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An ode to education after an unusual year

During the Summer Ceremony, assistant professor Jolien Mouw looked back on an eventful period. ‘We made mistakes, but we never gave up.’

The academic year 2020-2021 was, as you all know, an unusual year. A year in which most lecture halls remained empty. A year in which our faculty garden did not buzz with students and staff enjoying each other’s company; instead, this year’s buzzing came from the bees taking residence in our new bee hotel. A year that gave rise to many challenges that we needed to face.

It was also a year that provided unique and exciting opportunities to grow as a member of our academic community. When I met our rector for the first time in September, she gave me the advice to step up and boldly experiment. As I took this advice to heart, unexpected doors opened. I got the chance to try out our new Active Learning Spaces, where I learned to teach fully hybrid. And in my endeavour to get the best out of my hybrid and online teaching, I crossed faculty boundaries and was welcomed in many online learning communities.

Virtual reality

I experimented with Virtual Reality in our academic teacher training programme. I am grateful that even when the covid-19 measures grew stricter, I was able to offer this powerful and rewarding learning experience to my students. I learned that our purposefully designed small-scale on-campus activities had a large-scale impact on our students. Not just on those students whose internships were cancelled, but also, as I learned, especially on those in need of social interaction.

I wasn’t the only one who took to creative experimenting. Colleagues introduced active learning modules in Nestor or used Gathertown to meet with students. Open-air lectures were organised. Our study association IDIOM set up a buddy system matching two hundred students in an effort to battle loneliness. I dare say that our education and academic community at times even flourished, thanks to these amazing pioneers.

Even if I failed at times, I learned. And isn’t that exactly what science is all about?

As the year comes to an end, a sense of pride takes hold of me. I am proud of all students, lecturers, researchers, and support staff of our university, who rose to a seemingly never-ending challenge. Who persevered, excelled, and continuously reinvented themselves and their education in the most creative ways. We opened our homes, we shared our knowledge, we adapted, we experimented, we learned by doing, we made mistakes, we revised, but we never gave up. We are resilient.

Compassion

Looking back, I realise that if you stay true to yourself, do what you love, show compassion, and are willing to ask for help, even the covid-19 challenges are far from insurmountable. Even if I failed at times, I learned. And isn’t that exactly what science is all about?

I truly hope that the amazing efforts made in redesigning our education and all lessons learned will feed into the new academic year, and more importantly, into our academic community.

Before we part for a well-deserved summer break, I want to encourage you to take time to look back and to celebrate every achievement, especially the seemingly smallest ones, as the lessons you’ve learned throughout the year will help you to leave every future situation better than you found it.

Jolien Mouw is assistant professor at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. She delivered this speech at the Summer Ceremony (the closing of the academic year).

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