At the start of the academic year there's a strong inclination to focus only on what lies ahead. But sometimes we need to look back. And so, at the start of the year I issue an invitation to students for whom, for one reason or another, things did not go all that well the year before. A very useful exercise, I find, and one I learn from.
‘How are you doing now?’, ‘What are you going to do differently this year?’, ‘How are you going to tackle this?’. With these questions I'm trying to find out whether a student has truly learned from their experience of the previous year. And that tells me whether this coming year they will be capable of studying well. For example, I spoke recently to a second-year student at Industrial Design. She assured me that this year she really would pass the basic courses in calculus and physics. When asked how she would do this, her answer boiled down to: ‘I'm going to learn better’. There and then I held a mirror up to her. “That doesn't sound to me like a concrete plan. What practical steps might this involve?”
Not uncommonly, the topic we discuss is the feedback our students get from lecturers about their project. They even call it 'the comments I have received’. When this feedback is not fully understood, I refer them to the relevant responsible examiner; the lecturer can give a short verbal explanation of the written feedback. To be on the safe side, I usually advise them to listen carefully, to write down the feedback and to ask for clarification when necessary. “Make sure you don't become defensive,” I go so far as to add.
Although giving and receiving feedback is something our students learn, it's never easy; even our employees find that receiving feedback can be a challenge. Sometimes the feedback a person gets feels like a personal attack. It's actually not surprising that a project you have put your heart and soul into should start feeling like a piece of you. And the bond is strengthened by the fact that we encourage our students to carry out, say, a Final Bachelor Project that suits their professional identity and vision of design. Nonetheless, I tell students that even though they have carried out the project, they are not the project itself. A fundamental difference. “The project may have failed, but that doesn't mean that you are a failure! This is feedback for a new project,” I tell them.
Often this kind of reflective discussion ends with the shared conclusion that it may well be a good idea for us to talk a couple more times in the weeks and months ahead. And I'm very happy to do that.