Introduction: Active pedagogy and pedagogical transformation at Sciences Po
Since the founding of the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques by Emile Boutmy in 1871, Sciences Po has shown a willingness to renew its pedagogic mission, with the support of active pedagogies.
Teaching and learning in a way that is wilfully active and interdisciplinary ensures a profound understanding of the evolution of the modern world.
For decades, Sciences Po has been committed to a pedagogic philosophy that brings students together to explore a varied curriculum, helping them work towards common goals and encouraging them to find creative solutions.
A report by StraNES in 2015 and more recently that of e F. Taddei, C. Bechetti-Bizot et G. Houzel (April 2017) emphasize that the future of France’s – and the world’s – educational system depends on a profound transformation of the learning process as well as the rediscovery of the benefits of active pedagogy. The rapid pace of global change makes it essential to cultivate the ability to adapt and understand a wide range of subjects such as communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical reasoning and digital literacy, to name but a few.
Like many other major players in higher education, Sciences Po commits to this educational challenge by establishing innovative pedagogic methods, and by structuring its entire academic programme according to these principles.
The diverse student body, made up of over one hundred nationalities, and the teaching staff, a mix of professors and practitioners, is as important to maintaining the school’s academic foundations as are innovations in content and teaching methods.
Below we present some examples of the diversity of our pedagogic initiatives.
Sciences Po has always been committed to a pedagogic strategy that brings students from diverse backgrounds together to work on common projects, to find new ways to achieve mutual goals, and to devise creative and original solutions. Aside from the group work in the course syllabi, Sciences Po offers a range of collective projects starting in the first year. Students find out what it means to work on a project from start to finish, from the initial conception to follow up and finally, an evaluation of a project that will they will implement in a professional context.
The Journalism School’s production ateliers, the School of Public Affairs’ Policy Lab, and the Law School’s Moot Courts clinics are illustrations of active pedagogies that link theory to action.
The Entrepreneur Centre and its incubator also allow students to acquire concrete knowledge in a collaborative environment, as well as soft skills that will be essential to achieving success in their professional life.
“Flipping the classroom” means switching the time and the place of student activities in the traditional set up. In a classic classroom, the lesson focused on knowledge acquisition is given in the classroom, and the practical exercises are done at home. In a flipped classroom, students learn the basic concepts before class and class time is devoted to practical, hands-on activities, including debates, simulations and discussions. The class offered by S. Kahn and M. Gaillard on European geopolitics and that of E. Laurent and J. Le Cacheux on wellbeing and sustainability are examples of “traditional” classes that have been transformed by flipping the classroom.
Off-Campus Learning supports education outside of the classroom, linking the acquisition of knowledge to practical, onsite experience. These hands-on activities allow students to come into contact with a variety of learning styles and lead to enriched transmission. In many of these initiatives, students are asked to take the role of researchers and deal with scientific problematization methods while making real-time observations. On-site presentations, themed study trips and the construction of digital spaces are just a few examples of these types of experiences.
Images have a strong influence on how a message may be understood and are thus an effective pedagogical tool. At Sciences Po, certain lessons start with images as an introduction into the course’s main subject, using illustration as a base for an exploration that leads to the acquisition of knowledge. The image is also presented as an object of study, in order to reinforce students’ analytic capacities as well as their creativity.
Aimed at creating a synthesis of analytical and intuitive thinking, Design Thinking is a set of methods developed during the 1980s for creating products with input from the end users. Sciences Po has incorporated these creative methods into its pedagogical models. For example, the School of Management and Innovation’s Master of Innovation and Digital Transformation is based on the creative and reflexive potential of two groups of students (one from an engineering school and one from a design school), mixing digital humanities, design methodologies, technology culture, and managerial approaches to innovation. Sciences Po also gives priority to creativity. The main goal of the School of Public Affairs’ Master of Arts and Politics is to find new ways of representing current and controversial questions of politics, economics, ecology and/or sciences. The Centre for Entrepreneurship, which welcomes each year fifteen or so start-ups, is another active proponent of Design Thinking, encouraging students to find original solutions to complex problems, and to put those solutions into action.
Using case studies is an important pedagogic tool that aims to plunge students into the heart of a complex situation. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, this method allows students to comprehend the different steps and facets of a particular case from the inside, taking into account a range of variables. With this approach, students can better understand the problems that arise during policy creation or implementation, and suggest inventive and transformative solutions. The School of Public Affairs has integrated this method into its pedagogic model. This unit was established in response to a desire as well as a need: to offer units that are both innovative and further professional goals, aiming to address both hard skills (academics) through real-life models, and soft skills that will help advance students’ professional careers. Today in simulation, tomorrow in reality, this process will help students learn what it is to be a responsible public servant through actions that are both adaptable and responsive, and resolutely aimed at the common good.
Mapping controversies is a method used to find stable ground in uncertain situations. It consists of a collective investigation carried out by groups of students according to qualitative and numeric methods. This method provides a way of not only describing all the stakeholders and their relationships, but also what is at stake for each of the actors involved. The innovative training programme FORCCAST is used as a support for these classes. Among other things, FORCCAST can help create the environment necessary to deploy these activities: methods, pedagogic resources, digital tools, tutorials, teacher training, classrooms, etc.
The simulated debates and negotiations offered by the FORCCAST programme use the United Nations as a model. The students are assigned a role and gather the knowledge required to play that role, which is played in interaction with their classmates. What makes these initiatives unique has to do with the diverse nature of the simulations and the link to the method of mapping controversies. The role descriptions are written according to social science research standards so the student will experience what it is to act in uncertain situations. This experience makes it necessary for students to learn to find their way, express themselves, and make decisions in situations that are unpredictable.
The simulated debates are also at the heart of the production workshops offered by Sciences Po’s School of Journalism, as well as in the public speaking workshops offered during the College and Master’s programmes.
Sciences Po’s Career Counselling Service offers support to students as they prepare their entry into the professional world. From the first year of the College up to two years after leaving Sciences Po, the service’s offerings include confidence-building workshops for women and a digital platform for learning how to job hunt effectively, so that each student can follow his or her progression and find their unique path towards a satisfying professional life.
The Health Centre also provides workshops that offer students tools for personal development including stress management, self-awareness, meditation and creativity.
In a cooperative effort with McGill University, Sciences Po’s Handicap Unit offers first-year students a learning methodology workshop that provides strategies for dealing with workloads and provides communication and administrative tools that promote students’ autonomy, commitment and academic success. A counsellor from the Active Pedagogy Lab is available to evaluate the impact of these measures in order to optimally adapt them to students’ needs.
Since 2015, Sciences Po has been studying how to best adapt pedagogy to so-called “invisible” handicaps, which include cognitive and psychological challenges. In the spirit of equal opportunity, Sciences Po is using research data gathered onsite to develop pedagogic resources and educational approaches that are adapted to these types of handicaps.