“Creating a new education model takes five years’”

Learning spaces, not at Fontys Hogeschool but at the UM - the Tapijn kazerne

“Creating a new education model takes five years’”

Education method HILL, as is used at Fontys Hogeschool, is not modernism

08-03-2023 · Background

Fontys Hogeschool has set up a crisis team after a new education model did not go down well with many lecturers and students. This HILL method shows strong similarities with Problem-Based Learning, and its inventor used to work at UM and later worked together with researchers from SBE. Was the model partly developed at UM? “HILL itself is not the problem, but the way in which it was introduced at Fontys is.”

Just like with Problem-Based Learning, HILL (High Impact Learning that Lasts) is about activating students, who will no longer sit rooted in the lecture halls but work together on assignments. While doing so, they are supervised by lecturers, who take on the role of coaching.

Contrary to the suggestion that may have been made in a recent, three-page article in de Volkskrant, HILL is not modernism, says Wim Gijselaers, professor of Didactics at the School of Business and Economics. “Scientific overview studies were used to determine what works and what doesn’t work in higher education, and HILL is based on those strong points. That students become ‘owners’ of their studies, for example, or that they learn because they themselves want to, because they want to become a competent doctor, not because their parents want them to. There is not a lecturer who thinks this is nonsense. Nor the fact that the learning process benefits from good feedback and working together in small groups.”

These are all very important aspects, says Gijselaers, but nothing new. "Those strong points also constitute the core of PBL. The main difference is that the Maastricht model is the result of ten years of deliberations, investigations, experiments. So, trial and error, while HILL is based on an inventory of strong points. The favourable effects of PBL have been investigated and proven countless times. HILL, as far as I know has not yet."

Landslide

HILL was developed by the Belgian Philip Dochy, who worked as an educationalist at the Maastricht Faculty of Law from 1998 to 2006. After that, Dochy worked a lot with educationalists from the department of Educational Research and Development (SBE), including his wife. Was HILL also partly developed at this department?

No, says Gijselaers. “No research was carried out into this method here. Although we did once use HILL as inspiration. We looked into one of our bachelor’s programmes from the HILL point of view, to see if we could come up with any improvements. At the time, students asked for more feedback about the learning process. We also gained experience with coaching in some master’s programmes, as is the practice at University College. That has great added value. Unfortunately, it is rather expensive, also because you have to specifically train lecturers for this purpose."

Gijselaers thinks that the fact that HILL was a source of so much resistance at Fontys is not due to the education model itself. "The problem appears to lie in the way it was introduced. In blogs by lecturers, I read that they don’t feel listened to, that a new method was imposed on them from above. And then also by someone who is an outsider and doesn’t know the problems they face in the classrooms, but who comes to tell them how to do things. Moreover, the new model was constituted a landslide for an institute like Fontys. To introduce a new teaching method, you need to take at least four to five years."

Later on, it appeared that this 'outsider' Dochy was recently sentenced to 4.5 years imprisonment in Belgium for raping a student and that he has been suspended from Leuven University for many years. Furthermore, de Volkskrant states that he was on the visitation panels that assessed his own education innovations. In short, none of these things help when it comes to accepting his ideas.

Vicious

In the Volkskrant article concerned, Maastricht University was briefly mentioned as an institute that works with innovative education, and that has more or less ventured off the path. “Nonsense of course,” says Gijselaers. “Everything we do, is based on scientific research. As far as I’m concerned, the article has a rather vicious undertone of ‘education innovation doesn’t work’, lumping everything together. Even going as far as referring to the Dijsselbloem Committee, which – whatever way you look at it – focussed on secondary education and not higher education.”