3 April 2017 • HOP, by Irene Schoemacker and Matthijs van Schie
The very best lecturers in the Netherlands
On Saturday, 1 April, five lecturers will have the chance of becoming lecturer of the year. The winner will receive €15,000 for their plans to innovate education. Read more about why they have been nominated. The candidates will be invited to the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht. There, they will pitch their ideas and explain what they do and what they want to achieve. Then the jury will withdraw and confer to choose a winner. Minister Bussemaker will present the prize.
The Dutch National Student Association (ISO) organises the annual election to put inspiring lecturers in the spotlight. Students and management of educational institutions can nominate lecturers.
Many universities of applied sciences and universities have already had their own lecturer of the year, but this is the third time that this national election will be held. The five nominees use many methods to open the eyes of their students.
Parviz Samim, lecturer of Public and Private Law at the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, came to the Netherlands as an Afghani refugee. He eventually got his law degree via senior secondary vocational education and a university of applied sciences. He often uses his own background to illustrate issues in his lectures, such as immigration law. ‘Students really like that.’
He also uses his story to motivate his students: ‘I had to work hard to get where I am today,’ he says. That is why he also demands a lot from his students. At the same time, he wants to revise the degree programme, so that it stays up to date and relevant. Less focus on theory, more emphasis on practice, in order to explain a subject such as consumer law that students find difficult. ‘For example, I ask my students: who has ever bought a bag or shoes online? Often about 70 percent of them has. What do you do if you are not happy with them? This helps them see how the law is put into practice.’
Marc van Mil also tries to promote his field in a creative way among students. Marc is a lecturer in the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences at Utrecht University and specialises in DNA. He helped set up a project involving a bus with a mobile DNA lab, in which students can drive around and talk with secondary school students about DNA research and genetic testing.
This makes his students very aware of their role in society, says Van Mil. ‘Some people think that we can tell everything from our DNA, but that’s not the case. We want to make that clear. It would be great for my students to play a prominent part in communicating this to people.’
Van Mil is also an educational innovator. What does he think could be improved? It is and remains difficult to get students to study at home, but he does see opportunities. ‘IT can help us make educational materials more attractive, but it also allows us to see exactly who has done his coursework. There are quite a few things that can be improved in this sense.’
The only woman in the group is Stephanie Siersma, lecturer in the Maths Teacher Training programme at the NHL University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden. ‘Science is beauty, a miracle. You can use it to solve complex problems and prove facts that will always be true,’ she says.
She can be quite strict with her students. ‘If they are late, they sometimes say: “Come on Miss, I was only five minutes late.” After which I ask them if they later want to be known as that teacher who lets their students arrive late. They then understand my point of view.’
But the relationship with her students is certainly not hierarchical, says Siersma. ‘We have WhatsApp groups with all our teaching groups, and I never have to raise my voice.’ She received many heart-warming reactions and even gifts when she was nominated. ‘They all want to come to Utrecht on 1 April to cheer me on. It would be great if that worked out. So we are trying to hire a bus and go all together.’
You might think that Michiel Koelink hardly has to teach his students to be creative, as he teaches in the Lecturer Training in Visual Arts Education programme at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences for the Arts: a degree programme that attracts artistic students.
But it’s not that simple. Koelink: ‘In current arts education, we continually ask students what they want to say with their work. You’re seventeen or eighteen years old, and you already need to have a response to such complicated questions. I rather ask my students: what do you want to learn from this project in the coming eight weeks? This gives them more space to approach big and personal topics, without scaring them off immediately.’
He also looks for ways to get more boys interested in his degree programme. ‘For example, like Daan Roosegaarde did, by making an artwork that uses sunlight. It forces boys and girls to do the same thing: find the limits, because that’s where discussions are created. Art should serve as the catalyst of constructive discussions.’
For lecturer of Robotics Thijs Brilleman (The Hague University of Applied Sciences), change and innovation are important issues. He thinks that the current manner of testing is not very challenging and ineffective. Therefore, he lets his students choose their assignments themselves. ‘For example, I have them redesign a machine, with the only condition that it must have a plug and an engine. It’s more fun for students and easier to assess. A nice addition is that I never have problems with plagiarism using this method.’
This is how Brilleman forces his students to be creative. Other lecturers should also step off the beaten path more often, for example by making use of automation. ‘When I see how lecturers organise their time, I totally understand how they get a burn-out. For example, I have an online appointment system that students can use to sign up to drop by during the designated office hours. It takes two weeks to get used to it, but now everyone is thrilled. It saves us a ton of e-mails back and forth.’
According to Brilleman, because lecturers don’t have to keep up the illusion that they know everything, he calls on help from talented former students. They get a job for two days a week, on the condition that they also take on assignments from companies. ‘This way, my lectures stay up to date. Most of them are much smarter than I: my only tasks are coordinating and coaching.’