Student session on flexible education
On 13 May 2019, 15 students took part in the feedback session organised by SURF and the acceleration zone Making education more flexible. The theme of the session was “making higher education more flexible”. What preferences do students have in this area, what problems do they see? At six discussion tables, the students present gave their input to experts from universities of applied sciences, universities and SURF. Here are some highlights of the results.
Discussion table ‘Study at you own pace’
Led by Lucie Lolkema (Utrecht University of Applied Sciences) and Paul den Hertog (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)
In terms of full-time education, there is certainly a need for a “gas pedal and brakes” said the participating students. Students experience no room to temporise and slow down or speed up their studies. The system is leading, failed courses are dragging behind your, is the feeling of the students present. At the other end of the spectrum, some students experiences their programme to be too light and want to increase the tempo. This applies both in terms of content, by offering room for deepening knowledge and opportunities for extra courses, as well as financially, by paying per credit instead of a full year. In any case, funding is a key question in this issue: what should you pay for as a student? Education, guidance, testing? And how to deal with the fact that some courses are more expensive to offer than others? Another problem area is the Binding Study Advice (BSA). Students indicate that the BSA has two sides: it is a motivator to get started, but also, if things don’t work out, you end up in a race.
Discussion table ‘Off the beaten track’
Led by Menno de Vos (Breda University of Applied Sciences) and Richard Kempen (Wageningen University&Research)
At the “Off the beaten track” table, students from very different backgrounds were seated, from HBO bachelor to WO master to a teacher who was retrained through LOI. Nevertheless, they all agreed that a proper foundation needs to be laid at the beginning of the study programme before going off the beaten track. After that initial phase, students are generally willing to look beyond the boundaries of their own major, even at different institutions. However, the students at the table think a precondition for studying at other institutions is that you only need to travel once a week. This means it must be possible to follow a part of the course online, but there is always a need for face-to-face contact as well.
The freedom of choice of courses that now exists for students is largely labeled by the participants as a ‘bogus choice’. For certain masters, admission committees want to see a specific minor, or requirements are set for the courses that you can take in your free space, which actually forces you to make a certain choice. The lack of insight into the educational offer, complicated administrative procedures, and conflicts in timetables are also mentioned as barriers to study off the beaten track. Fortunately, there are also good practices: at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, no classes are scheduled on Wednesday afternoons and optional courses can be taken.
Discussion table ‘MyDiploma’
Led by Ulrike Wild (Wageningen University&Research) and Nanette Verhulst (Utrecht University)
“MyDiploma” is a vision of the future in which students compose their own study programme, basing it on knowledge they acquire within and outside of their regular courses. This under the guidance of a mentor who helps monitor the progress towards a diploma. The latter is essential, the students indicate, whereby the following applies: “Support, but do not direct”.
The MyDiploma concept appeals to students. At a bachelor’s level, maximum freedom of choice means that you can explore broadly which subjects and which direction suit you best. At master’s level, the freedom of choice can ensure that you compose a very specific learning path, without subjects that are perceived as ballast. The alternation of courses with internships, challenges, and projects is seen positively. In this way, practice and theory optimally reinforce each other. It is important for most students that at the end there is a coherent training with a common thread, and sufficient attention for academic skills, among other things.
Profiling towards the job market is still a bit complicated, spreak of a master’s degree in Economics if one has followed more than 50% of courses from other programmes? And if one acquires a diploma for a “free form” master’s degree, this may not be favorable on the job market, the students fear. They see practical challenges in organising transparent educational traffic between institutions without much administrative arrangements, but this would mean enormous benefits for students and is a prerequisite for flexible education through the MyDiploma route.
MyDiploma should not mean, however, that ones follows isolated courses, the students say. Flexible education must always have a shared component. As a student you must also learn to cooperate, to be able to give and receive feedback, in other words: to be part of a learning community.
Discussion table ‘Modular studying’
Led by Tineke Kroontje (Hanze University of Applied Sciences) and Robert Bouwhuis (Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences)
The students who sit at this discussion table applaud the modular structure of the educational offer, especially because it offers the possibility of profiling: “The choices you make show who you are personally.” Modules can also help you discover what suits you and what does not (anymore); you make your own choices in an organic learning route. Choosing a module is a smaller step than choosing a complete programme, both in terms of investment of time and costs. The students would like to be able to follow modules from different domains, preferably at the institution where they are registered.
Proper information provision is key, preferably a kind of “Study choice123 at modular level”. All relevant information about a module must be available: content/subject as evidenced by clear naming, degree of difficulty/level, prior knowledge requirements, roster information, success rate, job market information, endorsements from employers, etc. The registration for a module should preferably be arranged centrally. (Regional) coordination between institutions about when they offer which module is desirable, so that a steady supply is available all year round. This can also solve the problem of having to wait a whole year if you missed a course or module in your own study programme.
Students also see opportunities for lifelong development: you can more easily retrain during your career by means of modules, and vice versa, institutions can respond more quickly to new developments in the work field by immediately offering a module. However, there was also a critical note: can institutions sufficiently safeguard academic skills of their graduates if they study in separate modules?
Discussion table ‘Edubadges’
Led by Rick West (Brigham Young University, USA) and Alexander Blanc (SURF)
The discussion on badges was led by visiting professor Rick West from Brigham Young University in the USA. He is researching the application of badges and is currently on sabbatical in the Netherlands to closely follow SURF’s Edubadges project. SURF project leader Alexander Blanc briefly presented the approach of Edubadges. SURF is working on an infrastructure with which Dutch universities of applied sciences and universities can issue badges to their students as digital certificates for certain acquired skills or knowledge. This can concern regular components of a study programme (micro credentials) as well as components separate from the regular curriculum. The students present primarily thought of badges as a supplement to regular certificates, for example for presentation skills and other soft skills. If badges could then be transferred across institutions, one could take the proof of the (non-subject-related) acquired skills with them in case of transferring to another programme. The students also saw advantages in badges for lifelong development.
However, they also mentioned risks: the gamification set-up of badges encourages competition between students, which can create pressure and stress on students to collect (many) badges. Another risk may be that badges substitute diplomas: if employers find certain badges important, why not quit your studies as soon as you acquire them? One participant is also afraid that badges may remove nuances that would be more visible on a transcript with grades.
Discussion table ‘Technology for flexible education’
Led by Jelmer de Ronde (SURF) and Jocelyn Manderveld (SURF)
This discussion table focused on the question of which barriers to flexible education students see that can be removed by means of technology. The students had a clear message: If you make more choice options available, then students also need better tools to make a choice. A hypothetical course catalog should therefore ideally also contain information about which courses you can take, appropriate to the courses you have already passed. Practical information is also important, for example whether subjects overlap in time. Another target group that can benefit from easily accessible information about the curriculum is the examination boards: the students indicate that it often takes a long time for them to reach a decision on an application for exemptions or to take extra courses. A better exchange of information could possibly improve this.