Bridging Academic and Practice: SMU-X
Gan Hup Tan, Singapore Management University (Singapore)
Gary Pan, Singapore Management University (Singapore)
The scale and complexity of challenges facing the world today are unprecedented. It is paramount that universities identify and equip students with relevant skills to meet the needs of the changing economy. Recognizing this need, Singapore Management University launched a new initiative, SMU-X.
In this paper we will describe SMU-X which is a paradigm shift focusing on experiential learning as opposed to teaching, characterized by 4 principles: (i) inter-disciplinary content and activities, (ii) project-based learning via an actual problem/issue faced by an organization, (iii) active student-mentoring by faculty and industry, and (iv) creating a tripartite learning loop between faculty, student and industry partner. Every SMU-X course lets students collaborate to tackle multi-disciplinary issues faced by partner organizations that even faculty may not have a solution to.
The positive impact of this trail-blazing pedagogy to students, faculty and partners organizations is apparent. Surveys showed that students who took the courses rated them favourably; >80% of the students indicated that the experiential learning approach enhanced their problem-solving, analytical, reasoning and communication skills - key cognitive competencies employers look for when hiring. Students also felt that SMU-X courses helped them better understand the practical constraints that corporations faced, equipped them with technical skills and honed their soft skills such that they are more prepared for the working world. Partner organizations are also very supportive of SMU-X courses. Interviews show that the collaboration benefits partner companies as they obtain solutions to a business problem and the interaction with students gives them fresh perspectives and new ideas. Faculty, too, learn the constraints of the industry and gained rich data and research insights. SMU-X was also lauded by global accreditation body AACSB International (AACSB) as an ‘innovation that inspires’. It is one of the 30 award-winning innovations that stood out from more than 300 submissions received from over 200 institutions across 35 countries. This paper will also discuss the challenges, benefits and lessons learned of establishing such an innovative learning initiative within a traditional University.