First steps to open education easier than expected

Fontys School of ICT

Opinion article by Erdinc Sacan

For years, Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT has been an expert in the field of 'Open Education', a didactic method in which students have much more control over their own learning path. Lately, the method has been gaining a lot of support from other universities of applied sciences. Humber College in Toronto and Karel de Grote Hogeschool in Antwerp, for example, have adopted the model. The Utrecht University of Applied Sciences even won the 2nd prize in the Dutch Higher Education Award by integrating it into their ICT training programme.

For years, Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT has been an expert in the field of 'Open Education', a didactic method in which students have much more control over their own learning path. Lately, the method has been gaining a lot of support from other universities of applied sciences. Humber College in Toronto and Karel de Grote Hogeschool in Antwerp, for example, have adopted the model. The Utrecht University of Applied Sciences even won the 2nd prize in the Dutch Higher Education Award by integrating it into their ICT training programme. In an article published by Trajectum, the following is written: "The idea for this educational innovation was conceived by Gert van Hardeveld, team leader and mentor/coach at Open-ICT. About five years ago, he started setting up a specialisation on entrepreneurship in the third year. At a symposium, he met Eric Slaats of Fontys Hogescholen. Slaats is responsible for an ICT study programme that has been working with such a didactic concept for years. Van Hardeveld adopted the principles of the education system for the specialisation."

Since 2016, a large group of students at Fontys Hogeschool ICT have been following the open course, Open Learning. In this ICT study programme, students determine the learning route to their diploma entirely by themselves: no timetable, no tests and not even a prescribed curriculum. Eric Slaats, the spiritual father of Open Learning: "Students learn better if you give them their space and address them according to their talents. All students have one hundred per cent ownership of what they do and how they do it and even how they are assessed. This results in a rich palette of students, each with their own curriculum within ICT. Our starting point is always positive: what can the student do and what is his or her talent? Ensuring an environment in which expertise is available is a must. And that expertise does not necessarily have to be in the hands of a teacher.

We work with learning communities that span multiple years. For example, second-year and fourth-year students can easily help and reinforce each other in specific areas. A lot of conventional education is based on distrust: on checking, measuring and assigning tasks and marching orders. We work on the basis of trust. That requires a completely different approach and mindset. That the greatest challenge in adopting a different didactic approach is not the student but the teacher, is perhaps worthy of an article in itself.

Why are we doing this?

The goal is to deliver agile, self-learning professionals to the market. By using open (or open-like) learning methods, we stimulate precisely those skills that a student will later need in a rapidly changing world.

For years, Eric Slaats and his team have been giving lectures and workshops to a range of educational institutions throughout the Netherlands and beyond. A number of questions that are often asked:

- We understand that this is possible with ICT, but can it also be done with philosophy? There are always obstacles on the road (schedules, building, legacy). You start by thinking in terms of: what can be done differently, what can be done quickly and what needs more time. You should not want a revolution but an evolution. One possibility in Philosophy or another similar course could be to link students to a real client, so that they can use Philosophy in an actual, realistic context.

- Another question: "We are in a professional field that has mandatory requirements (e.g. nursing), so it is very difficult to change". Our advice is as follows: talk to your national interest group, OCW, and you will have the preconditions in place for your organisation. We at ICT also have preconditions that we must meet. But these generally turn out to be much less strict than we thought.

Nothing is more important than the students' opinions. How do they experience it?

Jordy Arentz, 2nd year Open Education student: "You have a lot of freedom in what you can and want to do. You work a lot with students from other disciplines. You can tackle larger projects. For example, I am currently working on a project for the Solar race team in Eindhoven, with five other students.

Ruben Fricke, 2nd year Open Education student: "A direction where you are given plenty of freedom and the encouragement to follow your own ambitions and interests. You are the captain of your own ship, so you can do what you find interesting. Teachers help and guide you in this, of course. In a normal curriculum, I had the feeling that they wanted to create the same student and in open it can go in any direction."

Students get to work on real-life cases (challenges), which are put forward by more than 120 affiliated companies, called Partners in Education companies. This requires students to be able to acquire the necessary content quickly and independently, and then to apply it properly in a meaningful context. Moreover, external experts have a compelling effect and ensure that students bring the best out of themselves. Therefore, no pre-planned, compulsory lessons but workshops on demand.

Teachers follow the learning process of the students on a weekly basis and fulfil the role of coach. The continuous feedback process actually makes an assessment by means of a final test superfluous. In order for teachers to get a good assessment of the students' performance, their presence, visibility, and a continuous dialogue with teachers is a requirement.

In order to facilitate these didactics as well as possible, we have developed tools in cooperation with partners (which are still being improved) and the great thing is that others can also use them.

How to change?

By starting small, by believing in it! The Open Educational System cannot simply be copied on a one-to-one basis to every school or location. Just like a good tailor-made suit, its cut needs to be modified to fit the wearer. Every implementation, at FHICT, at Humber or at HU, is different. And that is necessary, because the context, the facilities, the buildings and the culture of the teaching staff are also different. Nevertheless, the principles of the Open model are clear. The only question is how best to implement them in every organisation.

Author: Erdinc Sacan

With thanks to Lennart de Graaf, Ruben Steins and Michael Schifferling

Published originally on communities.surf.nl

Tags: In the Media