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A new ESEI: Why Project-Based Learning is the future

professor with students

The summer of 2019 was one of the busiest periods in ESEI’s nearly thirty-year-long history. With the help of the school’s staff, our new Head of Academics Rosanna West worked tirelessly to bring innovation to the school. She restructured all of our Masters programmes and laid the foundations of an environment that fosters Project-Based Learning (PBL). This is a pedagogical methodology that effectively prepares students for the demands of the 21st-century business world. 

But what does Project-Based Learning at ESEI involve? How can our students benefit from it? And what do the recent changes to our programmes mean? We had a chat with Rosanna and she explained the idea behind her vision. 

Project-Based Learning: a new direction for ESEI 

At ESEI, our highest priority is to provide our students with the best learning experience possible. Prior to the start of this academic year, we put a lot of effort into listening to your feedback and acting on it. This is why we’ve chosen to take the approach of Project-Based Learning. 

With experience in leading academic transformation under her belt, Rosanna is a huge advocate of Project-Based Learning:

“PBL connects students with the real world,” she says. “The idea is that students participate in learning and assessment in a way that reflects the experiences of a working professional. This means learning and honing 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.” 

The new structure that Rosanna has introduced at ESEI is based on students working in groups. Together, they develop projects that require creativity and the ability to work together with other individuals who they might not necessarily get along with – just like in the workplace. This way, students learn to manage themselves, work as a team, negotiate and communicate with each other. 

Real-world collaboration: benefits for students

The PBL approach is entirely student-focused and mostly student-led. It adds a lot of value, meaning, engagement and fun to the learning experience. 

“In my experience, PBL elicits a higher level of participation and motivation from students. They see the relevance and the real-life application of what they’re learning,” Rosanna says. “Once the projects are finished, students often look forward to presentation day. It motivates them to create something that they’re proud of,” she adds. 

The main benefit of Project-Based Learning is that by the time students graduate, they will essentially have a portfolio of work. By working on problems based on real business, they will acquire experience that is directly applicable to what they’ll be doing as future employees or business owners. And, they can talk about what they’ve done at job interviews!

While working on projects, students sometimes get to collaborate with local businesses. “Not only do they tackle real-life business problems as ‘consultants’ for real companies, but they also gain valuable connections and opportunities that could help them develop their careers in the future,” Rosanna adds. 

The teacher as a learning facilitator

In Project-Based Learning, the role of the teacher is essentially that of a facilitator. 

“Teachers are there to guide the students, while the students end up teaching and learning from each other,” Rosanna says. “An important part of the role of the facilitator in the new structure is building connections with students and engaging them on a personal level.”

The students are given the autonomy, flexibility and responsibility of working together on a project. It’s up to the teacher to decide on the format of the project – it’s very open, so for example, it can be a case study, a written report, a video, a role-playing activity, a website. The teachers create the projects briefs and oversee the progress that teams are making week after week, with regular check-in points. 

This autumn, 21 new teachers joined our faculty to facilitate courses rooted in Project-Based Learning. 

“All of our teachers are active professionally: they’re CEO’s, business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing managers or other senior-level employees of companies,” Rosanna says. “ESEI is a stepping stone for our students to the career that they want. The most valuable teachers are the ones that can help them get there. That’s why we only work with professionals who practise what they preach in their jobs every day.”

Reworking the course structure 

“For a learning programme to be successful, it should have a clear structure, defined objectives and an engaging methodology,” says Rosanna. “There’s also the question of assessment: students need to know exactly when and how they’re going to be evaluated.”

Rosanna has revamped the Masters course structure and created a more straightforward version. 

Every Master’s programme consists of 10 modules (5 per semester), each worth 4 credits plus a thesis of 20 credits. For each module, students spend 18 hours in the classroom over 6 weeks. The semester is split into two blocks: Block 1 (first 6 weeks + presentation week) and Block 2 (second 6 weeks + presentation week).

Students also have a longer time on campus than before – 14 weeks per semester. 

Each module is taught and graded by one teacher, before going through the moderation process conducted by the academic department. Spending all 18 hours of classes with one teacher ensures a significant connection can develop between students and their teachers. 

What’s next

“So far, feedback from students and faculty has been great. PBL creates a unique energy because it’s a methodology that asks students to put themselves onto the page, so to speak.”

Rosanna goes on to explain it can be really rewarding to witness and support such a personal and creative process:

“Many of the faculty tell me how excited they are to see what their students have come up with. Presentation day is often one of excitement and enthusiasm, with a healthy level of pressure and support from student peers. The outcomes of the projects are totally unique and you never quite know what to expect. I’m not sure the same had ever been said about a one-size-fits-all exam,” she says.

As for future challenges, Rosanna highlights the implementation of Canvas, the new online learning management system now being used at ESEI

“It’s certainly going to make things easier and more organised in the long run, and it’s already proving really effective for students, teachers and the academic/administration team. We’re really excited about it as it automates so many processes that used to be manual, as well as having some cool functions that will improve the learning experience for all involved,” she says. 

To make sure everything is running smoothly, Rosanna plans to sit in on classes to observe teachers so she can give constructive feedback. She will also be helping students directly with the academic side of writing their thesis. 

During Block 2 of every semester, students have the opportunity to receive support and feedback from Rosanna during a Thesis Clinic she’ll run on Fridays. This, on top of making the programme tutor role more extensive from this academic year onwards, means that the thesis process and support network has also been improved.

“I’ve been working on the new structure for six months. It’s been really energising to see it come to fruition. I love the buzz of the students of the campus. It reminds me of why I’m doing what I’m doing and who I’m doing it for,” Rosanna concludes. 


What do you think about the new structure? Are you enjoying Project-Based Learning? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!

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