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Comenius grants for three Leiden lecturers

Three lecturers from Leiden University have each been awarded a €50,000 Comenius Teaching Fellows grant to implement an educational innovation project. They are Carlijn Bergwerff (Education and Child Studies), Francesco Ragazzi (Political Science) and Krista Murchison (Centre for the Arts in Society).

The Comenius Teaching Fellows programme gives impetus to educational innovation and is one of the initiatives to use funds that became available when student grants were scrapped in 2017. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science funds the programme and NWO implements it.

Carlijn Bergwerff
Carlijn Bergwerff

Carlijn Bergwerff – lecturer in Education and Child Studies: Complex Communication Skills Training with Virtual Reality

It is important that students of Education and Child Studies acquire communication skills for consultations with parents and children. Bergwerff wants to use virtual reality (VR) to help students gain experience of complex consultations: they will take the role of child psychologist in simulated consultations in a virtual environment. 

Bergwerff: ‘Virtual Reality is more than an interesting technology: with this project it will enhance our teaching. This grant is a great opportunity to use innovation in the communication skills training that students are given. A virtual environment is a safe, realistic and encouraging way for students to practise their communication skills.’

The assessment committee was already positive about the use of technology, but found the choice of VR to practise the complex consultations that child psychologists will conduct particularly innovative. ‘Bergwerff convincingly explains how VR will actually help improve the teaching.’

Francesco Ragazzi
Francesco Ragazzi

Francesco Ragazzi – lecturer in International Relations: International Politics through Film Practice. A pilot project in experiential learning

Students increasingly obtain information about politics from audiovisual media, but international relations programmes do not make sufficient use of this. In Ragazzi’s project, students themselves will make a film that reflects their research. The Institute of Political Science encourages experiential learning and aims to develop the student’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills, skills that play a role in both their personal development and professional life.

Ragazzi: ‘In the study of international politics, students deal with visual media on a daily basis – just consider the importance of videos from Arabic sources and ISIS. But our teaching primarily focuses on text. The Comenius grant is a fantastic opportunity to develop a new form of teaching. My students will get to work with professional filmmakers and combine their expertise in political science with the filmmakers’ knowledge of imagery.’

The committee thought that Ragazzi had convincingly argued that his chosen approach – making a film while studying international politics – was innovative. The approach will also lead to a product: a research film that is based on a thesis.

Krista Murchison
Krista Murchison

Krista Murchison – lecturer in English Literature: The Open Medieval Editions by Students Project (TOMES)

Traditional printed anthologies have many advantages for language teaching, but they can be prohibitively expensive and the print run is often small. Murchison wants to remove these disadvantages by getting students to transcribe and adapt introductions to medieval English texts and to publish them in open access. The students therefore develop their editorial skills and learn various web skills. At the same time, open access learning materials are made available to the academic community.

Murchison: ‘I feel most honoured to receive this grant. If the government reserves money for education through programmes such as this, it is a high-return investment for both the intellectual curiosity of our students and for society as a whole.

The committee found the project to be innovative for students in terms of how they acquire skills and for the wider academic community in terms of open access resources. It may also be possible to apply the approach to other disciplines.

The laureates in the categories Senior and Leadership Fellows will be announced in the second half of April. A sum of €5.8m was available for 70 projects in the 2019 round.

About the Comenius programme

The Comenius Teaching Fellows programme gives impetus to educational innovation and is one of the initiatives to use funds that became available when student grants were scrapped in 2017. The recipients of a Comenius grant form a network in which they exchange knowledge about educational innovation.

Header image: Comenius, painted by Rembrandt. Comenius (1592-1670) was the Latin name of Czech pedagogue Jan Amos Komenskýe. He called for education for all, so for boys and girls, irrespective of social class. He wrote textbooks and designed a new school system. He came to live in Netherlands towards the end of his life and died in Amsterdam. 

Text: Corine Hendriks
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