News - November 6, 2013


Lectures are in full swing again. Sadly, I now have to wait until the sixth period before I can get going again.

Together with 40 students you immerse yourself in a topic every morning for six weeks. Of course I have a well thought-out course plan with intensively supervised practicals, one-day field trips, problem-centred learning, guest lectures: education with knobs on. But for a Master’s course that is not enough.
In the first session I put it to the students that the main way you ‘learn’ is through encounters with others: teachers, farmers, guest speakers and each other. The facts you can get from the internet, the library and a little bit from my presentations. What matters to me is what you do with the scientific knowledge in practice, how you arrive at new research questions and above all: how you can make use science to improve on reality!
At first they give me rather glazed looks: what kind of guy is this? All that ruminating and reflecting and practical work, is that really scientific? But the atmosphere and the interaction improve as the course progresses. Sometimes I am amazed at the questions the students ask. Then it is time for the exam on the last day. It is an open book exam so you are allowed to bring anything you want with you: your granddad, the reader, whatever. What I am interested in is whether you can show that you can reflect and that you have insight. Last year I just ran the exam myself in a computer room. No more than 200 words for each answer.

The ticking of the keyboards fills the room, the first students have finished and email their papers to me. Whispering ‘have a good weekend’, they leave the room. The ticking gradually diminishes until the last computer is closed down. ‘Thanks for the course!’ After six hectic weeks the silence is deathly. For a moment I feel terribly lonely.