Changing roles for teachers and working on today's challenges

The path to impact-driven education

In a world that is changing constantly, we must question whether the current educational programs prepare students for their professional careers. As Erasmus University Rotterdam, we want our students to be able to deal with complex societal issues and to make a positive contribution to them.

Therefore, the education program Impact at the Core is working on implementing impact-driven education. Recently, this program presented its position paper "Impact-driven education at EUR”. This describes how we as EUR can teach our students to deal with those complex societal issues. In other words, how can we increase the impact capacity of our students? But why is this so important for EUR? And what does this mean for our teachers? Rector Magnificus Annelien Bredenoord and Arwin van Buuren, Academic Lead of Impact at the Core, engaged in conversation.

Education with impact

In fact, impact-driven education is inseparable from EUR's profile. Founded in 1913 from a need for qualified employees for the port, EUR has always sought to connect the university and the city. This connection is also emphasized in our strategy, Bredenoord explains: 'We would like to make a positive contribution to the city, the region and the world. We want our students, when they enter the job market, to be prepared for the social issues they will face there.' That's why impact-driven education is so valuable, Van Buuren said: 'We confront students with the complexity of those issues as they play out in the real world. We force them to think about questions like: what can I do with what I learn here? How can I contribute to this issue? With this style of teaching, we hope to make students reflect on the role they can play. Personally, I think that this experience is very important.'

Prof.dr. Annelien Bredenoord
Geisje van der Linden

Bredenoord agrees: 'We get students out of their academic bubble by having them work with partners from within the field. This allows them to experience the different sides of an issue firsthand. It's not just about knowledge transfer, but also about really seeing through and feeling the complexity of the issue. I think this is an important element of impact-driven education.' This highlights an important difference from traditional forms of education, for example, impact-driven education pays a lot of attention to the reflexive component, Van Buuren says. 'A social issue is never neutral. And how people relate to it is never neutral either. It's about values and interests.' 'Actually, this also confronts students with their own normative views and emotions, and perhaps also with their prejudices,' Bredenoord adds, 'and if all goes well, they will reflect on this.'

'It's not just about knowledge transfer, but also about really seeing through and feeling the complexity of the issue. I think this is an important element of impact-driven education.' - Prof.dr. Annelien Bredenoord

On April 20, 2023, the Executive Board decided that the definition document "Impact-driven education at EUR" will be used as the didactic framework for the elaboration of impact-driven education in EUR's new educational vision. The university wants to pursue a certain uniformity with this, Bredenoord said. 'It's a common frame of reference: this is the way we as a university look at impact-driven education. This is how we nurture the impact capacity of our students and help them in their development as future change agents. This also means that faculty can use it as guidance for incorporating this type of education into their curricula. At the same time, with this document we wanted to give faculties the space to fill in this type of education to fit their own profile.'

The role of the teacher

'We hope as EUR that in this way we can help society by incorporating its concerns a place in our education. But this also requires a change in the role of our lecturers,' said Van Buuren. 'The lecturer is no longer just the one who transmits the knowledge, but rather the person who guides the student's learning process. Also, the lecturer brings in the societal partners, so that also means a networking role. It is very important that we support our teachers in this.’ Bredenoord agrees: 'We should not over-ask them, and not every teacher needs to master all aspects of impact-driven education.'

Prof.dr. Arwin van Buuren

'On the one hand, the teacher is given a more modest role,' Van Buuren explains, 'because this education moves away from the idea that the teacher is there purely for transferring knowledge. As a teacher, you become part of the students' learning process. It is a crucial role, because the learning process students go through is quite challenging. There are uncertainties that do not occur in classical education. There is an element of surprise in which you as a teacher cannot predict the outcome either. This is because of the role the societal partner is given in education and because of the unstructured nature of the issues you bring in. If you give a student an issue from such a partner, you don't know what the outcome might be. In some cases, you don't even fully understand the problem. This puts the student's personal learning process at the center. And I actually expect that this will make teaching a lot more fun. Also, for the teachers because you are surprised yourself.'

 'The lecturer is no longer just the one who transmits the knowledge, but rather the person who guides the student's learning process.' - Prof.dr. Arwin van Buuren

Great example of our education

In recent years, we at EUR have seen many fine examples of impact-driven education emerge. 'Such as the Master Economics of Sustainability,' says Bredenoord. 'I think this is a great example of a program in which students spend the year working on an issue that has been put forward by a societal partner. And in September the new Master Societal Transitions begins.' Van Buuren adds: 'You see impact-driven education reflected in many different ways. You see students doing great things in the neighborhoods. You see students writing theses that actually play a role in policy processes or organizational choices. We have our honors programs and minors, like the Impact Space, for example. And of course, we also have the Convergence. It's pretty clear that all the education within the Convergence is impact-driven education by definition.'

'We are also still learning,' Bredenoord acknowledges. 'We have to be humble and honest about that, too. We have good examples of impact-driven education, but we are also learning continuously, evolving and developing. Moreover, the world is changing rapidly as well as the technological context in our education, think generative AI such as ChatGPT, so we will have to keep evolving.'

The next step

We now have the definition paper as a kind of foundation for the educational vision and the faculties are going to work with that. How are we going to shape that impact-driven education in all courses? Scaling up, that is now the next step. 'Know that you are not alone,' states Van Buuren. 'Above all, be inspired by the definition document and the many examples that are already there. And know that there are parties at EUR, such as Impact at the Core, who can support you in designing impact-driven education’. Bredenoord concurs: 'We are going to make the step together to incorporate more impact-driven education. That is why we invest in the necessary facilities and assist programs that want to make this move. We ultimately want all of our students to at least become acquainted with this form of education and, if desired, to be able to gain further skills and depth in it.'

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