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Combining small-scale and virtual learning

Combining small-scale and virtual learning Combining small-scale and virtual learning

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

Wishful thinking

Imagine you, a researcher, are given a bag of money, unlimited time and personnel. What research would you do? Associate professor Mark Govers would set up an experiment with a fully digital university.

Govers, who works at Health Services Research (FHML), studied Business and Information Science and specialised in the field of socio-technical design. This concerns the design of healthy, innovative and productive organisations and workspaces. “The innovative power here depends on both social and technical aspects. On the one hand, on the culture, relations between employees and relations with clients, students or patients. And on the other hand, on work processes.”

Organisations must be effective, but also flexible and sustainable, in times when changes occur in rapid succession. The digital revolution is a change that had a major impact, especially because it offers opportunities for new ways of working and collaborating. “Businesses such as Uber and Airbnb used digital technology to introduce completely new business models that have turned existing business sectors upside down. In higher education, the online knowledge platform Coursera comes closest, even though it is often education with a digital dressing.”

Govers would like to take things much further. He would prefer to start from scratch and experiment with a fully digital university, with about fifty students and ten lecturers. “We would bring together digital technologies on a digital platform, to find new ways of learning and working together. It is essential in this case to look at education as a whole, not in bits and pieces, as now often happens with digitalisation. Obviously the operational management would also have to be digital because that is extricably bound up with teaching.”

One of the characteristics of digitalisation is that the students do not need to be physically present. But how far can you take that? “We know that students like to meet. And that lecturers like to stand before a group. Based on that human dimension, one would have to create a design together with the participating students and lecturers.”

Another characteristic of digitalisation is that it runs 24/7. That is something you also have to think about, says Govers. “Suppose many students study at night-time or in a different time zone. What would that mean for lecturers? You would have to set up rules about what you can expect from each other.”

Something else that is not insignificant: how can you keep the typical Maastricht, small-scale education system intact? A couple of years ago, the UM offered a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about PBL, but that was scrapped a year later. Too expensive, according to the Executive Board. Moreover, it didn't fit in with the small-scale education profile. “That is exactly what you need to experiment with, I feel. How to combine the small-scale aspect with the virtual, and the other way around? Think of  it as an explorative expedition.”

The same applies to the question whether you involve students in operational management by having them carry out part of it themselves. “What bank employees used to do, clients do themselves these days using online banking. Maybe we could leave the task of creating timetables partly up to the students. They could then agree on a time when they all log in together for a virtual tutorial. Within specific time limits of course. In this way, students also develop skills such as planning and co-ordinating.”

Mobile telephones, holograms, digital assistants and virtual reality will be omnipresent through digital platforms in education, but also something like artificial intelligence. “The latter could be used to discover patterns in exam results. If students keep making the same mistakes, you could work on specific competences.”

But maybe the most important thing: such an experiment should never be carried out within an existing organisation where people already experience too much work pressure, but should be completely separated. “Look at the UM, where a lot of people are already doing too much and feel a certain amount pressure because of their workload. You cannot burden them with new digital concepts and experimental education as well. Anyway, no matter what way you look at it: Maastricht will also, as a whole, have to think about the digital transformation.”



2019-10-03: Carlos Fernando Collares
I could not agree more. Thank you, Mark.

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