“Our bachelor’s education will always be evolving”

About six months before TU/e is to launch the Bachelor College 2.0, in September, Dean Ines Lopez Arteaga updated Cursor on the state of affairs. The deadline for the program directors to submit their new curriculums was 1 February, but Lopez Arteaga says: “Our bachelor’s education will never be finished, it will always keep evolving.” The changes as compared to version 1.0 of the Bachelor College are significant and Challenge-Based Learning will take on an important role as a new curriculum concept.

photo Maud Staassen

“The learning trajectory that we’ll be introducing at the start of the new academic year and that is known as the Bachelor College 2.0 has been set up in such a way that there’s space to further develop this educational concept in the coming years,” Dean Ines Lopez Arteaga says. “This is particularly true for the Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) element.”

According to the dean, who took over from her predecessor Dean Lex Lemmens almost three years ago, the employability program established by TU/e in 2020 served as a framework for the revision of the ten year old Bachelor College. “We’ve started focusing even more on the question of what competences our students should have when they graduate. Of course these include professional competences, which we can assess, but the question is if we always want to do so. Because we also attach importance to how students deal with insecurity and how they reflect on their program and on studying. A working group composed of representatives of all departments will investigate how we can jointly integrate these competences in our programs.”

According to Lopez Arteaga, the programs can take a lot of liberties in this respect, “but a number of basic competences, as previously taught in the form of five basic courses, must be included. This will also be laid down in the Program and Examination Regulations (OER) and if I notice that things are not executed properly somewhere, I will of course have something to say about this as the dean.”

Self-directed learners

"Self-directed learners" is Lopez Arteaga’s term for the students to be educated at the revised Bachelor College. “Once they’ve progressed a bit in their bachelor’s, we would like for the students to determine which competences they need themselves. These may fall within their own fields of study, but may also be extra-curricular competences. Ultimately this should lead to them building their own portfolios, which details which competences they’ve obtained and how exactly they went about this.” But this is something for the long term, the dean adds.

This way of studying and choosing your competences yourself is something that she indicates will continue after the bachelor’s, in the Graduate School. “There as well we’ll keep helping our students to make this way of studying their own.” Because according to her, students that approach their program in this fashion are “proactive professionals with the ability of lifelong learning. Exactly the type of graduates the business community needs.”

Interim tests

At the Bachelor College, the mandatory interim tests were also often criticized. They were said to be too much like secondary school and detract from the independence of the students. “This is also going to change,” Lopez Arteaga says. “Those tests will disappear and we’ll start using the term ‘assessment’, which means we’ll not just gauge if someone has the required knowledge but also provide feedback at predefined moments. This can be done in several forms and we’ll give the autonomy to choose the right one back to our lecturers. Some may want to keep it traditional with assignments they collect and grade, but others may want to administer spoken exams or use a quiz type format. At Electrical Engineering, for example, Assistant Professor Ramiro Serra and Professor Mark Bentum elected to have students explain the subject matter to their peers. I know not every student is brave enough to do this, but these professors have found solutions for this as well.”

The dean expects to see many different forms of assessment, “which rather than measuring points will be considered as integral aspects of the learning process. Our ultimate goal is to decrease the number of final tests over time. It’s important to me that we do this together, because we’re jointly responsible for this revised version of our Bachelor College. We’ll set a few basic principles together and my role is to make sure these fall within the frameworks and are in line with our Vision on Education (only available on the intranet), which was approved by the University Council last Monday.”

Freedom of choice

How has the process gone until now? At the end of 2021, a number of essential changes were rapidly made to the reform plans. The initial proposal, for instance, still contained the five basic courses. And not only were they there, but they would have to be taken by all first-years within the first six months. However, some weeks later a ‘fine design’ was presented in which this requirement had been scrapped. Lopez Arteaga: “The basic courses no longer exist as such, but their content has been integrated into the core program. With the exception of the basic course USE Basic, an updated version of which will be taught under the name ITEC Engineering Ethics.”

“As a dean I sometimes need to push,” she says, “but I always keep in mind that the elective space within the program has to remain free for the student to fill in, because we don’t want ‘limited’ freedom of choice. With a core program comprising 135 of the total 180 credits, every student should be able to choose a direct-access master’s program at our university after completing their bachelor’s. Although students do of course need to realize they have to make certain choices in the bachelor’s in preparation of a certain master’s program.”

Student teams

What will be left of the profiles that were once the spearheads of the Bachelor College, such as an education profile for the generalist, the future entrepreneur or the student wanting to explore the field in more detail? “In the new Bachelor College we’ll opt for a themed approach that will allow our students to discover what they need to pursue a profile focused on energy or artificial intelligence, or maybe also on the area of health.”

In the long term Lopez Arteaga hopes there will also be room in the educational program for student teams, which come in large numbers and many varieties at TU/e. “That’s my dream, that students formulate their own learning outcomes while setting up such a project and independently look for a teacher willing to supervise and assess its execution. Of course they won’t be fully self-reliant at that point and that’s why we need to provide adequate supervision. CBL is very important in this and the supervision can come from a student mentor, a senior, a tutor, or a hybrid teacher with business experience.”

Signature aspect

According to the dean, the free elective space for students will remain the signature aspect of Bachelor College 2.0. “At other universities this space often depends on the program, so what sets us apart is that that free elective space of 45 credits is present in all programs.” Also, switching programs in the first year of the bachelor’s should be feasible for a student in the first semester, Lopez Arteaga says.

The University Council’s wish to make sustainability an integral part of the Bachelor College, is something she says to pursue as well. “There’s quite a bit of that in our education and research already. Sustainability and the goals set in this context by society also force us to keep looking at it, to keep developing it. The constant evolution of our education and research is something that we need to embrace as a TU/e community. I also see this when I look at the changes in how scientists are appreciated, as illustrated by the Recognition and Rewards program. This leads to more appreciation for lecturers and education, but you also need to be able to keep doing top-level research.”

On 1 February all program directors submitted their new curriculums and all course information must be available in the education guide by 1 April. The latter deadline is tight, Lopez Arteaga says, but she does expect it to be met.

HILL and Bachelor College 2.0

Cursor also asked Dean Lopez Arteaga for a response to the uproar that has arisen about the education concept HILL (High Impact Learning that Lasts) introduced at Fontys, the university for Applied Sciences. That controversy arose this week as a result of publications (only in Dutch, ed.) about it in the national newspaper De Volkskrant. In the article lecturers said that a critical discussion about the new educational concept was not possible and that it has led to a state of polarization in the workplace. Some of them would also have left because of this. Students complained that they are left to their own devices, are not taught enough knowledge and have to put together portfolios that have no real meaning.

Lopez Arteaga says she does not know enough about the situation at Fontys to be able to respond to it in-depth. "With the new Bachelor College, we have opted for a development design, where we have agreed on a number of guidelines for all bachelor's programs and within which departments have a lot of freedom to give their own interpretation to, for example, the CBL curriculum. We start close to home, we learn from the steps we take, and we develop our programs over several years. The continuous monitoring and evaluation of these developments are part of this. These guidelines are based on the results of studies and experiences that TU/e has gained over the years. In the Bachelor College 2.0, the core program is more extensive and it is precisely this that provides a solid disciplinary basis. The process to arrive at the new Bachelor College took more than two years, during which we paid a lot of attention and continued to pay attention to creating support for it in the organization."

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