Student - June 17, 2020

Arie Nieuwenhuizen is best teacher

Roelof Kleis

Biologist Arie Nieuwenhuizen is the Teacher of the Year for 2020. The teacher of Physiology was handed the prize this morning by jury member Anniek Brunink.

© Guy Ackermans

The ceremony took place in the human lab in Zodiac, where Nieuwenhuizen had been summoned for a ‘meeting’. This turned out to be a meeting with a delegation from the seven-strong jury that allocated the prize this year. Nieuwenhuizen follows Fred de Boer. He received a certificate, a statuette of The Schoolteacher and the sum of 2500 euros.

Lab rat
Nieuwenhuizen (50) got through to the last five in 2015 too. Then the prize went to Noëlle Aarts. He won it this time for his enthusiastic and creative teaching style, in which he encourages his students to use him as their lab rat in physiological experiments. He has been working at WUR since 2010, and teaches the basic principles of human physiology and of nutrition and sport.

Nieuwenhuizen studied Biology in Groningen and got his PhD there too. After a research job in industry (at Numico), he worked at the University of Maastricht for five years. After an interim year at the Nutrition Centre, he was invited to Wageningen by Professor Jaap Keijer to teach in the Human and Animal Physiology chair group.

Resource spoke to the new Teacher of the Year just after the award ceremony. In the magazine that will be published on Thursday, we’ll hear from the other nominees as well (page 25).

I want to teach from a sense of wonder. That’s how you learn the most

Why do you think you have won the prize?
I really love teaching, and I am passionate about my subject, physiology. Students appreciate that. I never just reel off a story. I always try to get everybody on board and I try to make it accessible. And that is not too difficult with physiology. It is always easy to give examples of situations that everyone is familiar with.’

People who know you say that it all looks slightly chaotic, but it always turns out all right.
‘Chaotic? Hmm. Maybe there’s some truth in that. I always try to keep things very informal. But that’s a bit of an act, you know. As a teacher, you are an actor as well. You are always thinking about how to achieve what you want to achieve. I prepare my classes well and I give a lot of thought to my storyline, but I let the presentation depend very much on the moment. The interaction with the students is very important. I never prepare scripts.’

Can you do your thing online too?
‘I give live classes through the virtual classroom. A maximum of 150 students can log in to a session like that. I can’t see the students, but they can see me. And we can chat. That goes quite well, but I do miss the interaction. I like telling stories. Online you don’t see what’s going on in the audience. Are you getting across, do they get it? Because there is no interaction, I can’t put on a show, which is a bit of a speciality of mine. No, nothing beats standing in front of a full lecture theatre.’

All the nominees have won 2500 euros. What are you going to do with it?
‘I think it would be nice to invest it in practicals. To design them to push the students to think for themselves even more. You can give a practical by having students do exactly what the instructions say, as if you were following a recipe in a cookbook. I want to get students thinking: what should I actually be doing? Why do we have to do this, and why in this order? Teaching from a sense of wonder. That’s how you learn the most.’