PhD Thesis by Christian Ravn Haslam: Enabling Student-Driven Innovation through Interdisciplinary Initiatives within Danish Vocational Education
Examining Interdisciplinary Project-Based Workshops as a Means of Cultivating and Applying Innovation Capacity among Students in Compliance with the National Educational Innovation Strategy
This project has grown out of a fundamental desire, as an educator at a Danish vocational college, to understand the role of vocational education in an age of increased focus on, and demand for, innovation.
It is motivated in part by being involved in several educational initiatives at university and university college level. Initiatives specifically designed to promote innovation through creative problem-solving, interdisciplinary collaboration and close interaction with professional practices along with the real problems with which they are concerned.
However, it is also motivated by the fact that until 2013 no comparable initiatives existed in the vocational domain. Since vocational education and the enterprises whose employees mainly consist of workers with a vocational education make up a significant part of the Danish corporate landscape, it seems there should be more attention paid to this demographic.
While the 2012 national innovation strategy does mention vocational education, along with all other levels of education as important, comprising what is called in-novation capacity, not much attention is given to what this implies. Neither for the educational institutions who are tasked with generating this capacity, nor the enterprises who are to benefit from it.
This thesis addresses the concept of student-driven innovation from the perspective of vocational education by experimenting with interdisciplinary problem-based workshops as a tool for generating and applying innovation capacity. These workshops are adapted from university and university college level initiatives to learn how experience generated through use of these methods and principles can be applied within the vocational domain. The research is guided by the main question:
How do interdisciplinary educational initiatives affect the cultivation and application of students’ innovation capacity, and what are the organisational implications of these types of initiatives for educational institutions?
This is addressed through a theoretical, methodological, technical and organisational perspective on innovation capacity which make up the idea of student-driven innovation.
The primary method of research is by gathering experience through participation in university-level initiatives and simultaneously using this experience to design and implement an experimental workshop between two vocational colleges. Thereby gathering comparable experience within this educational domain.
The empirical work is supplemented by a theoretical investigation towards a practical understanding of innovation capacity and by extension, how it could be cultivated, applied and not least, its effects evaluated. This understanding has been gradually incorporated into the experimental workshops as they have progressed through several iterations.
The core findings presented include a highly dynamic understanding of innovation which is specific to each professional practice (theoretical). This is combined with a strategic design inspired approach to working with innovation processes; both from the perspective of professional but also educational practice.
This understanding of innovation is, due to its dynamic nature, equally applicable within enterprises of all sizes and vocations. This understanding is complemented with a framework for evaluating innovation processes (methodological), including but not limited to student-driven processes, such as the generation and application of innovation capacity. This framework is built around an understanding of the relationship between professional, educational, research and government practices, the different rationales giving meaning to actions and effects within each and the necessity for translation between them.
Experiences gathered through experimentation with interdisciplinary problem-based workshops in a vocational context (technical) are presented as a foundation for further development of innovation initiatives within this educational domain.
Finally, all three perspectives, theoretical, methodological and technical are brought together to discuss potential challenges and opportunities implied if vocational colleges were to integrate student-driven innovation more closely (organisational) into their practices.