Making HE relevant for graduates and citizens

Authors: Rutherford

Conference: Employability, Enterprise & Citizenship in HE

Dates: 27 March 2012


As a result of the way in which its purpose is defined (and its value measured) by parents, politicians and pundits, students have been ‘taught’ to ‘mentally picture’ (or IMAGinE) higher education as a service to be provided. Implicit within this conception of education is the suggestion that it demands the same (minimal) level of engagement by its ‘customers’ as any other. As a result, the way in which students perceive, or ‘picture’ the respective roles and responsibilities of student, institution and lecturer implicitly minimises both the nature and degree of students’ individual responsibility for achieving it, thereby making it less likely that they will develop a proactive and self-directed approach towards learning. (If correct, this gives lie to the common complaint that students are “lazy”; they are not, but are simply responding appropriately to a very limited – and limiting – ‘mental picture’ of both the objectives of learning and the extent of their individual responsibility for achieving these.) If we are to engage our students ‘meaning-fully’ in the learning environment, we must be able to offer them a different ‘picture’ of education: one that gives them a reason to commit to it.

Fortunately, design and communication programmes are ideally placed to do so, and to exploit this opportunity as a means to increase levels of student engagement.

At the heart of contemporary communication practice is the notion of compelling narratives: the ‘stories’ we tell about ideas, events, people, places and things. In studying design and communication, students are (or should be) guided through a critical reflection of the relationship between such ‘stories’ and the ‘mental pictures’ they engender in their audiences. This provides us (or, can be used to provide us) with the opportunity to lead our students towards an exploration of the ‘mental pictures’ that inform their attitudes and behaviours towards education.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Rutherford