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The plans for the new problem-based learning method have only just been drawn up and Steijn warns that the changes to be made are not yet cut into stone. “We’re just exploring our options.” ESSB, which includes the Erasmus University College, first and foremost wishes to increase group size. “Currently, our groups are generally made up of twelve students. We don’t expect this number to increase much for practicals in the future, but group size will definitely increase considerably in tutorial groups at regular lectures. I can’t give you any exact figures just yet.”
Furthermore, students will be asked to take the lead more often, meaning that students for example will be expected to give each other feedback, rather than just having all their work marked and corrected by a tutor, as is currently the case. “Of course, that won’t always be possible, but in some cases it will be a good option. We feel that our current classes don’t give students enough incentive to work independently.”
The instructional formats used must become more varied as well, says Steijn. “Traditional problem-based learning is based on the so-called seven-jump process (seven steps towards addressing a certain case – ed.) which is generally followed in exactly the same way in many courses. That was beginning to change already, but we want to introduce even greater variety, as well as other formats that will activate students. For instance, we’re considering a format in which we will start with a large group, but then split up into smaller groups, made up of fewer than twelve students. In other words, a bit like break-out rooms, basically.”
Addressing financial problems
ESSB wishes to implement these changes to tackle several problems. First of all, financial problems. The university’s per-student funding has been reduced considerably over the years. “Due to the small group sizes and our dependence on tutors, the degree programmes we are currently teaching are susceptible to fluctuations in the number of students and reduced funding. We’ve arrived at the point where the current system is no longer tenable.”
The current system also needs to be overhauled because it is causing tutors and lecturers to have a heavy workload. “Alleviating staff’s heavy workloads so as to look after our employees and the quality of our teaching as well is another major reason why we’re revising our teaching methods,” Steijn writes.
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According to Steijn, the third reason is because the faculty wishes to improve its degree programmes. “We’ve found that the guiding principles of problem-based learning must be examined again so as to motivate students to be active students. In addition, we wish to address the increasing gap between staff and students and the limited options for flexibility in our curriculum.”
Don’t change guiding principles of problem-based learning
Steijn is not yet able to explain exactly how larger groups, students taking the lead more often and more varied instructional formats are to result in less heavy workloads, better teaching and financial benefits. “We haven’t completely determined in full detail yet what we’re going to do.” He is quick to emphasise that the faculty is ‘still explicitly keeping in mind the underlying guiding principles of problem-based learning’, i.e. student-activating classes that focus on problem-solving and are contextual, with students collaborating in small groups.
His colleague Harriët Schelhaas of the Erasmus School of Law cannot say too much about ESL’s plans at present, but did confirm that the faculty is considering further developing problem-based learning, particularly in Years 2 and 3 of its bachelor degrees.
ESSB is involving students and staff in the development of its problem-based-learning-based formats – for instance though its programme committees. The implementation of ESSB’s plans is scheduled for September 2022.