Dean Bachelor College optimistic about progress

The plans to revise the Bachelor College were met with approval by the University Council last week, allowing the workgroups to continue with the further elaboration of these plans. Dean Ines Lopez Arteaga is glad with the results of the discussions that took place with the various departments over the past few months. “The requirement that students need to take five compulsory basic courses no longer applies, and all programs will include a Challenge-Based Learning curriculum line.”

file photo Vincent van den Hoogen

“The time pressure of this operation is enormous,” says professor Ines Lopez Arteaga, who assumed the position of new dean of the Bachelor College in July 2020. “But I remain fully confident that we will manage to start with the Bachelor College 2.0 in September 2023. The programs have indicated that they are committed to making it a success, and we intend to support the departments with means and expertise.”

Cursor submitted a number of questions to Lopez Arteaga that are in part based on the nine reservations that were added to the University Council’s positive advice, issued on Monday the 21st of February.

The most notable adjustment is the abolishment of the five compulsory courses. What was the reasoning behind this decision?

“First of all: the basic course Calculus will continue to exist in three variants, and every student will take this course during the first three months of the program. Initially, we wanted to continue with the other basic courses as well, but we eventually decided against it. Right from the outset of the Bachelor College, people said that those compulsory courses didn’t always fit in all that well with the majors. If I look at my own department of Mechanical Engineering: the content of certain basic courses is basically covered already in the regular curriculum, which is why we were often considered to be a duplication. Departments had a tough time dealing with that, which is why they have now been given greater autonomy to decide for themselves which courses they see fit to include in their core program. The courses they can choose from are currently in development. But each department will get to make that choice for itself.”

It's obvious from the new plans that Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) plays a prominent role. What will that look like in practice and what makes it so special?

“With CBL, we introduce a truly novel educational concept in 2023 that will play a very important role within the Bachelor College. This allows us to prepare our students in an early phase of their studies for the daily practice that they’ll be faced with upon graduation. They will deal with the same things there – having to solve problems – and they will learn that you can’t solve these problems by looking at them from the perspective of a single discipline, but that you need expertise from other fields as well. In terms of complexity, we introduce CBL in phases, starting in year one, because you can’t throw students in the deep end right from the get go, obviously. We start by teaching them the basic principles and characteristics of CBL. Working in teams, working on open-ended problems, based on self-regulated learning – discovering by oneself what knowledge is required – and systems thinking. They need to further finetune and improve a problem using feedback and new information. In year three, students can choose to continue with CBL, which will lead them to make conscious decisions within the curriculum. They ask themselves the question: ‘What knowledge do I need?’ Students who decide not to continue with CBL will still have the opportunity to acquire in-depth knowledge, but they will have picked up a great deal about CBL during those first two years. I think that we will produce T-shaped engineers (graduates with a broad general knowledge and a focus on a specialty, ed.) in all shapes and sizes.”

The University Council requested that the issue of sustainability be allowed to play an important role in the multi-disciplinary CBL problem presented to students in the second semester of the second year. Will that be the case?

“The decision to make sustainability an overarching theme in this CBL component is something that we will definitely strive for. We intend to sit down with the departments and discuss with them how to realize this. It’s clear to me already that it will be easier for some departments than for others. I can’t say with any certainty at this point whether we will manage to achieve this everywhere from the outset. Forcing something like this on departments directly can be counterproductive. TU/e offers a great deal in its teaching activities and research that’s directly related to sustainability, because there’s often a link with technology. Perhaps we need to make this more visible. Sustainability is in our DNA, as is the feeling that we carry responsibility for it. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to introduce USE courses some time ago. These courses need to create more awareness among our students of society and help them understand how society is influenced by our work. USE Ethics will play an important role in that in the future.”

The Personal & Professional Development component still requires a lot of work. How important is it to the new Bachelor College?

“Both Paul Koenraad, dean of the Graduate School, and I consider this a very important component. We want our students to start reflecting from day one on their own learning process and the decisions they make during that process. Students want to develop themselves, and they need to learn that they have the lead. How best to support them in that is a complex matter. It’s an important challenge to the entire organization, one that also requires us to consider how to keep this affordable. This component will not be fully worked out yet by 2023, but the framework in which all the skills are defined does need to be ready by then. Professional skills, self-awareness, social awareness and adaptability are the most important pillars, and they need to be properly aligned with the student’s academic knowledge and the skills he or she needs within a certain discipline. Each individual department needs to fill in that framework for itself, taking into account the bachelor’s student’s study year. The idea is that we give our students something that makes them instantly recognizable to the outside world. Because this component doesn’t end after the bachelor’s phase, but continues throughout the master’s phase and maybe even throughout a PhD trajectory as well. It makes them aware for the entire duration of their study program that they need to continue to learn, also after they’ve left TU/e. It’s something that needs to become self-evident to them.”

The University Council also wonders whether the new Bachelor College still allows students the opportunity to choose for themselves and to switch during the first year. Is that the case?

“Freedom of choice will definitely continue to apply. One of the reasons is because students will become even more equipped to determine their own profiles, as I said earlier. Whether switching will still be as easy as it is today, depends in part on the number of basic courses the departments plan to integrate in their core program apart from Calculus. The more courses there are, the easier it will be to switch. But we will encourage departments to always offer students that option during the first half of the first year.”

In conclusion, Lopes Arteaga says that she is still very appreciative of her position as dean after almost two years. “Obviously, I knew before I started that it would be very time consuming, and on paper I also still have my research and teaching activities to attend to at the department of Mechanical Engineering one day a week. And I’ve managed to combine these activities: I still supervise five PhD students and am in charge of two research projects. What I truly hope for, is that people won’t just appreciate the Bachelor College 2.0 intellectually, but that it will also become a gut feeling,” she says with a smile.

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