Dutch Didactics – Honours pedagogy in The Netherlands

by Suzanne Unck

dd selfieThis morning at 9 am Marike Lammers and I had our presentation at the NCHC conference on honours in higher education. The purpose was to have the participants experience themselves in what way they can teach their honours students. Typical for our pedagogy is the assumption that honours students love to learn and that faculty should adapt to that. The students is owner of his own learning process. Teaching them is not about having them giving the ‘right’ answers to questions the instructor poses, but work together on complex wicked (global) issues, the instructor not-knowing either. Making this experiential, we used principles of design thinking in an assignment the participants worked on. But first they connected to eachother. To create an inspiring and safe learning environment, being connected to other students is conditional. We asked the participants to go and find two other people they didn’t know and figure out what they had in common. This was at the same time the group they were in working on the design thinking assignment.

dd 1Design thinking in action learning
After the acquintance we explained some things about our honours pedagogy and we introduced the ‘stroopwafel‘ box. In the box all the pieces of the puzzle – the solution – were collected, metaphorically. The first part was to choose a question to work with. Because of the limited time, Marike and I formulated five questions in advance, but students have to come up with their own questions. Asking for the right things is part of the learning process. Subsequently it was not the plan to come up with answers immediately, but ask more questions to explore the issues involved. Especially the ‘why‘-question (over and over again) helps to define on a deeper level why this question is relevant and what is is connected with. Why doe we want students to be critical thinkers? Why do assignments have to be challenging? Why do we adapt to the students’ needs? If we can’t explain this, why would students learn from us? Because we say so?

The groups worked on this and Marike and I were the facilitators and coaches. We walked around and made interventions here and there to boost the process. Mainly by asking questions and confronting them with their statements. Sometimes they found it difficult to click in to this different mindset, being a question-asker instead of the answer-giver. All the participants had a sheet on the wall to work with, this made the learning environment active, vibrant and energetic.

dd4Reflection
After a while some groups updated us on their findings. What struck us was that they were able to implement our honours pedagogy in their solutions. They came up with ideas for conceptual and active learning and how to coach students. The last part was to reflect on the process during this hour through the ‘what – so what – now what’ method.

* What happened actually (descriptive)?
* What does that mean to you, what was your personal experience?
* Now what are you going to do with this knowledge? Think of one small action for changing or improving your honours education.

Finally we asked the participants to share their light bulb moment. Unfortunately we only had time for two stories. We gave them Dutch licorice, explaining the ‘Black Petes‘ on the wrapping paper.

By that time we’d already had to have left, but we could have been going on the whole day. It felt like a short teaser, a preview of our pedagogy. To really shift the mindset of the faculty, more is needed. For us people, it is difficult to be vulnerable, to not be the expert and to learn, just as our students do.

dd5Our experience

WHAT
Zooming in on the part of the presentation where participants worked with the questions: we saw them talking together, writing down their results….

Actually, writing this right now a participant came up to us and thanked us for our presentation. She learned that asking the right questions leads to a deeper level of connecting and understanding. Also the way we model and demonstrate honours pedagogy ourselves, struck her. Meeting other participants and sharing her way of working with honours students in a more open pedagogy resulted in a peer learning moment. She also liked the effectiveness of the reflection method.

It’s great to experience how natural it is for Americans to express their feelings and show respect. We can learn a lot from that!

… The group members listened to eachother, discussed the topics and were able to ask deeper questions.

SO WHAT
This led to a vibrant and focused energy in the room. Happy faces and eager learning attitudes gave us goose bombs and ensured our purpose for this presentation. It was great to be part of this honours experience and see so many people learning enthusiastically together.

NOW WHAT
This experience stimulates us to keep up the good work and try to get our approach across, both in The Netherlands and internationally. We would love to educate faculty all over the world and have them experience the Dutch Didactics so they will enjoy it as much as we do.

For we are all senior students, as our students are junior professionals.

Let’s keep in touch. For any questions, remarks, invitations or wishes to come and look us up in The Netherlands.
Send us an e-mail.

Marike Lammers – Saxion University of Applied Sciences Enschede: m.t.lammers@saxion.nl
Suzanne Unck – HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht: suzanne.unck@hu.nl

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