Teaching and learning

I have always been interested in the pedagogy of higher education. Not that I consider myself a gifted teacher. If anything, trial and error (with the emphasis on the latter) characterize my development as a teacher. Figuring out why students are not engaged, why certain assignments do not work, or why students grapple with course material, led me to explore relevant scholarship. This interest gradually developed into an active component of my research agenda. More specifically, I study curriculum design in political science as well as the training of professional and academic skills, two topics that I consider closely related.

Curriculum design

The curriculum is the backbone of each programme, and the framework within which all teaching takes place. Its structure can both facilitate or obstruct the attainment of the programme’s learning goals. Despite the existence of repeated scientific interest, insights on the design of curricula remains scattered and largely focused on single case-studies.

Together with Patrick Bijsmans (Maastricht University) and Afke Groen (Van Mierlo Stichting), I am in the process of creating a comparative dataset comprising more than 250 undergraduate curricula. Beyond the provision of a unique insight into the structure of these programmes, the aspiration is to gain further insights into the consequences of certain design choices (educational, managerial or social) as well as the motives that lead to specific design choices.

With the financial support of the Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Limburg (SWOL) and the research support of Talisha Schilder (BA European Studies) and Caterina Pozzi (MA European Studies), we have managed to proceed well with the mapping of curricula. In the next years we hope to delve deeper into the consequences of and motives behind specific curricular design.

Training skills

Upon completing higher education, graduates enter the labour market. Much like professional studies in secondary education, this also implies a stronger attention to the acquisition of potential skills that are deemed relevant for students’ future careers.

Yet, what skills do we expect in social science graduates? How do we teach skills? And how do we evaluate or reward the acquisition of skills we deem important? These are but a few of the questions I have grappled with in my research.

A first project on this topic, the Educational Project on Overcoming Statistics anxiety (EPOS), sought to address statistics anxiety through the integration of a learning trajectory in non-methodological courses. The idea being that if methods (solely) appear in an isolated course, the students fail to see the link with their programme (and its relevance), but also have fewer learning opportunities to apply the methods in a practical context. We found that students that more commonly encountered (quantitative) methods in non-methodological courses showed less anxiety towards statistics.

More recently, I have looked in the monitoring of generic skills through the use of a mentoring programme. Together with Patrick Bijsmans and Afke Groen, we looked at the self-assessment of students’ generic skills in the mentoring programme of the Bachelor European Studies and assessed how this evolved over their first 18 months of their studies. Considering the Problem-Based Learning pedagogy at Maastricht University favors the development of a number of such skills we expected (and found) limited improvement of students skills.