Since beginning in 2013, the Trinity Education Project has been developing and improving undergraduate education in the hope that it will boost college’s standings in international rankings and reverse a worrying trend that has seen Irish universities’ positions consistently falling in recent years.
The project has recently outlined four key attributes that they wish every Trinity graduate to have. These attributes have even become something upon which to sell the university. On September 1st, Trinity played a central role in the hosting of the pep rally for the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, an American Football game between Boston College and Georgia Tech. As part of the event, Trinity hosted an Irish-American education symposium. Among those in attendance were Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, the President of Boston College, William P Leahy, and the President of the Georgia Tech, Dr GP Peterson. Speaking in front of these important guests, the Provost, Patrick Prendergast, used the opportunity to discuss the attributes the college wants to see in Trinity’s graduates.
What you learn in four years is really only tip of the iceberg stuff. It’s learning how to learn
These attributes and skills, College hopes, are honed and developed throughout students’ time in Trinity and will “shape the contribution they make to their profession and to society”, according to the project. The four attributes the Trinity Education Project has identified as of particular importance for Trinity graduates are to “think independently”, “communicate effectively”, “develop continuously” and “act responsibly”. “We are hoping for a bigger picture of education,” Prendergast said at the event, “that isn’t solely about getting a job”.
The Vice-Provost, Prof Chris Morash, reiterated the emphasis on the development of students. Speaking to The University Times, Morash made the point that “what you learn in four years is really only tip of the iceberg stuff. It’s learning how to learn”. He furthered this, commenting that “it’s not just about a number on a spreadsheet at the end of the year. It’s about students learning from what they are doing”.
Learning “how to learn” is the key aspect of a graduate’s continuous development. The project highlights flexibility to change as an essential element of this, an ability to continually adapt one’s present knowledge to the differing situations, using “curiosity and…passion to seek out new ways of understanding”. An all-round development of a graduate in this regard is clearly prioritised by the project, encouraging graduates to “always [be] open to learning, professional or personal development in order to enhance the discipline, the community and the self”.
All four attributes are intrinsically linked, with independent thinking perhaps the most tangible element for many students. “In Trinity,” the project’s interim report, published in July, says, “our students develop the capacity for independent thinking in a research inspired context”. One clear way in which this is achieved is through what Morash calls a “capstone project, a final year project for all students”. “Before they leave”, Morash says, “all students will have done one”. Whilst this element initially encountered some resistance, expressed most vocally by law students and the School of Law in April, the Trinity Education Project has sought to highlight the importance of such a body of work. “Critical thinking is different to independent thinking”, the report points out, arguing that students “need an opportunity to demonstrate they can think independently”.
While they may seem abstract, or perhaps even a little arbitrary, those involved insist that the categorisation of these key attributes did not develop overnight, nor were they whimsical thoughts
A large final-year dissertation or project facilitates the development of the project’s “communicate effectively” attribute. The Trinity Education Project draws a link between effective communicators and confident communicators and recognises the need for effective communication in career progression. The report mentions a broad stroke approach to achieving this, making it desirable that students have literacy in all media of communication, and individually as well as part of a team so they can “synthesise information and communicate ideas appropriately and effectively to a variety of audiences”.
An even broader attribute than effective communication is the assertion that Trinity graduates will “act resiliently”, encompassing, among other things, the ability to act responsibly, sustainably, confidently and participate wisely in society. The project highlights ethical awareness and realisation that the graduate is a global citizen, as significant aspects of acting resiliently. “The ethical imperative”, Morash says, “is about making judgements and taking action”. Through the project, College wishes to impart upon its students their necessary commitment to ethical behaviour and their responsibility to society as a whole.
While they may seem abstract, or perhaps even a little arbitrary, those involved insist that the categorisation of these key attributes did not develop overnight, nor were they whimsical thoughts. For the past year the project has been conducting research and developing aspects of each attribute. “TEP is learning from student feedback”, Morash says, highlighting their recent recommendation for Christmas exams, as part of a shake-up of the academic year structure, as a clear example of that in action. The project consulted with different schools and faculties in College to develop these attributes, with the Provost and Dean of Students spending much of the second half of the last academic year on a “road-show”, visiting areas of college including the engineering, computer science, clinical speech and language studies, nursing and midwifery, medicine and TSM departments, to gain their input.
No matter how well you are doing something you can always do better. The world has changed so much just in the last decade, a curriculum that was designed in the past can always be looked at
Whittled down from a list of nearly ten, these four attributes form the basis of the entire Trinity Education Project. The next step is to see how each attribute can be effectively implemented into a student’s everyday education. Morash describes them as “a set of high-level goals. They act as guidelines for what we are doing, asking what does a Trinity student look like”. The Provost called it “the vision…for the kind of students we want to educate. It doesn’t matter if they study dentistry or engineering or theology”, Morash says.
“When I think about a vision for Trinity I think about the kinds of students we want to educate and the kinds of citizens we want to have in our country and in the world”, he adds.
The Trinity Education Project and their attribute recommendations are essentially offering a review of the education that Trinity’s students have been receiving. Morash is quick to praise this: “No matter how well you are doing something you can always do better. The world has changed so much just in the last decade, a curriculum that was designed in the past can always be looked at.”
With the goal of developing the student body as a whole, the Trinity Education Project undertook focus groups with employers, from which the abilities to communicate effectively and think independently were seen to be of particular importance. The central idea of the attributes is to create a central image of Trinity graduates and provide the same opportunities to all students across College, rather than tailoring specific attributes for certain graduates.
The develop of these attributes will, Morash hopes, ultimately develop “what makes Trinity distinctive”.