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Interest: a complex concept in education

It's much easier to learn something if you're interested in it. But students' interests are often diverse and wide-ranging, says Sanne Akkerman, Professor of Educational Science. How do you cater for this in your teaching? Inaugural lecture 6 October.


First, an example from previous research by Akkerman. Anne, a talented high-school pupil, took part in a programme to prepare for the transition to science programmes at university. However, she later decided to do a nursing course at a university of applied sciences (HBO). Anne's main interest in science was in biology, and specifically the human body with its diverse illnesses and symptoms. When she was unsucccessful in the lottery system for medicine, she decided to stay with her field of interest and applied for an HBO course in nursing, very much against the expectations (and hopes) of her family and friends. From the viewpoint of the science incentive programme, Anne's choice was unexpected and possibly also disappointing, but for her, her choice was logical. 

Gap between interest and availability

Very few students are like Anne, who knew exactly where her interests lay, and the result for many students is that they drop out of higher education. Taking students to task for not showing enough interest in what education puts in front of them and blaming lecturers for serving up boring lessons is simply ignoring the complexity of the issue, according to Akkerman. She will devote her inaugural lecture to the gap between the interests of the individual student and possibilities available within the current system. Should you serve students as well as possible by organising the teaching so that they can focus on their specific interest? Or do you take the approach that education should be formative and that developing students' interests is part of this.

Every student has different interests

Do teachers know enough about their students?

Akkerman questions whether teachers know enough about what interests students, including the many different things they are fascinated by that do not show up in their studies. The more a teacher knows about these interests, the more he or she will benefit from appealing to the interests of their students. Akkerman believes there is enough breadth to be found in the programmes that can be used for this purpose. As an example she mentions psychology, a typical social-science programme that, with its advanced statistics and neuropsychology, touches on disciplines outside social sciences. By working together with other lecturers, within or outside the programme, teachers can explore the opportunities for developing areas of interest that will appeal to students.

Study of teachers and students

The EU subsidy that Akkerman recently received will allow her to focus on two lines of research. On the one hand she wants to look at how the collaboration between teachers and others and the choices that teachers make influence the development of their students' interests. On the other hand, she will also be looking at individual students: how interesting do they find the teaching material and, even more importantly: why? Akkerman also wants to include the role played by students' other areas of interest. Her findings may generate recommendations for teaching and how it is structured.


Grenzeloze InterEsse (Unbounded InterEst)
Inaugural lecture Sanne Akkerman

6 October 2017
16:00-17:30  hrs.
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73

Unfortunately, the doctoral defence is over-subscribed. You can, however, follow the ceremony via a TV screen in an adjacent room.

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