Appropriation and empowerment: Actions that generate co-responsibility for the success of the Transforming Higher Education Project.

Author: Jorge Gamboa, facilitator of the Transforming Higher Education project at the Technological Institute of Conkal, Mexico.

The Transforming Higher Education project is an educational initiative that seeks to transform the educational model of universities to graduate ethical leaders and “Agents of Change” by enhancing the learning culture and participation of students, based on five key elements of success: experiential learning, entrepreneurship and innovation, community engagement, conflict resolution and values and ethics. However, is the inclusion of these transformational learning elements enough to achieve the desired educational transformation and goal of the education of ethical leaders and “Change Agents”?

At the Technological Institute of Conkal, one of the main objectives and challenges has been to empower the students, so that they are the ones who proactively get involved and promote the change that benefits them. The university must change the culture and create an open environment where they can openly question and express opinions, moments of reflection and self-analysis together with colleagues and professors, to evaluate the actions implemented in each of their projects.

Participation in an open and conducive environment empowers students and creates self-confidence to express opinions or make decisions that allow them to channel their learning. Thus, by being an active participant, co-responsibility is created to promote their ideas and initiatives, demand the changes that they consider necessary and maintain a constant and proactive participation.

The Institute is working to formalize the creation of a student committee that gives voice and opinion to the students and enables their participation in decision-making with directors and representatives of the higher levels of the institute, which empowers the students, provides them a sense of support and -above all- demonstrates respect for their viewpoints, emotional state, and role as the central focus of the university mission. This is important if we consider that university education involves the development of academic learning as well as the development and growth of the emotional capacities of the students, which, together, account for their academic success.

The empowerment of students involves creating a student learning culture where student learning, maturation and growth takes place within a learning environment focused on respect for the student viewpoints, ideas, thinking, questioning, and providing them the opportunity to take proactive leadership on behalf of the student community. The creation of this learning environment will promote the development of professional and personal skills that together stimulate personal growth into “Agents of Change” and ethical leaders.

Sensitive, human beings, who feel secure and confident in their decision-making, are key characteristics for students to take co-responsibility and allows students and teachers to be allies in directing and promoting the pertinent actions for the success of the educational model. The results achieved so far have demonstrated excellent acceptance as expressed by former students, as they have observed the opportunities and improvements available to the new generations of students at the Institute.

Although this change in the educational culture takes time to fully implement, it is worth mentioning that by the very nature of changes in knowledge, society and generations, the process is dynamic, and will be constantly changing, where the active participation of teachers and students will allow identifying areas of opportunity and proposing actions that allow continuous improvement.