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“Students feel in charge without a tutor”

Exploring New Horizons: a symposium on future education

“From one day to the next, the locations of the tutorial groups had changed and I couldn’t find my first-year group”, says Jonathan van Tilburg, lecturer at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences. “So what happened: the students did it themselves. Afterwards they sent me their learning goals. They were of a very high level. The students tend to go deeper without a tutor.”

Van Tilburg was one of the participants in the workshop on the future work skills for teachers, part of the morning symposium Exploring New Horizons. Here, UM lecturers, most of them involved in the Leading and Learning project, discussed the future of education in Maastricht and beyond. The event was held in the beautifully renovated building (Tongersestraat 6) of the Service Science Factory.

“There’s a different climate when there’s no tutor”, says Herco Fonteijn, lecturer at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences and coordinator of the workshop. “During the experiments in our department students seem to be more involved, more autonomous and less dependent on the tutor. They feel in charge.”

Not everyone is charmed by the approach. “I’d like to have more control,” says Gwen Noteborn, lecturer and ICT coordinator at the School of Business and Economics. “I want to know what they didn’t discuss, what they’ve missed.”

Fonteijn is also experimenting with an online group with tutor. Second- and third year-students discuss problems via chat, insert videos and make notes, accessible for everyone. The students were very satisfied: “interesting experience, easy access to information, they acquire team communication skills and it saves time”. One of the disadvantages was: some students were more easily distracted. “One of them was cooking during a session,” says Fonteijn, “but most of them paid attention.”

The teachers were critical on some points. These new approaches make it more difficult to distinguish between freeriders and socially inhibited students and to tell if someone really understands what is being said.

“When it comes to all these new tools and formats,” says Van Tilburg, “let’s not forget to ask the students about their opinion. All too often the teachers are enthusiastic about things like wikis [students working online on a joint paper –Ed.], but the students don’t care.” This presumption is confirmed immediately by one student present. “I don’t care, I prefer face-to-face contact instead of an online group.”

Teachers should be critical towards new tools, according to Jeanette Hommes, assistant professor of Education, but first they should be acquainted with them. “So here’s my proposal for the coming UM Christmas present: an iPad for every employee.” 

 

Maurice Timmermans

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