Why innovation in education?
A number of developments within and outside the University make it necessary to treat the issue of innovation with greater urgency. An overview of these developments is given below.
Everything around us is constantly changing: students, the university, technology, society, the job market, the world.
Internationalisation and diversity
Leiden University itself operates in a world of increasing international competition and continuing growth in the number of international students. More and more students are opting to study abroad and many of them have their sights set firmly on one of the top 100 universities, of which Leiden University is one. This means increasing cultural diversity in the intake of students, which can enormously enrich the educational experience for all students. It gives Dutch students the possibility of taking part in international education while remaining in their home country, but it also represents a challenge for them because of the greater competition for places in selective programmes or for positions on the job market. At the same time, the group of bicultural students finding their way to the University is growing. For this reason, too, programmes have to be accessible for a more interculturally diverse group of students than previously. Custom-made approaches in teaching are becoming increasingly important.
Rapid developments in technology are also forcing the University to rethink its approach to teaching. Many new providers are appearing on the global stage, and the University has to consider how to respond to these new providers of online teaching or modular education. Will future students build their own portfolio and follow their chosen modules ‘anytime, anywhere’? In that scenario, we have to ask ourselves what extras the University can offer and what added value we can provide. It is also important for the University to respond to the opportunities offered by new technologies for our on-campus teaching. Students today are digital natives: they acquire knowledge in different, more interactive ways than in the past. In addition, new digital tools are constantly appearing that can enrich our teaching and ensure that our students are more active participants in the educational process.
Dynamic job market
Finally, there are the developments in employability. The positions that our graduates will hold in the future still have to be largely created. The labour market for which we educate our students is becoming increasingly dynamic and consequently requires different knowledge and skills from our graduates than previously. There is a strong call for 21st-century skills and transferable skills, such as collaboration, communication and entrepreneurship. At the same time, the labour market expects us to train students in critical thinking and the ability to resolve complex problems by applying rigorous scientific methods.
Islands of innovation
An inventory and analysis of educational innovation projects at Leiden University shows the enormous efforts of our teachers aimed at innovation in our teaching. More than 150 innovative projects have been identified on a wide range of topics, such as digitisation, curriculum reform, skills teaching, internationalisation, active learning and community building. These projects, initiated by staff who have a passion for teaching, have proven highly effective. However, the full potential of these projects is not being fully utilised: knowledge about innovation is widely dispersed and fragmented, and is not being shared sufficiently, benefits of scale are not being exploited and the connections between different innovations are not being recognised and implemented. A University-wide vision on teaching and learning can ensure that the aims of knowledge sharing, benefits of scale and connections are achieved.
Balance between research and teaching
A second internal motivation for developing a shared vision on teaching and learning and a related innovation plan is the much-discussed imbalance between research and teaching. Careers within the University are still too biased towards research performance. This issue was recognised in the internal Report on Academic Career Policies adopted by the Executive Board in December 2014. Implementation of the plan started in 2015. One of the plan’s recommendations was to make it possible to be promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor (or from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer) on the basis of teaching performance. This proposal forces us to look carefully at what exactly constitutes good or excellent teaching, and what aspects of teaching we and our students consider important.
As a final point, the satisfaction of our students is an important motivation for educational innovation and improvement. There is considerable room for improvement in the master’s programmes in particular. Student satisfaction will have a positive impact on study results, and is therefore certainly one of the indicators of teaching quality. The lack of satisfaction identified in the National Student Surveys in recent years, for example, compels us to take another, closer look at our programmes, curricula, courses and teaching methods and to reflect on how we can involve our students more actively in our teaching.