Keerpunten in de Natuurwetenschappen

Course Keerpunten in de Natuurwetenschappen (Turning Points in the Natural Sciences)
Lecturer Jasper ter Schegget, Rebecca Sier, Robert van Leeuwen
Context Bèta-gamma (an interdisciplinary Bachelor program)
Student count 107
One-sentence summary of course content An inspiring introduction to some of the most important turning points in the natural sciences
Challenge Improve the course’s cohesion, in particular the relation between the lectures given by a host of guest lecturers
Intervention Creation of a series of videos in which guest lecturers introduce themselves, their research, their passions and the topic they discuss in their lectures. Students watched the videos as part of a compulsory assignment in preparation of the lectures. In addition we made a ‘road map’ of the course’s content, depicting how each of the topics are related.
Evaluation The students reported an increased motivation to attend the lectures and an evaluation report showed that the students experienced an increased sense of cohesion within the course as compared to evaluations of previous editions of the course.
Related Topics Student activationFlipped ClassroomMethods to enhance interaction in the classroom

Interview with Rebecca Sier

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation? What was the issue you were facing in your course?
The course consists of eight different topics, each related to a different field within the natural sciences and each taught by different guest lecturers. In previous editions of the course student evaluation reports pointed towards a lack of cohesion within the course: students were missing the point of the course as a whole and instead experienced each of the lectures as separate modules. However, one of the course’s goals is to introduce students to the interdisciplinary character of the natural sciences. Clearly, this goal was not met.

What intervention was chosen? Why?
We created a series of video interviews in which the guest lecturers introduce themselves, their research, their passions and the topics they discuss in their lectures. This intervention was chosen to increase the coherence with which each of the lecturers was introduced to the course. Students made compulsory preparatory assignments that could only be made after watching the videos. Also, the videos had to be watched in advance of the lectures of the corresponding lecturers, to make sure students were well prepared and aware of the new topic and lecturer.
In addition, we made a ‘road map’ for the course: a visual representation of the course’s topics and their interrelations. The visual was referred to at the start of each of the course’s tutorials, to remind students of how the tutorial’s topic related to the rest of the course’s topics.

Did it solve the issue? How?
The video interviews and road map improved the course by drawing attention to the relations between the different topics addressed by guest lecturers. Now, students were regularly and explicitly confronted with the relations between the different natural sciences.

How was the students’ experience? Did they like it and/or did they perform better?
The students reported an increased motivation to attend the lectures and an evaluation report showed that the students experienced an increased sense of cohesion within the course as compared to evaluations of previous editions of the course.

Are you going to use it again? If yes, what would you change in the next iteration?
Plans are to add more video interviews to cover all of the course’s guest lecturers. The existing video interviews will be re-used. The preparatory assignments might be adjusted to be focused more on the contents of the videos, so as to stimulate students some more to watch all of them. The road map will be used again as well.

How much (extra) work did it cost you? Does it outweigh the benefits?
Most of the work consisted of interviewing, video editing and discussing the outline of the road map. Interviews took about an hour, each resulting in video clips of 10 minutes in total. Considering the improvement of the course and the possibility to re-use the created content, the intervention was well worth the time investment.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers? Why?
I do recommend considering what digital solutions might add to other courses. In our case, interviewing guest lecturers and creating a visual impression of the course’s outline turned out to be a solution for our problem, but this seems to be a very specific intervention suited especially for interdisciplinary, kaleidoscopic courses taught by guest lecturers. The possibilities with offline, digital learning seem to be endless. I recommend discussing problems and possible interventions with experts in the field of blended learning, which is what helped us in defining the problem and creating our intervention.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No