Pushing for inclusive excellence

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23 oktober 2012 | Widening participation has challenged academia. HE has a hard time still implementing diversity policies. Dr Susana Menéndez (The Hague University of Applied Science) looks at what IT has to offer here as "21st century tools."

Preparing our students to be global citizens for twenty-first century realities, meas preparing them to work in diverse environments. Dr Susana Menéndez (VP for Academic and International Affairs at the The Hague University of Applied Science) looks into the role of technology in coping with matters of diversity. Menéndez spoke at a blackboard executive dinner of the The Hague University of Applied Science (THUAS).

Universities no longer for the elite

“Higher education institutions (HEIs) have changed fundamentally in recent decades. Widening participation, lifelong learning, innovation and entrepreneurship; the agendas of higher education institutions have been dominated by themes concerning global issues such as inclusivity and excellence. Moreover, mass higher education has been a key point on the political agenda of most Western European universities. Education, and higher education specifically, plays a central role in promoting socioeconomic mobility and economic development.”

“As the role of knowledge has grown in importance in the post-industrial era, universities, the historical centres for developing knowledge, have also undergone huge changes. In recent years, the role of universities in the knowledge economy has been discussed extensively (Douglass 2007, Delanty 2001, Gibbons et al 1996), especially with respect to how knowledge is developed. “

“Universities are no longer the elite institutions they were at the start of the twentieth century. Widening participation, notably by students from minority groups but also female students, has challenged academia. Diversity policies have been developed, as have new ways to cope with these goals, but we are still on the threshold of successful implementation. HEIs are still experiencing difficulties in promoting diversity or implementing diversity policies as a necessary dimension of ensuring they develop to become inclusive learning communities.”

Technology and diversity

“The role of technology in coping with diversity matters has not been fully addressed yet.  In this presentation I’ll address the strategic goals of THUAS and the challenges and opportunities of both diversity and technology.”

“THUAS offers 53 bachelors and 8 masters programs ranging from information technology to law and business – supported by 24 centres of applied research.  9 of our bachelor programs are international. Located in The Hague, the government capital of the Netherlands and the international city of peace, justice and law, the university has 23.000 students from more than 100 different countries.”

“Our institution is committed to creating an educational and work environment that is rich in diversity, inclusive, and supportive of all students, faculty and staff and is ethical responsible and educationally sound. Excellence and inclusion policies have long be seen as two sides opposite to each other. At THUAS we are fully aware of the enormous challenge of connecting diversity and educational quality efforts and reframe concepts of diversity beyond access.”

“Our policies are based upon a core set of values which include a commitment to more inclusive approaches and practice and to provision which is transformative, enabling and empowering for students and staff.”

High diversity rates

“THUAS diversity rates are is high: about 40% of our students are from migrant’s families, mostly belonging to the Surinam/Hindustan, Moroccan, Turkish communities. About 10% of the student population is international students from all over the world. And 48% of our student population is first generation students. This means that 48% of our students are the first members of their family to access to higher education. As an institution we put particular emphasis upon building learner confidence and creating a supportive learning environment.”

“But we define diversity from a broader perspective than ethnicity or countries of origin. By diversity we understand: individual differences (e.g. personality, learning styles, and life experiences) and group/social differences (e.g. race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientations, country of origin, and ability as well as cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations) that can be engaged in the service of learning.”

Inclusion is the answer

“Inclusion can be defined as:  the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity – in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities (intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect – in ways that increase one’s awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within, and change, systems and institutions.”

“The principal aim of the university teaching and learning strategy is to provide all students with an excellent learning experience whilst responding to the changing context of teaching and learning in a manner which will make fundamental contribution towards the achievement of our mission and strategic priorities.”

“In 2012 the THUAS has introduced three core strategies – enhancing educational quality through curriculum; research and innovation and international orientation. Core to the identity of the university and underlying its academic activities are three key values: a stable and stimulating learning environment, an international orientation and serving as partner for innovation.” 

“On curriculum the strategy is to focus upon: 

  1. Enhancing the student learning and working experience
  2. Constructing a deep relationship between research and education
  3. Further improving student study success, retention and achievement
  4. Strengthening the international component in the curriculum and the international classroom
  5. Prioritising the link and interaction with the business world and other regional partners in innovation”

Problem solving skills

“The university’s practical orientation reflects what is happening in the world of work. Mixing theory with practice, we require all students to follow an internship to develop skills and competencies such as teamwork and problem solving needed to succeed in their careers. Our graduates are well prepared for their future and contribute fully to society. True global citizens.”

“This last theme is a key tool of our mission: preparing our students to be global citizens for twenty-first century realities. Our education reflects the challenges and dilemmas of this new global century.  Our learning environment improves constantly. Within this, IT plays a crucial role.”

“Not only is information literacy and access to technology relevant for our curriculum and learning experience.  For us technology, and in particular skill-biased informaction technology, is also a vehicle to reduce inequality and enhance equal opportunities. The impact of widening participation upon the characteristics of the student profile and the implication of this for learning, teaching and assessment means providing opportunities for all.”

Nearing a turning point in higher education

“We are at a turning point in higher education where traditional indicators of student success and educational quality are under intense examination, both inside and outside higher education. There have been significant developments in educational methods, new assessment mechanisms, better mentor and coaching interventions, doing research on interventions and assessing success in longitudinal tracks. Especially within the so-called G 5 universities of applied sciences, these are the universities situated in the four big cities in the western part of the Netherlands.”

“At the same time, there have been considerable advances in ways of reporting student engagement and student satisfaction. We all participate in de NSE (national student enquiry) since engagement and satisfaction significantly influence all aspects of the student experience, from campus climate to retention, and success in college.” 

Evidence-based practice

“There is also a need to innovate in different aspects of education. The keenness to better teaching and learning methodologies is closely related to the idea that teaching should be associated with research in the disciplines, to an evidence-based practice. But also on the content, the body of knowledge, the influence of state-of-art research should feed and enhance the quality of the curriculum.”

“The educational programmes have a wide range of learning outcomes which need a similarly broad range of learning and assessment approaches which actively involve students in the learning process at all stages. Students are encouraged by learning and assessment methods used to adopt a deep approach to their learning rather than simply being able to reproduce knowledge. In doing so, we give students the opportunity and support to develop the personal and professional attributes and skills needed to be effective in society and the labour market.”

“The teaching and learning approaches adopted will range from tutor-centred approaches to student-led autonomous learning and will typically involve a mixture of lectures, tutorials, staff and student led seminars, workshops and practical assignments and both individual and group based projects.”

“On research and innovation, we seek to excel in:  

  1. Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Age of Globalization
  2. Good Governance for a Safe World
  3. Quality of Life: Technology for Health”

The international classroom

“On internationalisation we promote the international classroom and the participation of all students in different international experiences: through internationalisation of the curriculum; through study abroad; though work and internship or traineeship abroad; through staff exchange.  Through the internationalisation of the curriculum we promote the examination of and reflection on shared human experiences across contexts to engage learners in critical thinking about a range of perspectives. Developing an inclusive practice means also questioning and rethinking current assumptions. The international perspective plays a key role in this.”

“Faculty development and professional training  is also a main strategy of our institution. THUAS believes that its major role is to promote learning and the main activity of its faculty and staff is to design, manage and support high quality student learning. Staff needs support and development to enable them to implement the requirements of our quality standards and to effectively facilitate learning in an expanding and rapidly changing variety of learning contexts, modes and settings.”

Educational leadership

“Next year THUAS will establish a ‘Centre for Educational Leadership’. Within the centre we will respond to the professionalization of teaching and learning through:

  1. Continued provision of high quality initial professional development programme for teaching staff
  2. An enhanced continuing professional development programme with particular emphasis upon de strategic priorities of the institution (e.g. internationalisation; research
  3. Establishing a qualification ladder of recognition, reward and progression for teaching staff (BKO; SKO)
  4. Organizing master classes en (research) seminars in collaboration with the research centres.”

“Developing a culture of scholarship is a precondition to create an inspiring and proactive learning environment for lectures and students. The culture of scholarship is best described as an environment of creativity and productivity that extends from active investigation designed to create, advance, or transform new knowledge. I use here the definition given by Ernst L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Boyer identified four realms: (1) the scholarship of discovery; (2) the scholarship of integration; (3) the scholarship of application; and (4) the scholarship of teaching.”

Creative means for delivering knowledge

“The scholarship of teaching lies not in effective delivery of appropriate content but more in the development of creative and original means for delivery and measuring of outcomes.”

“We really believe that to enhance the students experience in higher education and to prepare them better for a complex globalize labour market the level of teaching and learning must be linked to research, innovation and inquiry.”

“How does technology fit in this equation? Our core business is to create a stimulating learning environment for all the students and faculty. For THUAS the learning environment encompasses different realms:

  • Teaching and learning accommodation
  • Virtual learning environment (in Dutch:  DWLO)
  • Learning Resource Centre / Library
  • Educational information systems
  • Student support from Student Services (including student counseling; careers guidance; finance support and housing and accommodation)”

Blended learning strategies

“Through the Virtual Learning Environment we carry out blended learning strategies. We really believe in a good combination of virtual learning strategies and face to face interaction. IT provides students easy access to society, global issues, student life as well as opening doors to knowledge and information.”

“Although e-learning is already being used effectively in many programs further work is required to integrate its use more widely into the university’s culture of teaching and learning. The university’s virtual learning environment (DWLO) is now well established as an institution broad platform but staff need more guidance and support to make best use of its potential.” 

“For THUAS  IT is a mean to enhance the quality of student learning. We are committed to provide students fully access to digital or virtual information. Our students do not always have access to proper devices and tools. Not at home and not personally. Because of that we have decided to maintain enough IT facilities and support in the institution.”

Improve blackboard

“Blackboard is a key technology for the learning environment. For teachers and students it is the primary form of interaction after personal interaction. Still we think there is much to be done to improve the use of Blackboard. Only 30 to 40% of the entire Blackboard possibilities are been already explored and used.”  

“IT is vital to improve learning through better access to resources and information, and as a complement to face-to-face interaction with scholars, rather than as a substitute for good teaching and personal contact. Our institution is still in the process of aligned the use of technology to student’s expectations in integrating new learning technologies into the teaching and learning strategies. As it is said early, much more training is needed to improve teachers IT skills.”

“On the national level our institutions participates actively in the SURF Foundation, a national platform of higher education institutions which promotes and initiates innovations in IT. SURF has been the right vehicle to introduce innovations, support and capacity building. Through our participation in SURF a strong national network has emerged at educational as well as research innovation.”

IT as motor for quality enhancement

“Another important initiative where our institution belongs to the founding fathers is E-merge. E-merge is an initiative of the Technical University Delft, Leiden University, Leiden University of Applied Sciences and The Hague university of Applied Sciences. A couple of weeks ago we celebrate the 10 years jubilee with an inspiring seminar. For the last ten years we have joined efforts to introduce IT as a motor for quality enhancement and innovation in education.” 

“Through this knowledge platform we develop some tools to support our institutions strategy and commitment to diversity. A good example is the so-called Reality check. This tool helps students in the process to make the right choice about their study. Technology  and innovations on IT should play a more important role in promoting study success. Also here we are on the threshold of new possibilities and challenging developments.”

21st century tools

“Technology has come a long way. 20 years ago we would never have thought that it would be a vital, indispensable part of our life. Hence in Higher Ed technology has played a central role in improving quality and a better and more equal distribution of knowledge and information. Accessibility, transparency and interconnectivity are key values of our time.”

“We only can guess of the developments in the years to come. What we well know and are entirely committed  is to provide and equip future generations with the right tools to be engage and overcome 21st century global challenges.”

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