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Thematic Academic Learning Communities

Contact Person

prof. dr. M.C. Timmerman. m.c.timmerman@rug.nl

Summary

In the second year of the Bachelor’s degree programme in Pedagogical Sciences, students gradually start to work their way towards a specialization or track. The degree programme has two specializations: Remedial Education and General Pedagogy/Educational Sciences , within which various tracks can be chosen. To help students familiarize themselves with the available specializations and differentiations within the Academic Learning Communities (ALCs), we would like to develop and implement a pilot project involving theme-based ALCs in the second year of the Bachelor’s programme.

The basic idea behind the ALCs will remain the same as in the propaedeutic phase: year groups of max. 15 students with their own tutor are formed at the start of the year, and the students complete cross-curricular research assignments that are clearly related to actual practice. However, the ALCs in the second year of the Bachelor’s programme will be based on an umbrella theme: appropriate education. Within this theme students will be able to choose several sub-themes, related to the specialization and to the subject-specific course units taught in blocks 1A and 1B. This will give students a more concrete idea of the topical issues that are relevant to the fields of remedial education, general pedagogy and educational science and their academic study.

Theme-based, cross-curricular research assignments completed within the ALCs will provide students with more knowledge, understanding and research skills in themes relevant to the specializations in remedial education, general pedagogy and educational sciences. In this way the theme-based Learning Communities will contribute to the realization of the more course unit-specific learning outcomes.

Best Practices

In 2014-2015, the Bachelor programme Pedagogical Sciences introduced Academic Learning Communities (ALC’s) in the first year; the pilot of 2015-2016 extended the ALC’s to the first semester of the second year. The ALC’s at Pedagogical Sciences have classes ( yeargroups) of up to 15 students, working on a research project, supervised and coached by their own tutor/mentor. The assignment is always research oriented and content related to the three courses of that term, challenging students to make connections between the courses. Furthermore, the assignment of each term requires a different approach, in order to introduce students to different aspects of doing research. The learning aims of each assignment are formulated in line with Bloom’s taxonomy of critical thinking. Activating didactics are used to develop a critical academic attitude. The tutors make sure there is an atmosphere of mutual trust, inviting students to learn from each other and have constructive discussions.

In this second year we build on the expertise we developed in the first year, using the same principles as stated above. However, the link to the content of the courses is organized thematically: students choose for one theme out of three. These themes are related to the different tracks within the Bachelor programme, that students will have to choose from after the first term. This way, the development of research related, critical skills is connected to one of the different tracks and with the research that is done within that track.

The experiences of 2015-2016 have shown that being able to choose for one theme addresses the wish of students to focus more on their chosen specialization. Secondly, students feel that the content of the assignments, aiming at writing the final parts of a research report, is useful and practical. This is partly due to the fact that students have to do a research project for one of the methodology courses in their second term: the ALC-assignment is closely connected to that research project. Students report that they have further developed their critical thinking skills, however, so far we have not used standardized tools to assess their critical thinking skills. In 2016-2017 we will start a pilot with Perusall: a collaboration tool for stimulating the development of critical thinking. At the same time, a standardized tool for assessing the level of critical thinking will be used in the ALC’s in order to have a more objective assessment of the learning aims.

Finally, the student evaluations remain very positive about the community atmosphere in their class / year group, and about having one tutor throughout the year, even though for the Bachelor 2- year, the year groups have been re-formed. For the tutor to fulfill his/her role in the ALC’s, i.e. to be able to supervise and coach students in a non-directive but activating approach during their research oriented assignments, ongoing intercollegial didactic reflection and discussion, as well
Last modified:16 March 2017 1.08 p.m.
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