Integrating Authentic Problems into Thesis Work

Impact-driven education seeks to prepare students for real-world challenges by emphasizing the relevance and applicability of their learning to authentic problems. A significant component of many academic programs, the bachelor and master thesis, offers an opportunity to embed this approach within the curriculum. While incorporating real-world issues into thesis work presents certain challenges, it also opens avenues for enriching student learning and enhancing their readiness for professional and societal contributions.

The Importance of Authentic Problems in Thesis Work

Tackling authentic problems through thesis projects is crucial for students to practice becoming professionals capable of addressing societal challenges. This method not only makes the educational journey more relevant and engaging but also bridges the academic and real-world divide, equipping students for the complexities and nuances of societal issues. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for students to contribute to societal change and navigate the uncertainties inherent in complex problems. Often facing situations with no clear starting point, students learn to find their way in a supportive, safe environment, preparing them for future challenges outside the academic world.


How to integrate Authentic Problems into Bachelor Thesis Work?

Integrating authentic problems into thesis work is not without its challenges. Identifying suitable problems that align with academic goals and student interests requires effort and coordination. Furthermore, there is a common misconception among educators that this approach might complicate the thesis process excessively. However, these challenges can be managed and turned into opportunities for enhancing educational quality and impact.

  • Embracing Simplicity: Leveraging Existing Practices 
    • For bachelor theses, which tend to have a more structured format, a simple yet effective strategy can be to maintain the conventional process but initiate it with a presentation of questions from stakeholders who are directly affected or involved in the societal urgencies. The project can then culminate in a presentation where students offer solutions to these questions. This structure ensures a direct link between academic work and real-world challenges, enriching the research experience without necessitating a complete overhaul of the thesis process. An example of a question from a neighborhood: The neighborhood pastoral team wants to learn more about the people and groups living in Crooswijk for their work plans. This isn't because they lack personal connections or demographic data. Instead, they aim to understand the specific needs, desires, necessities, and opportunities of the community members. This understanding goes beyond mere numbers; it delves deeper into the qualitative aspects of the residents' lives.
  • Streamlining the Process
  • One of the primary obstacles to integrating authentic problems is the effort required to establish and maintain contact with stakeholders. To mitigate this, educators can leverage existing research project conducted by faculty members as a source of authentic problems. This approach not only reduces the logistical burden but also enriches the thesis projects with current, relevant research questions that prepare students for challenges they may encounter in their future careers.
  • Facilitating Connections
    • Assigning clear roles to faculty members can make it easier to include real-life problems in thesis projects. By appointing certain teachers/professors to act as bridges between students and those who provide thesis topics, we can more effectively use research projects from faculty that matter. Additionally, having staff specifically tasked with linking students to these valuable opportunities can lead to a better use of these research projects within academic studies. This suggestion is about more than just the role of liaisons; it's about creating a structured system where each member has a specific part to play in integrating real-world challenges into the curriculum .
  • Utilizing Labs and Workshops
    • Labs and workshops, such as the ‘werkplaats’ Crooswijk, offer a practical framework for connecting students with authentic problems. By focusing on issues relevant to specific communities or sectors, these platforms provide a rich source of real-world challenges  with multiple perspectives for thesis projects. Engaging with such initiatives not only enriches student learning but also fosters a culture of community involvement and impact-driven research.
  • Building on Previous Work
    • Another approach is to build upon the outcomes of earlier student work or projects that have already engaged with impact-driven education. This method leverages existing relationships with stakeholders and previous research findings, offering a foundation for new thesis projects. It not only streamlines the process of identifying relevant problems but also demonstrates the cumulative impact of academic work on real-world challenges.

How to integrate Authentic Problems into Master Thesis Work?

The advanced skills and increased time commitment available to master’s students create enhanced opportunities for their theses to tackle authentic problems. A key differentiator at the master’s level is the potential for in-depth engagement with stakeholders. This engagement goes beyond basic consultation to foster genuine co-creation and collaboration. It also can provide students with valuable networking opportunities that could lead to internships, traineeships, job offers, or other professional connections.


Impact Capacity

While faculties define their own impact goals, one promising direction is the incorporation of Inner Development Goals (IDGs). IDGs, offer a framework for developing competencies critical to addressing complex societal challenges. Integrating inner development goals into master's theses focused on authentic problems can enrich the learning experience, foster personal growth, and holistic-problem solving skills to better prepare students for navigating the complexities of societal urgencies.



Master's theses have the potential to go beyond traditional approaches by incorporating research methodologies that emphasize collaboration with stakeholders, such as participatory research. This approach is particularly well-suited to impact-driven education, as it actively involves stakeholders in the research process. Such methodologies require that students be properly educated on how to engage in this collaborative research effectively. While participatory research can also be considered for bachelor's theses, its implementation might be more challenging due to time constraints.

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