Students design the future of education

Classroom-style teaching originated centuries ago. While so much of society has changed and is evolving, this style of education remains the main avenue of teaching. 

Alumni Almar Bok (2019, MSc Global Business & Sustainability) and Zina Burgers (2019, BSc Pedagogical Sciences) founded Education in Transition during their time at Erasmus University to address the future of education and how to improve it with student input. After graduating, they both wanted to stay involved and designed a course for students to develop ‘Teach-Ins’, masterclasses designed and hosted by 50 Erasmus Honours students, in which they blend society’s complex issues with radical and innovative teaching methods.

"There is so much untapped potential; I see it in myself and in my peers." 

Why do you do it?
Almar: “We try to unlock that potential in the teach-ins, creating educational models that are not in the curriculum. The course intersects between Action-based Entrepreneurial Education, which highlights that students are empowered to create something that has potential value for others, and Open Space Technology (OST), a format that supports self-directed learning and self-monitoring. The Teach-Ins not only ensure that the academic integrity of modules is kept, but also allows students to take a transdisciplinary deep dive into a self-chosen topic. This allows for being up to date on the university curriculum.

Zina shares the sentiment: “There is so much untapped potential; I see it in myself and in my peers. I feel that students are seen as not being able to handle more than processing knowledge, which is frustrating because they can do so much more. It’s so energizing to see students light up when they are given more freedom and ownership in education. This also aligns more with what happens in life after university. In the real world, no one is going to stand by you and say when you should do an assignment and when the deadline is and how you need to do it.”
How did the Teach-Ins originate?

“When I was studying at Erasmus University College, we were given a lot of freedom to shape the education to how you like it. So it really stimulated you to think about the quality of your education and to take an active role in improving it. Then doing the Honours Programme at RSM, I thought about combining my own agency and power and influencing the future, taking into account the current state of the world. That’s how our student-led initiative, Education in Transition transpired. A new group of EUR students is in charge of Education in Transition, and Zina and I want to continue it beyond our university experience,” says Almar. That’s why we started the new educational design bureau Brûs.
Zina shares, “many higher education institutions have taught in the same way for centuries. And unfortunately, they aren’t usually the places that inspire change in people. To change you first need to critically evaluate the status quo. I only started doing this during activities next to my studies. Why is this not embedded in my regular program? Or even other life skills, like trusting your gut, finding out what motivates you, creatively shaping your future… Just because you can’t quantify those skills and attitudes, doesn’t mean they are not important.”

We’re developing courses in which we blend disruptive didactics with sustainability in the broadest sense.

What have you achieved so far?
We started Education in Transition while studying, and now that current students at the university are taking this up, we’ve started a joint business together called Brûs. We’ve been able to outline the importance of this, why we’re continuing with it and where we want to go. We’re developing courses in which we blend disruptive didactics with sustainability in the broadest sense. We mostly design programs tailored to specific university programs, but we are also exploring the potential of Teach-Ins for NGOs and businesses. Brûs is a Frisian word – Almar is Frisian – and loosely translates to effervescence. It is generally used in relation to a storm nearing. It denotes a certain electric energy you feel when the eye of the storm is coming closer. “That’s the feeling we get when we design new concepts and products, which is very magnetic and exciting.”

We kicked off a series of Teach-Ins that we call Ctrl+N in July 2020. This recurring event represents innovation, educational experimentation and community involvement across Erasmus University. We want CTRL+N to serve as a platform where individuals and existing or new initiatives can exchange ideas. 

What’s held you back the most and how did you overcome it?
“The biggest block would be the history of education and the societal beliefs that have stemmed from that. A long time ago, teaching started out in classrooms because it was efficient. This idea was given to the next generation and the next, and that’s how it’s stuck around and we’re still teaching like this today. There’s no research that proves that this is the best—or even a good—method. This has led to the roles adopted by teachers and by students and we’re stuck in a cycle. Often teachers have a lot of control of what is taught and there’s a fear of letting that go. The cycle where students don’t trust teachers and vice versa is a cycle that needs to be broken.”

Where are you headed?
“Besides growing CTRL+N, we also have the ambition to create a modular educational program, focusing on skills and competency objectives rather than blocks of theory. Additionally, we’re building a platform where we can cluster and offer our teaching methods and tools to a broader audience and are currently exploring the usability and scalability. In the fall, we will roll out a more radical prototype of a high-intensity course on developing Teach-Ins. All the tools and products we are designing fall under educational closed-loop innovation, where students are also the engines of designing education of the future, and where the teachers do not always have to be the expert. So the traditional roles of teachers and learners shift and blur. Next to these ideas and ambitions, we are also always on the lookout for new collaborations.”