News - January 30, 2020

Invest in skills?

Text:
Coretta Jongeling,Nicole van ‘t Wout Hofland

Presentations, collaboration, self-reflection…: the Board of Education has announced that Bachelor’s students are to get more training in these kinds of skills, and that they will be integrated into existing courses in the BSc programmes. Do we like that idea?

text Coretta Jongeling, Nicole van ’t Wout Hofland

illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek

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Terence Yvo Rumpff
BSc student of Biotechnology

‘I think it’s a very good initiative, actually. Not much attention is paid to all the skills you will need in your career, apart from those of doing research and remembering dry information. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the people they do group work with, for example, because they have no idea how to write an academic paper. And I think how to collaborate pro-actively is something quite a few people could learn a lot about. If someone doesn’t know how to work together, it affects the whole atmosphere in the group. I do wonder whether it is feasible to implement it within existing courses, which are often full enough already. It might be handier just to run a separate six-point course that focuses entirely on skills training.’

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Jet Vervoort

Teacher and study advisor

‘I see the implementation of skills training as an opportunity to streamline, strengthen and expand the existing layers in our education. I think the degree programmes need to decide for themselves which skills they add to their programmes and which they do not. That way the skills package is appropriate to that particular professional field. I am working on streamlining skills training in academic writing in the Plant Sciences BSc programme. I talk to other teachers about the obstacles we encounter in our courses, and where both students and teachers would benefit from more explicit instructions. That is a worthwhile process and it’s giving me new energy.’

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Livia Franssen

BSc student of Environmental Sciences

‘I think there is quite a lot of skills training in the courses at present. For example, I often have to write papers and they really are assessed on style and not just on content, so academic writing is already being addressed. But it does vary per programme. One of my housemates is following a programme with a lot of practical and theory, so she does less academic writing. And when results have to be presented at the end of a course, it’s an easy option for me to let someone else do that. In that regard, it’s quite useful for everyone to be forced to practise and learn even the skills that appeal to them less.’

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Maarten Jacobs

Teacher of Cultural Geography

‘Society is changing all the time, so the relevant package of skills should be reviewed regularly. I think it’s a good thing WUR is paying attention to these kinds of skills in the Bachelor’s programmes. But then we shouldn’t forget about the extra workload that kind of process entails. There are enough students and teachers with burnout symptoms already. When the new skills training is introduced into a course, it is essential that other components are taken out, so that the net workload doesn’t increase. A second challenge is the expertise of the teachers. Not all teachers are at home enough in specific skills to be able to transfer them to students. It will work well enough for skills like academic writing, but maybe not for collaboration or ethical thinking. All in all, I’m afraid that the skills training will not be properly integrated into the courses, and that several degree programmes will have to reinvent the wheel.’

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Merel van Mierlo

BSc student of Nutrition and Health

‘During a pilot of the new trajectory, I’ve had ‘collaboration’ and ‘presentation skills’ modules over the past year. I found them useful myself, but there was a bit of overlap with other courses. There is a first-year course on presentations, for instance, which was very similar in terms of content. Apart from that, I think skills training is a good addition to the programmes, because you improve your skills in a variety of areas. Many skills are not specifically taught during ordinary courses, but you do need them. I think it is good to go on experimenting a bit with how it is implemented. What works and what doesn’t? Which skills are really useful?

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Tjerk Sminia

Teacher of Organic Chemistry

‘When I look back on my own experience as a student, I understand the need for this kind of skills training. But as a teacher I can’t bear the thought of this being added to my workload. A few of these kinds of skills are tacitly built into the course I teach anyway. Half of the course consists of practicals, in which the students are subjected to quite a bit of pressure. That trains them in coping with stress. And other soft skills such as collaboration are really not desirable in my lab work, in which students need to learn to work independently with chemistry glassware and dangerous chemicals. To me, that is very important. So I would rather make sure the students develop lab skills.’