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Published: 03 Jun, 2021

Guiding students through unknown terrains

PROFILE For her educational skills and strong commitment to her students, Catherine Lions has been awarded the 2021 USBE Pedagogical Prize.

Text: Elin Andersson

Catherine Lions grew up in France. She graduated with a Master’s degree in business administration from Marseilles School of Business and later completed her doctorate in business administration at Grenoble University. Early in her career, she realised that she wanted to be an education-focused lecturer and tried to learn more about the organisation of higher education and how to increase its internationalisation.

“After defending my thesis, I joined Marseilles School of Business (now named Kedge Business School), as a faculty member of the Accounting, Finance and Information Department. During my years there, I both observed and was involved in developing new educational programmes, the changes within the organisation, the internationalisation of the school and the increased competition faced by all business schools,” says Catherine Lions.

Umeå offers the multicultural environment I want, coupled with excellent conditions for living and working.

From France to Umeå

In 1999, Catherine Lions was selected by the Wikström Foundation to receive a scholarship to spend a year as a researcher in accounting at The Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics (USBE). She took the opportunity and moved with her husband and three young children to Umeå.

“Moving to Sweden was a challenge, but the organisation and people at USBE were fantastic – helpful, open, and so proud of their own country and region. They all made us feel at home quite quickly. Working conditions at USBE were great, as was life in Umeå. Later on, I was offered a visiting position, and after that I applied for a permanent position. Umeå offers the multicultural environment I want, coupled with excellent conditions for living and working.

Beside regular activities, I have been involved in international affairs at USBE. I contributed to developing international partnerships and international accreditations. Time flies, and now I work as a teacher and thesis supervisor at USBE. I am currently teaching several courses in finance and management accounting on Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. I am involved in thesis supervision, and nothing makes me as proud as successful thesis students, and prize-winning theses.”

When I observe current students, what strikes me most is the heterogeneity of their profiles. Some have grown up in a happy context free of war, fear and violence. Meanwhile, others travel to Europe with exactly the opposite experiences.

Learning from complexity and diversity

Catherine Lions describes her pedagogical approach as built on a concept where the teacher initiates and guides the students through an unknown terrain that needs to be explored. The student is the explorer and the teacher/tutor is the experienced and expert travelling companion and counsellor.

“When I observe current students, what strikes me most is the heterogeneity of their profiles. Some have grown up in a happy context free of war, fear and violence. Meanwhile, others travel to Europe with exactly the opposite experiences. Our students learn in a collective environment composed of different languages, different religions, different beliefs, and different expectations. For students and their teachers, multiculturalism is obvious. Learning from this complexity and diversity allows our graduates to better integrate into any region in the world and to be capable of creating solutions for multiple realities.

My view is that, even if the educational approach is based on a standardised curriculum, in order to be able to allow and use diversity as a constructive principle, the pedagogical relation needs to be highly individualised, and focused on the personality of the ‘learner’, as the one who wants to learn. My guiding role as a teacher is not only to point out the direction, but also to provide a map and a compass. To a certain extent, the ‘teaching methods’ I like are more based on experience: simulations, projects, exercises with unpredictable outcomes, discussions, and independent learning.”

The students capacity to adapt has just been fantastic. Within a day, everyone was attending seminars online, absenteeism of students disappeared.

Adapting to pandemic challenges

As for everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic has characterised Catherine Lions activities during the past year.

“The pandemic was a shock, of course, and the transition to online education came so suddenly. It made me very anxious, not only about the teaching itself, but mainly for the sake of the students. However, their capacity to adapt has just been fantastic. Within a day, everyone was attending seminars online, absenteeism of students disappeared. Whether it was pure luck or not, restrictions played a very positive part.

Comfortably installed at home, I could dedicate more time to individual students’ demands, and I think that it worked very well. Student responsibility suddenly increased and, in particular, the thesis students I was supervising in spring 2020 faced it with commitment and perseverance. However, I was concerned by the well-being of the students, and in particular that of international students who were far from home. I know that it hasn’t been easy for them, and I feel so happy that they could trust me, and I truly cherish our private conversations. I realised that life could become tough and that learning could be impacted.”

Catherine Lions is now preparing for her retirement, passing on knowledge to younger colleagues.

“Transmission is crucial, so my main goal from now on is to support our young faculty members to take the lead. I plan to be as helpful as possible to them in adapting and developing educational materials. It is important to also share morale and values, not only tips. Finally, I think that it is urgent to include topics of sustainability and social innovation in finance. The recent developments revolving around Bitcoin show the importance of broader education in financial issues, and how finance is in urgent need of a higher sense of morale and long-term perspectives.”

Catherine Lions main educational tips

- Train students to face the managerial diversity inherent to geographical regions, concepts, units of analysis and to the emergence of new issues and stakes.
- Open up discussions to modern geo-political and scientific issues.
- Use authentic materials as much as possible.
- Widen the scope of training by using a variety of methods.
- Ensure coherent personal development of the students, in particular in multicultural group tasks.
- Conclude each class with feedback from students.
- Pay great attention to quality of exams.
- Gain a good administrative proficiency.
- Gain enough expertise in the subject to be self-confident and relaxed.
- And most importantly, always treat a student as a human being and not as a learning robot!

Contact information

Catherine Lions
Associate professor
E-mail
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