements in each of the MOOCs to receive a validated certificate of completion. Because all EdX MOOCs are designed and run by accredited higher education institutions, there was no need to further assess students on the subject matter covered in the MOOCs.
The final stage of the course was a two-day design thinking workshop. Design thinking is a structured problem-solving method developed by design firm Ideo, Stanford d.school, and others. In the workshop students used the method to analyse challenges related to their work and generate innovative ways to address them. The workshop was intended to promote entrepreneurial spirit by exposing students to a process in which they apply what they have learned in real-life situations.
Students praised the course both for its innovative structure, i.e. using the EdX MOOCs, but also for exposing them to useful knowledge and practices that are seldom addressed in their fields of study or work. All of the students who completed the course stated that they would likely use what they learned in the course, and that the course had changed their perspective on their work. In particular they recognised that there is ample room for innovation in their practice and that entrepreneurial spirit is key to bringing innovative ideas to life.
Written by Tryggvi Thayer
Director of Academic Development
University of Iceland