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Kirsten van den Bosch: 'Connecting students with the work field really is achievable in every programme'

Winner of the 2024 Best Practice in Teaching and Learning Award
09 April 2024
Kirsten van den Bosch
Kirsten van den Bosch

Connecting students with organizations to solve real problems within Academic Learning Communities. With this initiative, Dr Kirsten van den Bosch and her team won the Best Practice Award 2024. The entry convinced the jury because it is a nice fusion of theory and practice. The students are very pleased with the programme because they get to work on current problems early in their education, something they find very valuable.

Surprised that you/your team won?

Yes, absolutely! As a team of educators, we’re constantly working on providing the best learning experience for our students. We didn’t think about winning awards at all.

How important is winning this award?

Being nominated by the Educational Committee, which has a lot of student members, is one of the biggest compliments we could’ve received. Reading their report and seeing how our teaching strategies and intended learning experiences were actually received by the students themselves was very rewarding. See, in this course we don’t give grades. It’s all about developing the students’ critical research attitudes, and there are many individual paths towards that goal. So, for us as teachers, we can’t simply look at exam scores to gauge how well we’ve hit our learning goals. For that, we have to rely on e.g. student experiences and reflection assignments. And now they are basically telling us we’re doing a good job! For that to be affirmed by the jury of the Best Practice Award, on a university level, really strengthens our belief in small-scale student-centred active learning activities.

How did you come up with this Best Practice?

To answer this question, I need to provide some context. Ten years ago, the PedOn programme didn’t match the educational vision and strategic plans of the Faculty and the University at the time. These spoke of activating and research-driven teaching and developing a critical research attitude in our students. That is why, in the year 2014–2015, the Academic Learning Communities (ALC) were implemented in our curriculum. Within this course unit, students work in small groups of around four to five students on research-driven assignments, in which they have to combine and apply the knowledge from the other course units in the programme.

In the first year, there are four smaller assignments that cover one part of the research cycle. The second year used to be similar, but three years ago, we saw an opportunity to connect students to professionals. That’s when we came up with the current format in which professionals provide actual problems they face within their organizations. Students then have to develop a research plan and execute it to study said problems. The academic results have to be presented at a symposium, but also translated into something useful for the professionals such as a brochure, podcast, or game. This way, by putting theory into practice, students become better prepared for employment while working on research assignments.

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Winner Kirsten van den Bosch with UG Rector Jacquelien Scherpen

What do students think about it?

Well, apparently they like it! We mostly get positive feedback from them, saying that they appreciate the collaboration with the professionals tremendously. At first, some students find it a bit challenging, but towards the end, it really gives them a sense of competence and appreciation as they experience that they can actually contribute something useful to society by applying their academic knowledge and skills. Furthermore, the amount of freedom students have in making their own choices can be difficult for them sometimes, since we won’t tell them how to solve a specific issue. Instead, we will help them find the right answers. Therefore, it is also one of the highly appreciated aspects of the course unit, as it shows that we as teachers and professionals have confidence in their abilities. All of this feeds into their intrinsic motivation, which is duly needed for a project that takes an entire semester.

Is it something that can be applied throughout the University in the future?

Challenge or inquiry-based learning and connecting students with the work field really is achievable in every programme. Of course, the practical execution will differ, but letting students work on actual real-world problems from an academic perspective will increase their intrinsic motivation and will help to teach them how to transfer the knowledge they gain within the walls of the university to other contexts. As a teacher, you can do this with or without the collaboration of professionals, and with individual or large groups of students. Also, give your students some amount of freedom; it will increase their sense of responsibility. Don’t just tell your students how something works or should be done, but create an opportunity for them to let them show you that they can actually apply that knowledge in a meaningful manner.

Last modified:09 April 2024 09.41 a.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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