In this post, the authors discuss how the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) approaches experiential learning through programmes and partners focus on real-world challenges. Vlada Kravtsova is the Engagement Manager in Education at EFI and Sarah Harvey is EFI’s Head of Education Administration. This post is part of the June-July Hot Topic series: Showcasing the Edinburgh Futures Institute ↗️.
The Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) was founded with a challenge-led approach in mind↗️. This blog post breaks down what this means, how we implement this approach with our students and partners and what results we have had so far.
There are multiple ways students can engage in experiential learning as a key part of their academic work through EFI.
For example, the Students as Change Agents elective↗️ (SACHA) allows undergraduate students to work in groups to tackle large-scale challenges that respond to UN Sustainable Development Goals. This credit-bearing model was developed in partnership with the SACHA programme delivered by the Careers Service↗️, drawing on their structure, experience and values but adapting it for the needs of EFI students.
Students as Change Agents offers a safe ‘living lab’ approach for students, staff, and challenge hosts to tackle real-life challenges and generate fresh thinking. It involves students from multiple disciplines who want to work together to make a social impact. This approach is accessible to students from across the University who are curious about experiential learning and wish to earn credit but may not be ready to make it a major part of their programme.
CEMVO Scotland, the strategic partner of the Scottish Government Equality Unit and one of this year’s challenge hosts, posed the question to EFI’s students “How can we effectively communicate with marginalised communities in order to empower climate action?”. Here is the feedback they shared:
“The environment team at CEMVO Scotland were absolutely delighted to be involved in the Students as Change Agents programme. We are always looking for innovative ways of approaching our work to amplify the voices of ethnic minority communities in the fight for climate justice – and the SACHA students had innovation by the bucketload! It has been a pleasure to be a part of this year’s programme.”
Students enrolled on postgraduate programmes with EFI↗️ have the option of working on a student challenge project. This allows them to engage with a partner organisation directly, take ownership of a challenge, and apply cutting-edge academic theory they learn at EFI to practice.
There are multiple avenues for accessing partnered projects: students can bring their own challenge, propose a project to one of the organisations in the Partner Bank or respond to a brief in the Project Bank. EFI is committed to supporting a diverse student body: a flexible approach to sourcing and accessing projects was designed with students with different learning styles, backgrounds and interests in mind.
Lucie, an MSc Education Futures student, shared:
“Throughout my student project experience, I’ve felt incredibly supported both by EFI staff members and representatives of my partner organisation – LGBT Youth Scotland. Overall, using the data-based skills and tools I’ve honed throughout my EFI courses in service of a charity whose work is personally meaningful to me has been the best way to conclude my 1-year postgraduate course!”
EFI has designed a holistic approach that enables us to deliver engagement in our educational programmes at scale while providing a good student, staff and partner experience.
A key role in enabling this process is the EFI Engagement Manager for Education, Vlada Kravtsova. Vlada works across two teams in EFI: Business Engagement and Education. Her main responsibility is developing industry connections, sourcing and defining projects that meet the needs of EFI’s partners and students. Collaborating with EFI Sector Engagement Leads↗️ allows her to further expand her network and explore options for additional collaborations between EFI industry partners such as workshops, events and guest lectures.
Working closely with the Education team and academic staff allows Vlada to have a clear oversight of the vision and needs of different MSc programmes from their Programme Directors. In partnership with those colleagues, Vlada oversees the full project delivery cycle from initial introductions between students and partners to submission of the project.
After EFI’s first cycle, the partner retention rate has been high with many organisations expressing interest in proposing projects for next year and developing further collaborations with our students and staff.
Over the summer, EFI is doing a lot of development work, planning for events, panels and workshops that would further enhance and support the challenge-led model and build student skills and confidence to engage in experiential learning opportunities.
At EFI, we are dedicated to supporting experiential learning as a model that responds to the changing needs of students and the social, economic and political situation in the world. Experiential learning allows students to actively engage in real-world scenarios, issues and challenges. By directly engaging with those challenges, students can make meaningful connections between theory and practice, develop a more complete understanding of the topics covered in the classroom and see their applications in real-world scenarios. As an institution that aims to raise generations of future change makers prepared to tackle complex futures, we believe it is incredibly important to give our students the option to access experiential learning.
Vlada leads communications with Edinburgh Futures Institute’s partners on engaging and collaborating with the institute’s student body. Her key focus is on Student Challenge Projects, which are an integral part of the institute’s value proposition. She is responsible for supporting both organisational partners and students through the full engagement process, from developing the challenge question that would align with organisational needs, to closing projects. She also works on developing the institute’s education engagement strategy and processes.
Sarah leads the Edinburgh Futures Institute’s Education team, where she is responsible for the strategic management and development of administrative, technical, student support and teaching support services for learning and teaching across the institute. She provides strategic advice and develops and implements delivery strategies to fulfil the Institute’s objectives related to undergraduate and taught postgraduate learning, teaching and student experience, working closely with colleagues and teams across the University to support EFI’s interdisciplinary and collaborative approach.