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“There are no good or bad students”

“There are no good or bad students”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

MAASTRICHT. The jury was impressed by the efforts that she had made to promote educational innovation at the UM, in addition to her job as a PhD candidate. Catalina Goanta won the Wynand Wijnen Education Prize, a sculpture and 5,000 euro.

Goanta once saw a student in a lecture hall paying attention to the lecturer, to his smart phone, and to Wikipedia. All in three minutes. This multitasking, says the Romanian PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law, characterizes the so-called Millennials, the cohort that followed Generation X. “We should take that into account when we lecture, just as we should note the increased use of Facebook. Most of the first-year students communicate via a Facebook group nowadays.”

Fortunately, Problem-Based Learning leaves a lot of room for improvisation, which is one of its strengths, according to Goanta. “Despite the popular clichés about rigidness, PBL has as its main rationale: empowering students to learn something. It also provides great freedom of expression, for example in discussions or in designing tasks.”

Goanta uses that freedom to create innovating courses, which is one of the things that appealed to the jury. “Khan, the author of ‘One World Schoolhouse’, argues that there are no good or bad students. They differ only in the time they need to get to a certain point of knowledge”. Khan established the Khan Academy, an online platform for students to exercise math. In the law faculty we teach skills as well, for research, presentation and translation. Like maths, you must practise a skill like legal translation over and over again to become good at it. Together with professor René de Groot, I introduced the idea that students can get as many assignments as they wish. In other courses, they only get one extra chance to pass (that is the resit), but no chances to become better. Repetition is the thing! Next year we hope to be able to present an online platform that will enhance the potential of gamified learning.”

It was rector Luc Soete who presented the Education Prize (3,000 euro for personal use and 2,000 for education) to Goanta during the Foundation Day Celebrations, accompanied by a long list of eulogies: she is involved in talent scouting in the faculty, ‘matching & binding’ of first-year students, PBL training of new staff, (successfully) coaching students for moot court competitions, and much more. And all that in addition to her job as a PhD candidate.

Has she any time left for a private life? She laughs. “I have never kept track of my working hours, but yes, I do have a private life. I don’t do all these things by myself but together with colleagues. I never ask things like ‘Have I been to a concert this month, or to the cinema?’ No, in the end, I like what I do and I find all these extra activities very interesting.”

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