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Comillas Pontifical University Educational Project

The revision of new curricula in our Faculties and Schools has led to a process of reflection on the mission of COMILLAS as an education center run by the Society of Jesus. This process also focuses on ways of improving and monitoring the quality of teaching at our University as a distinguishing feature that sets us apart from other higher education alternatives.

Within this process, and with the aim of forming what would become a new Strategic Plan for COMILLAS -that would, in turn, help define a new set of criteria for revision of our curricula-, at the end of 1995, the Rector of the University created a Commission composed of governing bodies and lecturers from the University. Since then, and throughout the following year, this Commission met on various meetings to reflect on:

  • The design of COMILLAS' Strategic Plan, centered on general training to complement each specific degree program and constituting a strong distinctive feature of our University.
  • Comprehensive personal development within our University that goes beyond strictly professional training and the exclusive transfer of knowledge.
  • The style of COMILLAS as an institution, its targets and teaching methods in relation to the teaching on its licentiate degrees, engineering degrees, diplomas, technical engineering degrees and to an equivalent private degree.

A dual concern emerged from these meetings: firstly, a range of questions related to quality, covering both methodological and teaching aspects as well as in more structural aspects related, above all, to the degree programs that are taught, the cycles that make up these programs, the compulsory, optional and free elective modules, potential new programs or language teaching. Secondly, the values that are transmitted in our University, in relation to human and social development, the promotion of justice and the relationship between Christianity and contemporary cultures.

In an ordinary session held on March 30, 1998, the Governing Board of the University resolved to accept the results and conclusions that emerged from this Commission, thus creating the official:

Comillas Pontifical University Strategic Plan

Approved by the Governing Board on March 30, 1998

In line with a mission that is fitting for an institution run by the Society of Jesus, COMILLAS aims to offer the most suitable training for the comprehensive education of modern-day, global citizens. In order to achieve this goal, four key areas will be taken into account: In order to achieve this goal, four key areas will be taken into account:

  • the learning processes that make up this higher level training.
  • The features of a comprehensive education, which covers all facets of personal development and links cultural learning with moral values.
  • The context of the current mission of the Society of Jesus as a fundamental point of reference.
  • The academic staff who form the vital teaching channel in the implementation of any education project.

1. TEACHING AND LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION AND TRAINING

The quality of this training can be understood as the quality of the student to emerge from this process in which learning should gradually take the place of teaching. We could say that the quality of the training is reflected in the quality of the trainee. There are many variables that can affect this quality, beginning with students themselves who need to take increasingly more responsibility for their own learning as the central figures in this process However, another very important variable is the quality of the lecturer, not only in relation to their professional and scientific background, but also in what we can refer to as their teaching skills and their human attitudes and qualities. The quality of student learning depends to a large extent on how they study and how they work (not just on what they study), which, in turn, also depends on the lecturer's teaching skills and their ability to act as a guide and tutor. These truly complex skills form a key part of the professional qualification for university lecturers and are put into practice at different times and in different contexts.

1.1. Scheduling and coordination

1.1.1 Aside from the general learning objectives of the program, the corresponding curriculum and a clearly-defined graduate profile, within their respective department or knowledge area, module lecturers must make the following four points extremely clear:

  1. The learning objective that students should aim to achieve:
    • The way in which their current skill set will be changed by studying the module.
    • The module priorities and, depending on these, the type of goals that will be set.
    • The parts of these goals, when appropriate, which are seen as fundamental and must be achieved by all students.
    • The parts which are, in turn, see as optional or indicative of higher achievement
  2. The program blocks and content of the topics that make up these blocks. The internal organization of this content will serve as the basis for deciding whether to expand or, when necessary, reduce content, and how to adjust the material to the way the module develops, to student learning and to the time available.
  3. The course schedule, the teaching and learning methods, and the material that will be used: reference books, complementary material, internships and activities outside the classroom.
  4. The assessment criteria: to what extent do specific objectives and content need to be fulfilled for students to pass the module, both in terms of gaining access to other modules and their ability to effectively use the skills developed on the module in question.

This all points to the benefits of creating a module program that is more than simply a list of topics to present to colleagues and the Dean or Director, and that contains an division of the hours of study and some assessment criteria.

1.1.2. In addition, coordination is also very important:

  1. On the one hand, in terms of vertical coordination; the progression of the studies over the course of the degree, responsibility for which lies with the program’s Head of Studies and the departments and knowledge areas.
  2. This type of coordination also covers standardization of the development of identical modules taught by different lecturers in different groups, responsibility for which lies with the department or knowledge area. In addition, the department or knowledge area will also be responsible for staff agreements about the use of teaching material and the organization and implementation of tests and exams. The rules established in each department on how modules are organized must be clearly established and must be included in the module programs which, in turn, should be published in a timely manner.
  3. On the other hand, in terms of horizontal coordination, which refers to the academic year or group and in which the tutor or coordinator for each academic year also needs to be involved.

1.2. Methods, tutoring and assessment

1.2.1 Under certain circumstances, it is clear why lectures are still a popular method of teaching. However, the way in which these lectures are taught must always foster students’ mental and intellectual maturity, encourage active student participation, inspire them to seek out original reference books and sources and serve to provide access to knowledge and perspectives that students would otherwise struggle to obtain. In order to achieve these aims, lectures should be combined with other teaching methods.

According to common teaching experience, learning becomes increasingly effective the less lectures are used and the more priority is given to methods based on student activity. The following resources can serve, among others, to promote active student participation: student preparation and presentation of topics or subtopics; forming groups to encourage dialog within the group or with the lecturer; short and specific tasks carried out by some or all students; the use of ITC and especially in terms of magnetic, computer-based and audiovisual tools; and dynamic and stimulating activities in class when textbooks or previously edited notes are available (the most suitable sections should be selected for reading and assessed both individually and in groups).

1.2.2 Individualized student support should be one of COMILLAS' distinctive features. While this is made easier by the reduced size of our classes, it is neither circumstantial nor a mere methodological accessory. In fact, with the gradual change in focus from lecturer teaching towards student learning, it comes as no surprise that more attention needs to be paid to students. This is also our response to the student's right to accurate diagnosis and access to the most effective support This focus on student needs is centered on the tutor figure but it also requires a firm commitment from lecturers. This commitment consists in the most individualized monitoring possible of the work carried out by students on their respective modules and of the corresponding results.  Do to this, lecturers will need a diverse and effective data collection system for assessment purposes in which, with active participation from students, we can always guarantee that any difficulties that may arise -at the very least the most serious or that can endanger future learning- will be detected in time for corrective decisions to be made and applied.

The most effective supervision of student groups is based on good coordination between lecturers attached to the same group; or rather horizontal coordination that complements vertical coordination. . The program coordinator is responsible for organizing various meetings between these lecturers throughout the academic year. At these meetings, the scheduled student workload, covering both classroom activities and private study, is coordinated and a shared idea is formed of the essential content and different methodologies which should be introduced.

1.2.3 Assessment is, in the end, highly influenced by the fact that nearly all students will study specifically to answer the questions posed in their final exams In other words, learning is shaped around what is assessed and how it is assessed. If the assessment process is adjusted to the learning objectives set out above, the resulting improvements would enhance the quality of our study programs as a whole. A good way of gauging the quality of a university is to look at what students have to do to get good grades.

Assessment should be predominately formative, in addition to summative. It should not simply be a means of informing the lecturer and the student of the results obtained. Assessment is not just about grades. When assessment is formative it allows both the lecturer and the student to confirm, above all, where they are at on the learning and teaching process at that moment in time. Through assessments, we can discover the kind of difficulties that might arise and decide how they can be overcome.  Providing students with assessment feedback is, therefore, an essential task.

2. FEATURES OF A COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION

As an education institution, COMILLAS is aware that its main duty is to educate students as effective and active members of society, teaching them to be themselves and to live in harmony with others. It aims to instill a critical and competent approach to professional work which, in turn, translates into a firm social commitment. In short, it is vital to offer a comprehensive education based on the following fundamental features:

2.1. A focus on all dimensions of the person, to contribute to all-round personal development and to forming an individualized and fully integrated set of knowledge, concepts, skills and moral values in all aspects of life: personal, family, social, professional and religious. University education should not be restricted to solely intellectual development, but rather should focus on all dimensions of the person, such as: freedom, free will, moral autonomy, human, social, ethical and aesthetic awareness, a sense of responsibility or personal discipline.

2.2. A more formative less informative approach. In such a fast-changing world, education cannot just be based on accumulating knowledge: it must be design to help students deal with the complex and fast-changing situations they will face in the professional and social world.  This is why the programs offered at COMILLAS, without neglecting content and the transfer and acquisition of knowledge, must be increasingly based on intellectual and methodological training. This type of training requires a greater focus on teaching students to do things, on critical thought, reflection, sound reasoning, and the development of initiative, curiosity, creativity, entrepreneurialism, planning and team work.

2.3. A solid and broad cultural education, which encompasses both personal, family and social aspects of life as well as professional skills and that, safeguarding cultural identity, provides training in living in harmony with others, intercultural dialog, mutual respect, interpersonal communication, understanding, tolerance and pluralism. In order for this to be achieved, a solid preparation in basic topics is required alongside a broad and diverse range of social, human, religious, cultural and sports activities, integrated to the greatest possible degree with the development of academic activities. COMILLAS must aim to foster among all its students a board and comprehensive world view and a strong sense of university culture that goes beyond merely gaining the basic knowledge required for professional work.

2.4. Training that aims to transcends its own immediate culture to enable students to take part in intercultural dialog, through the discovery, respect and acceptance of values from other cultures, regardless of the nationality and condition of the people who share these cultures.

2.5. Development of a strong sense of professional ethics in addition to professional skills and qualities. To develop these skills and qualities, the theoretical and instrumental knowledge, skills and tools required to carry out the corresponding profession are provided (for example, use of ITC techniques or command of foreign languages). Students are also introduced to the academic research that is connected to the corresponding profession. In turn, ethical training consists in assimilating the specific ethical principles and values that should govern professional activity.

2.6. The inclusion on all curricula of the following types of subjects:

2.6.1 Theological One of the primary aims of our University is "to serve as an institutional bridge between Christian ideals, as expressed in the Gospels, and all forms of cultural expression in order to promote dialog and exchange" (University Statutes, Art. 1.2). As such, our curricula will include an "Introduction to Religion" that provides a basic understanding of Religion and other specific theological subject. Through this introduction we aim to offer our mainly Christian student body, future professionals and members of a plural society the following elements:

  1. A deeper knowledge of Christian doctrine, aligning their existing knowledge with the needs and requirements (cultural, intellectual, physiological...) of their condition as university students.
  2. Reciprocal understanding and dialog between Christian doctrine and positive, technical sciences.
  3. Training that will enable them to carry out their professional activity in line with their Christian faith and, in general, to shape their place in society based on a conscious knowledge and affirmation of Christian values.

2.6.2 Social. Social formation at COMILLAS is designed to develop a strong awareness and sense of responsibility concerning what we do and the social impact of our actions. This is, in part, based on creating a concern for society or the idea of justice through modules such as Christian Social Thought. And although this is very important, the acquisition of stable attitudes in this field is based, above all, on rational knowledge of our social environment. We develop this knowledge through including in our curricula subjects such as Analysis of Social Reality or Sociology related to specific areas of knowledge or professions.

2.6.3 Humanistic. The notable specialist and professionalized nature of university programs today, together with the commitment at COMILLAS to promoting moral values and personal development, creates the need to include in current curricula subjects of a humanistic formative nature that are directly related to corresponding study area (History of legal or economic thought, for example), as well as the need for a specific range of Humanities subjects (History, Literature, Arts, Media, Epistemology, ...), structured in a cyclical and coordinated manner.

2.7. To give a practical dimension to our degree programs that includes not only a focus on case studies or laboratory and workshop-based projects but also the completion of professional internships in business and institutions through the corresponding education cooperation agreements. This dimension will ensure that university education offers an early introduction to social and professional realities.

2.8. To strengthen international relations through exchange programs.

2.9. Finally, preparation for life-long learning so that, in a constantly changing world, our graduates will be able to adapt to the new contexts and challenges that will arise in both their private and professional lives, basically translating as the need to learn how to learn.

3. THE CONTEXT OF THE CURRENT MISSION OF THE SOCIETY OF JESUS AS A KEY POINT OF REFERENCE.

Under our firm belief that the key purpose of a university is to educate its students to operate in and make a positive contribution to society, and in keeping with the current mission of all Society of Jesus institutions, COMILLAS has set the key target of its strategic plan as an unwavering commitment to the promotion of justice.

This pedagogical option, in keeping with its Institutional Declaration, means that all students at COMILLAS -who chose to study here for a whole range of reasons, which are not necessarily connected to our strategic plan- must:

3.1. Be educated in a qualified and ethical manner in their chosen profession and in the social values that COMILLAS sees as fundamentally important in a society tainted by injustice: the search for justice and peace, respect for human rights, accessibility, brotherly and effective service to humans and communities and solidarity with those who are most in need.

3.2. Never forget their obligation to others to be first and foremost men and women and to built a personal talent for self-transformation to become agents of social change and to create and drive forward new business, economic and social activities.

Any profession should be seen as a service to others and a chance to promote justice. COMILLAS considers the desire to secure future employment on the labor market as the sole reason for studying at this university as an obstacle to achieving this goal.

3.3. Enrich their professional activity with an international and intercultural outlook so that any human group can and should be considered as a potential beneficiary of the promotion of the values referred to in the two preceding paragraphs.

4. TEACHING STAFF

Finally, it is important to stress the decisive importance of academic staff in the application of any university's strategic plan, since the daily work of its lecturers shapes the fundamental pedagogical channel and, to a large extent, the quality of student learning according to the lecturer's attitude and teaching skills.

At an institution like COMILLAS that aspires to provide education in moral values and the means for comprehensive personal development, it is vital that academic staff -or at least a significant and important core group thereof- identify with its Institutional Declaration, Strategic Plan and key set of values. Within this education model, the attitudes and human qualities of academic staff are also very important.

Therefore, when recruiting and promoting teaching staff, it is essential to not only evaluate their scientific knowledge and subject-specific research background, but also the attitudes, human qualities and teaching skills that would enable them to instill core values and to guide students through their learning experience.

And this does not only apply to recruitment and promotion: both initial and ongoing teacher training is hugely important. In addition to including a wide range of courses provided by the institution (scientific, methodological, use of new ITC in education, assessment, etc.), this teacher training should be based on a progressive identification and assimilation of the mission and strategic plan of COMILLAS; an awareness of the importance of developing teaching skills and impact of this on the quality of teaching; and on a strong belief that the most fruitful starting point that is currently known for teacher to improve their teaching skills begins with a reflection of their own activities within the classroom. Thanks to this training, COMILLAS can guarantee that its academic staff are able to implement its strategic plan in a scientific, expert and professional manner; to work in collaboration and harmony with their colleagues; and to guide and support students through their learning experience at out university.



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