KU: A mecca for educational innovation
It was the first snow of the year we saw from the window during our interview. It seemed like a magical coincidence. Just as our interviewee started to draw the blueprint of college education in the future, it began snowing quite heavily as if it had been waiting for the right moment. Like the snow covers the world and turns it pure white, it is the ultimate goal of education to shine as a beacon of hope on the darkness and despair in our society. It was only the beginning of our interview, but we already felt assured that society would become a better place with hopes and dreams as long as education continued to be developed.
“Education is not just a system, but a sort of culture in society. Without ending the old practices and breaking the stereotypes that we have blindly adopted for decades, educational innovation cannot even begin. Facing the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Korea University has been making a great effort to go beyond simply coping with changes of the times, but to become a leader of those changes. Our goal is much bigger than merely changing ourselves. We will do our best so that some of our advanced innovations can contribute to a positive transformation in our society. Setting a national agenda for education and coming up with solutions accordingly are the tasks that we, Korea University, will tackle down the road,” said Gil-sung Park, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Korea University.
Since his inauguration last March, Park has frequently received questions from professors from other universities asking, “Is Korea University really doing what it has declared to do?” They all wondered how the university managed to carry out educational innovation, which broke down the traditional structures of the past. Among numerous reforms the university has accomplished, the most notable change was to reorganize the Office of Admissions. The university believed that finding talented students should literally involve the act of searching. Unlike the past when the university waited for applications from students with high grades, it decided to be active in finding “diamonds in the rough” with infinite potential and carving them into “jewels.” To realize such an objective, it was essential for the university to have a solid foundation in education, which Korea University prides itself on. Not only for the curriculum but also for extracurricular areas, the university has continued its restructuring efforts. By doing so, the university has moved on from knowledge transfer and has gradually transformed itself into a playground for knowledge. Students who have a chance to experience the playground for knowledge are expected to learn how to plan their future and solve problems beforehand. It seems that KU is at the forefront of nurturing the most sought-after talent in our society.
“To help our students improve their thinking skills, we broke down the walls between different majors. The “Liberty Justice Truth I” course guides students to the understanding of human beings and aspects of value inquiry in terms of language, ideals, desire, culture and art. The course was based on the convergence of many other fields including mathematics, logic, epistemology, linguistics, cognitive science, sociology, political science, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and cultural anthropology.”
Park gave us a detailed explanation on the SK Future Hall at Korea University. “Constructing a building without lecture rooms on campus is the first of its kind in Korea and carries significant meaning. The SK Future Hall, comprised of 111 discussion rooms and 111 private rooms, was born based on a paradigm shift in education. Flipped classrooms are a representative example. Unlike the past when professors focused on unilaterally handing over knowledge to students, the flipped classroom is the total opposite. Students are asked to be aware of new materials in advance of the class, and professors only help them refine knowledge and come up with topics for discussion. Together with graduate students (called “teaching fellows”), students, who are divided into groups of 15 to 20 later during the class, have a chance to apply real-world cases to the lecture or to have a group discussion to solve problems. The SK Future Hall is optimally designed for that kind of class.”
Fortunately, the introduction of flipped classrooms was enthusiastically welcomed by professors and students. While only 12 subjects were taught by using the flipped classroom strategy during the second semester of 2016, the number of subjects has drastically increased within a year, now totaling 28. It is obvious that more and more students and professors will support and participate in the flipped classroom system. You may not expect an immediate outcome from the initiative you take, but you should have faith in it and patiently wait for the fruit it will bear. That is the way of education Korea University has taken. It may look like walking at a snail’s pace, but in reality it seeks changes very rapidly.
Education encourages students to tell their stories
Park does not forget to mention some changes in the university’s scholarship policy. “I should not neglect mentioning changes in our scholarship policy. Before, we granted scholarships to students with high grades, but now we prioritize low-income students. We call it the “Justice Scholarship.” It does not mean that we do not care for students with high grades any more. If there are students with top scores who want to start their own business or study abroad, we are ready to help them any time. The “Truth Scholarship” is exactly allocated for that purpose. I believe other universities will eventually follow our path because it is the right one.”
The education that KU dreams of is a system and an environment that encourages students to tell their stories and thoughts. Creativity originates from telling one’s own story and opinions. Moreover, the world has entered the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Now, it is not the role of universities anymore to fulfil the immediate needs of students who want to get a job. Instead, a university should help students develop their thinking skills so that they can find a way themselves.
To foster critical thinking abilities, KU harnesses the power of general education commonly called the humanities. The university specially designed a general education course titled “Liberty Justice Truth.” It was a pilot course offered in the second semester of 2017 but has become a compulsory subject that all KU students are required to take for two consecutive semesters. The course, given through video, aims to inspire students to study a variety of intellectual topics and improve their ability to debate. The university expects students to enhance their questioning and thinking skills throughout the course.
Park expressed his anticipation for the course. “To help our students improve their thinking skills, we broke down the walls between different majors. The “Liberty Justice Truth I” course guides students to the understanding of human beings and aspects of value inquiry in terms of language, ideals, desire, culture and art. The course was based on the convergence of many other fields including mathematics, logic, epistemology, linguistics, cognitive science, sociology, political science, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and cultural anthropology. The “Liberty Justice Truth II” course focuses on the understanding of the world and paradigms of practical consciousness in the aspects of perception, space, time, body, law, and economy. It was born from the convergence of scientific technology, perception theories, sociology, astronomy, geology, culture theories, natural science, philosophy, gender theories, and bioscience. We have received positive feedback from our students, and I am looking forward to seeing further development.”
This is only the beginning of KU’s bigger plan. It has been working on designing a course, “College Writing,” and planning to offer it as one of the required general education courses. The “College Writing” course does not only aim to improve writing ability. The university firmly believes that the ability to express one’s thoughts in a written format is essential to form logical arguments and to hold rational communication with others. In fact, college writing has long been on the list of general education courses at prestigious universities in the United States. Once Korea University takes the lead, it will influence other universities as a duck takes to water.
“I interpret Einstein’s equation E=mc² in a different but special way. While energy is the creativity and achievements of a student, “m” stands for memory, the amount of learning activity. “C” is the curiosity that the student has, and what we should not miss is the “square” of curiosity. To have brilliant ideas and outstanding creativity, learning alone is not enough. You need to be curious about everything and ask questions if necessary. It is the task that we, educational institutions, should deal with in order to cultivate talented individuals,” Park said.
Although it has been always at the center of changes, Korea University has never failed to lose its core value – its true love for students and education. Thanks to its long-lasting dedication to students, the vision of Korea University, declaring “Korea University to become the hub of education in the future,” does not sound hyperbolic. After all, love conquers all.