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Inaugural lecture

Grip krijgen op complexiteit. Onderwijs voor het 'moeras' - Getting a grip on complexity. Education for the 'swamp'

How can pupils and students learn to get a grip on complex 'swamp situations'? Inaugural lecture in abbreviated form held by prof.dr.ir. Fred Janssen on the acceptance of the post of professor of science education at Leiden University on 19 June 2017.

Fred Janssen
19 June 2017
View the inaugural lecture (weblecture in Dutch)
Fulltext in Leiden University Repository (in Dutch)

A lot of attention in teaching is devoted to explanation, demonstration and practice, but it would be good if education could contribute more to realising the ‘higher’ objectives. Janssen attempts to lay out why teachers often do not follow through on what they think is most important and why educational innovations that focus on higher goals often fail. 

Much existing education prepares students and pupils to solve carefully constructed puzzles and problems, even though, in the ideal learning situation, students and pupils also learn to work within unstructured situations, which Janssen calls ‘swamps’.

One example of such a swamp situation is the ‘plastic soup’ in the oceans. It is a novel problem that cannot be solved like a puzzle. You need information from a host of perspectives: from chemistry to geography, and from jurisprudence to biology. In this case, it is not only important to convey knowledge of these separate components, but to learn solution-oriented thinking.

Cognitive tools

Janssen believes that the explanation for the persistent difference between the ideal and the existing situation should not be sought in the qualities of students or teachers. He wants to show that there is a primary lack of cognitive tools for students, pupils and teachers so they can comprehend complex swamp situations.

With the right cognitive tools, teachers can relatively easily transform their existing teaching into teaching that prepares students and pupils to both handle swamp situations and solve puzzles and problems.

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