Facing ‘the new normal’ requires re-defining our existence

Head of the Department of Management and lecturer at Estonian Business School, Marge Täks has faced many changes in her life: among others switching from the corporate world to a career in academia. Nevertheless, after returning from holidays in India in March 2020 (which was also the first time she did not take a laptop with her to a journey), she could never have imagined how different the world was, to which she was now returning, and not the same anymore.

Luckily things happened so quickly now, that there was no time for me to feel too much anxiety about it all.

Today, Marge admits that from the teaching perspective, we are currently moving at a great speed towards the academia the educational scientists have been dreaming of for the last 30 years. Thus, it is not just entrepreneurs who have to redefine their businesses as a result of a worldwide pandemic but also academicians. Being a teaching and learning enthusiast, Marge Täks sees her mission in developing entrepreneurship education. In spite of the wish to live just one day at a time, she admits that the current time is ready for a new curriculum that emphasizes not just teaching specific skills but developing future leaders. In the current interview, we discuss the Integrative Pedagogical Model by professor Päivi Tynjälä but also the switch from “teaching skills” into developing teams and future leaders.

Marge Täks is convinced that the education industry has no way back to the old model and perhaps it is good so. During the last decade, lots of effort has been put into improving teachers’ digital skills and replacing the existing technologies in Estonia.  Until the current moment, using more digital tools in teaching has been challenging. Those who have not been really willing to change their habits have been in a situation where they have had to test new ways due to the crisis. Quite a lot of “old-school” teachers have discovered that using digital tools offers a lot of possibilities to make teaching more comfortable and fun and will hopefully continue using them.

Q – You began your studying journey in Estonian Business School in 1998. Now you are back and not just to teach but also to inspire and motivate your colleagues as the Head of the Management Department. You must be very busy with the current hectic times. How does it come, that you are more energetic than ever before?

A – Well, I am driven by goals and do not think much has changed in the working habits after all. Working during the Covid-19 pandemic is not much different as we still want to achieve our goals and keep track of the milestones we set ourselves. My team was effective before the crisis and we keep on being effective also now when we are working virtually.

For developing the new curricula (that is currently our top priority), we are kind of “putting together a puzzle” and it would be easier to do in the joint room meeting face-to-face.

Nevertheless, by now we have achieved to master a new kind of work routine and it works out fine.  

However, I have to admit that online work meetings are more demanding and more exhausting than the face-to-face meetings used to be. But, once the team understands and agrees with the goals, we can still feel the Flow. Trusting your colleagues and keeping the goals not far from the sight, helps in achieving a dedicated contribution. Perhaps there is still one more precondition for all this – all team members must want to move in the same direction. Luckily, I have such a team.

I believe that we could move mountains together. Everybody is prepared and willing to test new ways, especially new ways of teaching.

Q – You are also helping to adopt the Integrative Pedagogical Model for entrepreneurship education. What is this model about and who can benefit from it?

A – The Integrative Pedagogical Model is a helpful tool to better understand how to integrate and apply the four different types of knowledge (theoretical/conceptual, practical, socio-cultural, and self-regulative) to concrete learning activities. Based on the socio-constructivist approach, it fits very well into the context of today’s teaching and learning realities.
Let me explain this through the example of our new Bachelor’s program ’’Entrepreneurship in Digital Era’’, which we are currently developing at EBS. The program is a business simulator in a way, offering a chance to experience all steps in the entrepreneurial journey. At first glance, it seems that our new curriculum is very different from the students’ perspectives. This is true because we do not just aim to teach but also to prepare our students to become entrepreneurs and business leaders.

This means, that in addition to entrepreneurial skills and competencies, an additional set of skills, that of self-reflection and team-reflection are necessary to be developed also.

We will not hold any more traditional courses on this new program, but rather we will apply the story-telling approach to studying, with support from coaches and mentors along the way. In other words, we will make use of the natural flow of events emerging during the learning process, and when we tackle real entrepreneurial problems, as they come up during this process.  Each student has personal learning and development journey and so do teams. As a result, students get to know themselves really well during this program – they will understand what they are good at and which competencies need to be improved. We hope that the students form the habit to interpret the world through personal experience and see this as a natural step in the development journey. Thus, our key role is in supporting this entrepreneurial mindset.

Q – This obviously means that the role of the lecturers also needs to change. But how?

A – True, lecturers could be called the “co-passengers” in this process as they provide the students with the resources they need for the journey.

Our task is not to intervene with the students´ development but to support them instead.

Both students and lecturers need to understand that problems are not necessarily bad per see, but difficulties offer opportunities, challenges, to approach things in new ways, thus to enhance their new skills. Giving a problem a value gives an opportunity to reflect and analyze what changes in me while encountering a challenge.

Students in their early 20s do not often naturally feel the need for self-reflection or self-development. Nevertheless, we believe that self-reflection should be a natural part of today’s education.

As this is integrated into FLIGBY, I definitely see this Leadership Simulation and other types of simulations as integral to our new curriculum as they challenge the students in reality-like situations.
As already said, the integrative pedagogical model also affects how academia should be working in the future.

We need to be role models to our students also in the from team-building and teamwork perspective.

In our current academic culture, at least in Estonia, lecturers are used to acting as autonomous individuals. Being (the only) experts in their field, they do their best not to intervene in others´ business. This is something that has to change now …

Q – This new curriculum seems to involve a lot of face-to-face interactions and meetings. What if we need to continue virtual or hybrid teaching modes also in the fall semester?

A – Before any signs of Covid-19, we already had integrated the 3rd study semester as a virtual learning semester. By that time, student teams have been working together for some time and they can continue their team works also in case some team members use the mobility window and spend a semester abroad. Thus, we need to decide now if this kind of approach which we already used earlier, should be maintained. Nevertheless, the current plan is to begin contact teaching in the autumn semester and to combine it with blended learning in case it is needed. However, as there is a chance that there will be a second wave of Covid-19 we are planning to take the maximum out of the first two months of contact studies in the autumn semester and in case there is a need for the (self-)isolation, we are ready for this. We need to adapt and I believe we are well prepared due to the teaching experience of the current semester.

Q – You also referred to the need to support students in development as a team member. How can this be done?

A – We do not expect our students to be excellent team players when they enter the university and during the 1st year of studies. We expect them to work with the same teams from the 2nd year of studies until the end. We help them to grow personally and as a whole team by equipping them with team-work theories and tasks, especially about its dynamics. As a result, students will hopefully come to the point where they are able to analyze their own and other teams from the leader’s perspective. Hopefully, they are ready to support and consult the 1st year students by the end of their bachelor studies. 

Our dream is that our students reflect their role in a team, first as a member and later perhaps as a team leader. No-one should suggest in which direction he/she should grow. Thus, all we can do is to plan team reflections, coaching and mentorship into the schedules and keep in mind that it is not possible to measure personal growth through grades.

Our support may also take the form of asking the right questions, those questions, which help the students understand their activities and themselves better. We create Flow for learning and development by softly raising their challenges. We increase complexity and they develop their own ways of integration, to find a workable solution.
Feel free to learn more about our new curricula from my webinar HERE.

Finally my pedagogical motto: There is always a source of hope, as long as the new ways of learning are perceived as being encouraging!

Interview prepared by Marge Sassi, Flow Enthusiast

Comment by Dr. Zoltan Buzady, Academic Director at the Leadership & Flow Research Network:

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