11 June 2019 • Ingrid Nolet HNTB
The standard format provides stability and regularity
The timetable for practically the entire academic year will be fixed. You will know exactly when which lecture, practicum or project will take place. Students are also given a day off from university to work. Lecturers have more room to prepare for their courses. Nobody complains. Everybody is happy. A haven of timetable peace Is this feasible at The Hague University of Applied Sciences? Of course, affirm Maarten Fuhring and Annemarie Bekker.
Fuhring and Bekker are both lecturers and mentors in the law degree programme at the university of applied sciences. They are united in their business-like vision of education and the urge to make improvements. Fuhring explains it as follows: “A university of applied sciences is a service providing institution. If you want to develop ideals, you have to make sure your house is in order. Starting with a frequent student complaint: the timetables.”
Sink or swim
What’s the problem with the timetables? “They would change every week,” replies Bekker. Can you imagine how disruptive that is? A new timetable every week. You never know when your lectures take place and it’s impossible to properly plan your week. Most students also work in addition to their studies. But with the changing timetables it was very difficult to schedule anything with their employer. This is very undesirable.”
Fuhring believed there was a better way to do this. He created a structural timetable change: a standard format used to plan all lectures for the entire year. Within the frameworks, each department has room to have a say in the planning. But the student is the focus here. “The goal is to provide students with more stability. With a predictable timetable students can better organise their life, which will also improve their study performance.”
Before, the timetable was not planned around the students, but around the lecturer. “This caused a large part of the timetable-related stress,” explains Bekker. “The planning process had to take into account all the various individual requests of lecturers. One lecturer didn’t want to teach before 11 am. Another had to play tennis at 4 pm. Now, this can only be accommodated if it fits into the standard format.”
Getting others on board
Fuhring had the idea, but it was Bekker who managed to implement the standard format. One thing was key here: communication. “Lecturers are very reluctant to give up their rights, so we knew we would encounter resistance. You can only change this if you manage to get others on board. We spent days talking, asking for input from lecturers and listening to everyone.”
Sleep in or teach
“It makes sense that lecturers don’t want to give up their acquired timetable rights,” Fuhring adds. “But by talking about it, we can put these rights into perspective. What is the value of sleeping in one day a week if by doing so you let three hundred students down? Is your tennis class really more important than giving students the stability in their timetable that is needed to create a relaxed learning environment?”
To prevent the standard format from becoming too rigid, we created time slots. “We borrowed this principle from the airline industry,” explains Fuhring. “It means that within the boundaries of the standard format there is some room to determine how you actually use the allocated time slot. Each department is responsible for these decisions. The departments plan their class schedules for each block and afterwards we evaluate what could be improved.”
“And it works! Since we implemented the standard format, we have had very few complaints about the timetable,” explains Bekker. Not everybody likes structure, but at least we have stability. That is a major benefit for students and lecturers. At the end of the day, everyone realises that a stable timetable is the foundation for an enjoyable learning environment, and that means good education. And that is why we work at THUAS!”
Follow the example!
Several degree programmes have already embraced the standard format devised by Fuhring and Bekker. Is your degree programme ready for a timetable change? Please contact Hidde Duivenvoorde via 06-42153470 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.