‘Education needs an update’

According to rector magnificus Elmer Sterken, academic education in the Netherlands could do with an update. Instead of just feeding students information, IT solutions should be used to actively involve them in classes, Sterken said during the opening of the academic year on Monday.
By Peter Keizer and Rob Siebelink / Photos by Rob Siebelink / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The lecture halls, year clubs, hierarchies, and schedules that have been the norm for years are outdated, says Sterken. According to the rector magnificus, we should focus on developing skills and competencies.

‘We have to update and change our educational system and prepare the current and future generations of students for their career’, Sterken told a packed Martini church.

Students should be more involved in the subject matter and encouraged to work with it. Sterken thinks this will enable them to remember the information better. ‘IT can help with this. We could use videos, share documents, vote during classes, etcetera’, he says.


Sterken gives an example: students working together on a document. ‘Students can make notes in the text when they don’t understand certain parts. Other students can then join in, join the discussion, and add new statements. This actively involves students and allows them to give each other feedback. At the same time, the instructor can see which parts of the texts are confusing, and focus on them during class.’

According to Sterken, the use of modern equipment also means the teaching materials can be adjusted to suit the students’ needs. ‘We can personalise feedback using IT. We have so much information about our students: about their past, their study behaviour, their results, and their preferences. We can use learning analytics to use that information to help students study. We are able to give much better feedback than before.’

But, warns Sterken, new developments need extra investment. That is why, in his opening speech, he asked the politicians in The Hague to invest more in education and research.

The procession

The academic year is traditionally opened with a procession, in which professors in their gowns walk from the Academy building to the Martini church. The procession is preceded by two beadles and rector magnificus Elmer Sterken, as well as the RUG’s two co-rectors (Gerry Wacker and Jasper Knoester, deans of, respectively, arts and science & engineering). They are followed by the rest of the deans.

Protocol says that the rest of the professors should be arranged according to seniority. That means the oldest ones go in the front, and the youngest in the back. But no one has ever really stuck to this, and Monday was no different. Old and young intermingled to their heart’s content.

In front of the procession are the representatives of the city’s student associations.



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