In this second instalment on the redesign of the Bachelor College, six program directors tell us how they’ve made room for the Personal & Professional Development program in their education. Last March, Dean Lopez Arteaga said to Cursor that the program is still under construction. According to her, it is to be used to train students to be “self-directed learners", who over time will decide for themselves what competences they need. “Ultimately this should lead to them building their own portfolios, which details which competences they’ve obtained and how exactly they went about this.”
With respect to the themed elective space for students, which will continue to cover 45 ECTS, many program directors think it makes sense to establish a link with TU/e’s four research institutes. They all fear a shortage of suitable teaching space, albeit to a varying degree. And they’re all convinced the university will be good for a while with this new educational model for the bachelor’s programs, but their opinions do differ as to how long it will run exactly.
Hans Kuerten (Mechanical Engineering/ME), Mark van den Brand (Mathematics & Computer Science/M&CS), Henk Swagten (Applied Physics & Science Education/AP&SE), Jacob Voorthuis (Built Environment/BE), John van der Schaaf (Chemical Engineering & Chemistry/CE&C) and René van Donkelaar (Biomedical Engineering/BME) kindly contributed to this background story.
The Personal & Professional Development (P&PD) is still under development. So which elements will already be visible in your program?
Kuerten/ME: “We will continue with the personal and professional skills components we already had. These are all linked to projects. For example, we already had an alumni coaching component in the second year that contributes to labor market orientation. Over the next few years, a number of new components will be introduced. One of them, dealing with insecurity, dovetails very nicely with some of our CBL projects, which is why it will already be present.”
Van den Brand/M&CS: “We are currently working hard on integrating P&PD elements into the various courses. These will not only be visible in the CBL-oriented courses, but also in the core courses within our curriculum. We’re even trying to introduce the more advanced P&PD elements into our curriculum because we don’t want to modify our core courses again in a few years’ time. There are still quite a few obstacles we’ll have to overcome, such as the updating of skills.”
Swagten/AP&SE: “What might even be more important than the Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) we talked about last week, is the attention for Professional & Personal Development. It does receive ample attention in the current curriculum, but in BC 2.0 this learning trajectory has been made explicit and we take care of anchoring it over the quarters and years. All of the P&PD culminate beautifully in the bachelor’s final project. Our teachers, a number of five-year PhD candidates and support staff have really made fantastic plans for a coherent P&PD learning trajectory. It’s not finished yet and there’s still a lot of work to do, but here as well we’re proud of our overhauled education.”
What might even be more important than Challenge-Based Learning is the attention for Professional & Personal Development
Voorthuis/BE: “For the first year, we’ve assigned all Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs) to courses and projects in that year. We are still working on the design of years 2 and 3 and after the summer vacation, we’ll also integrate the ILOs into the courses and projects of both these years.”
Van de Schaaf/CE&C: “With us, the P&PD program will already be fully integrated into the BC 2.0 program when we start in September. The P&PD competences will generally be completely incorporated into the core courses. In addition to the mandatory competences, the P&PD learning trajectory at CE&C also includes the safety in CE&C competence.”
Van Donkelaar/BWE: “This is very important for students and we’re working on this proactively. Crucially, it takes time and effort to do it right and you have to free up that time somehow. Huge portfolio systems don’t fit the department and giving feedback on those would take too much time. This would detract from the time spent on other things. The amount of time you put into everything is a balance that every department has to carefully think about. We believe that a large chunk of the P&PD lends itself for a connection with CBLs. In addition, certain skills are also trained in courses, such as presenting and writing. Who does what and which components receive feedback, and in which way, is currently being discussed. We ran a significant trial over the past year with respect to our first-year DBLs (Design Based Learning), which appears to be very successful. We now have a way to provide students with greater insight into their personal development, with teachers’ efforts being proportionate. We will continue this in the coming year, with special attention for a few things that didn’t go quite as well. We hope that, in the course of the next few years, this will develop into a well-integrated system.”
The elective space worth 45 ECTS will remain for the students, but only becomes relevant in the second year of studies. There’s talk of it being themed. What themes should definitely be included?
Kuerten/ME: “It would make sense to have the themes link up to the TU/es four research institutes. For us, themes relating to energy (particularly sustainable energy), materials and AI are important.”
Van den Brand/M&CS: “We shouldn’t come up with a host of themes and the range of courses within a theme should be wide enough. I’m very reluctant to develop new courses for the themes, as we don’t have the capacity for this. My suggestion would be to link the themes to the research institutes, the key themes being AI and Energy.”
Swagten/AP&SE: “Adriana Creatore, a colleague at the department, has started defining an ‘Energy & Sustainability’ theme together with the dean of the Bachelor College, so I’m trying to follow this very closely. Do note that we are also working hard at putting the electives on the map at the program level, so students can make sensible decisions in a well-considered manner.”
Voorthuis/BE: “The sustainability themes (SDGs) have been added to the courses and projects in the form of ILOs, distributing them across the entire curriculum.”
Van der Schaaf/CE&C: “The theme of sustainability is one of the focus areas of the CE&C department, and should definitely feature as a theme within the elective space.”
Van Donkelaar/BME: “I’m very curious as to the outcome of this debate. I do see the possibilities and advantages of themed areas, and I support the idea of exploring this. It would be good if this enabled students to make broad choices and take courses across the boundaries of their discipline. But there’s a flipside as well. We’ve decided to have the elective space in the second and – particularly – third year as we see it as an opportunity to specialize in a certain field. That’s why you first acquire discipline-specific knowledge in years 1 and 2. So we shouldn’t forget to encourage students to actually specialize instead of just broadening their knowledge. In the end, these options can coexist just fine, as long as we keep paying attention to both aspects. For us, the ‘Health’ theme is of course most important, and we’re also on board with ones such as AI or complex molecular systems. Themes such as sustainability are also of huge importance, but from a content point of view they are a bit further removed from BME.”
Will your department have enough room to facilitate BC 2.0 properly? Or are you facing a lack of space? And what about student supervision?
Kuerten/ME: “Lack of space is most likely to occur for projects where students have to design and test things. That doesn’t have that much to do with the new curriculum, but is mostly caused by the expected growth in the number of bachelor’s students. When it comes to student supervision, it will depend how coaching is dealt with. If more staff are needed in that respect, this may also be a problem.”
Van den Brand/M&CS: “I fear we’ll have a huge lack of space, not just for the small courses but for the bigger ones as well. Our Data Structures course will be attended by more than 700 students. The department is running a broad hiring campaign to expand its capacity. I hope that student supervision won’t present any problems.”
Swagten/AP&SE: “Executive staff are working around the clock to prepare everything for a good start of the lectures in about two months’ time, which is tense and hectic. Our support team is on top of things in order to properly facilitate teachers and students. This doesn’t only concern rooms for courses and projects, but also a million other things that still need to be arranged or coordinated.”
Voorthuis/BE: “Our department has enough room for year 1, but for years 2 and 3 it’s too early to tell because we are still thinking about which teaching methods we want to use. We do foresee potential problems.”
Van der Schaaf/CE&C: “In addition to lecture rooms (of all sizes) being under pressure at TU/e, there is also great pressure on the student laboratories. Given the flexible use of the lab rooms in the afternoons for the first-year bachelor’s courses (and in the mornings for the second- and third-years bachelor’s courses), and the parallel timetabling of the practical components of several courses in the first quarter, we can take a maximum of 160 first-year students. If the number of students keeps increasing, whether or not as a result of a possible Scale Jump, we’ll have a shortage of lab rooms on our hands.”
Van Donkelaar/BME: “We share the Gemini building with Mechanical Engineering and outgrew it years ago. It’s only getting worse. We definitely don’t have enough room for plenary or group teaching, nor for hands-on assignments. We’re short on rooms, small and big, in every respect. For example, I would love to have a big, flexible room for 100 to 200 students. Instead of little DBL rooms, you could group people together there for CBL. It would be a bit noisier, but the big advantage would be you’d have much more interaction between groups, with spontaneous or planned interim presentations of examples, posters, products, etc. We do have those kinds of rooms for fewer than eighty people, but not a single one for bigger groups. That is to say, the ones that we have are not suitable for CBL, because they have very rigid lay-outs with tables attached to each other with power outlets, so there’s no flexibility whatsoever. Apart from all of that, we are facing an upcoming renovation of Gemini, which means we’ll be housed somewhere else on campus, in all likelihood temporarily. This will be a challenge.”
If the number of students keeps increasing, whether or not as a result of a possible Scale Jump, we’ll have a shortage of lab rooms on our hands.
Finally, how long do you think (or hope) this new educational concept will be good?
Kuerten/ME: “This educational concept isn’t entirely new. I see it as a further development of the Bachelor College 1.0. And I don’t think this development will stop. We have to continue to produce graduates that are needed and this need changes over time.”
Van den Brand/M&CS: “My hope would be ten years, but I fear it will be more like four. A lot of creases will have to be ironed out over time. Although I’m very happy with the new design for BC 2.0, which is largely similar to the proposal that I made in a Program Director Council meeting in 2021 in order to get the debate on the basic courses moving again.”
Swagten/AP&SE: “Behind the scenes, we often say to each other that education is changing all the time and it’s almost impossible to keep up. That’s definitely true for the way our courses are taught. We ask too much of our teachers when it comes to communicating to students, using administration systems and new teaching tools, etc. And all of this on the back of an extremely intense COVID period. But if I look at the contents of our bachelor’s education, the changes are slow and the curricula highly stable. After all, the BC started in 2012 and our AP curriculum has stayed the same for over ten years, except for one course if I’m not mistaken. It was only in 2019 that we started evaluating the BC at TU/e, which I was happy to contribute to, resulting in BC 2.0. So changes relating to content are slow and that’s a good thing. Dean Lopez Arteaga and the program directors realize this all too well. We debated hard on what we did and did not want to change and we did some proper thinking on a solid new foundation of the TU/e educational vision. We hope we’re good for another five or even ten years. Within the overhauled context teachers will optimize courses and learning trajectories and we’ll further develop curricula in the run-up to 2030 and beyond.”
Voorthuis/BE: “We intend to keep developing this concept based on an annual evaluation. As part of the BC 2.0 project, the department used tools and teaching methods that we want to keep using after the project as well, so teachers and management can continue proactively renewing the curriculum and we can continue to train students to be fit for purpose the moment they enter the labor market.”
We need people that keep on encouraging the organization and the teachers to adopt the latest insights in the field of education
Van der Schaaf/CE&C: “We hope to be able to run this new educational concept for about ten years, but in the context of the pilot ‘redesign BC 2.0 at CE&C’ we will perform intensive evaluations and there will be a regular need for adjustments and optimizations. In other words, we’ll continue to develop. In addition, we feel that it would be healthy to have a TU/e-wide evaluation every ten year or so, resulting in a redevelopment that’s in line with the governing vision of education at TU/e.”
Van Donkelaar/BME: “I hope we won’t stick with this concept longer than we should. We tend not to make any changes because we’re too busy and because what we have is fine. But if you even remotely follow what’s happening in the field of education, you’ll understand that university education must adapt to developments in the world. Twenty years ago, students needed completely distinct backgrounds from the students we are training today, and in ten years’ time this will again be different. Biomedical technology is developing at an incredible pace, and this pace will only increase. Alongside a solid amount of basic knowledge that won’t change all that much, we have to pay substantial attention to new topics (such as AI), as well as to new expectations with respect to the soft skills society and industry demand from our students. If this means other didactic means will become necessary in the future, we have to adopt those right away. That’s an obligation we have as educators and as an institution. Of course, other things must be taken into consideration as well. You must have the required infrastructure and people. Change keeps you on your toes, but there’s also such a thing as too much change. Concepts need to settle to be executed well and teachers must have the opportunity, space and peace to think about education. However, doing nothing means blocking development. We need people that keep on encouraging the organization and the teachers to adopt the latest insights in the field of education. Let’s hope the recognition and reward system can play a part in this in the future.”