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INTERVIEW | 4TU winners Teaching Award 2023

Monday, 4 December 2023

Last year, elections were organised both nationally and by individual universities for the best educator of the year. 4TU interviewed the winners of the Educator of the Year Award and was curious to know why students are so enthusiastic about them and how they see the future of engineering education.

For each 4TU University ‚ÄúEducators of the Year‚ÄĚ were elected in 2023. The award winners are:

·         Birgit Boogaard, Lecturer in African Philosophy and Social Justice Technology and Development at WUR. She did not only win the WUR Educator of the Year Award, but also the National Educator of the Year award, double congratulations!;

·         Alessandro Bombelli, Lecturer at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft;

·         Florent Gauvin, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Built Environment and Karel van Donselaar Assistant Professor of Retail Operations awarded for TU/e's best bachelor and master educator respectively;

·         Heidi Toivonen Assistant Professor in Narrative Research at of the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences at the UT.

Get to know these inspiring teachers!

Interview Birgit Boogaard | Winner National Lecturer of the Year 2023


Why did you receive you the teaching award from your university?

The jury of the National Teacher of the Year election -consisting of two lecturers and three students- highly appreciated my creative, inclusive, and innovative view of education and teaching methods to bring ‚Äė‚Äôuntold perspectives to light‚Äô‚Äô. I work as lecturer at the Knowledge Technology and Innovation Group of WUR, where I teach courses like African Philosophy and Social Justice Technology and Development. In my courses colonial legacies are addressed and historically oppressed voices are included, especially African perspectives: not by talking for African colleagues, but talking with them, and by reading their texts, and listening to their lectures.

‚ÄúOne of the best compliments I received from students who followed the African Philosophy course a few years ago, is that this course changed their view of the world.‚ÄĚ
Birgit Boogaard
WUR

Inspired by intercultural philosopher Heinz Kimmerle, we follow a dialogical approach. It is not about judgements whether something is right or wrong: instead we think and speak in terms of difference and diversity. We listen to each other with an open mind and heart to better understand each other. In doing so, students and teachers engage in critical self-reflection. It is important that we dare to look into the mirror when it comes to our colonial legacy, as philosopher Mogobe Ramose says: ‚ÄúWe have to look into the mirror, especially when we know we are ugly‚ÄĚ.¬†

One of the best compliments I received from students who followed the African Philosophy course a few years ago, is that this course changed their view of the world. As one student wrote to me: ‚ÄúDear Birgit, Congratulations!! I write this letter with tears of joy in my eyes. I am so proud of you, as a teacher and as a human being. Please, keep on sharing this path of African Philosophy within WUR, because this class goes beyond classes, touches the heart, and enhances solidarity and humanity above everything.‚ÄĚ

 What are your ambitions for the coming years in terms of educational development?

¬†The multiple awards of the past years, including WUR‚Äôs Excellent Education Awards, WUR‚Äôs Teacher of the Year 2022, and National Teacher of the Year 2023, all point to the same student message: students find their current curriculum too heavily leaning on Western perspectives only and want to learn from and with historically oppressed voices. Perhaps that partly explains why African philosophy is such a popular course among Wageningen students. This year, the course is followed by 110 students from 26 different study programmes. While these achievements are beyond what I could have dreamt of when we started, there is still so much to be done in terms of inclusion and knowledge diversity in our education. I feel encouraged by the personal words I received from minister of Education, Culture and Science Robbert Dijkgraaf: ‚ÄúThe jury found your approach to an open and safe learning environment very compelling and innovative. Addressing the very Western-oriented philosophy behind our education, which causes us to miss out on knowledge and opportunities, opens up a world towards more inclusion and equality. You are one of the teachers urgently needed in higher education.‚ÄĚ

Hence, we need to recognize that we are not (yet) inclusive in our education, especially when it comes to including perspectives from the across the globe. This cannot be solved with one course only at WUR.  Moreover, while I teach African philosophy, it is important to note that this is not the only historically oppressed voice. In fact, knowledge diversity is relevant for and urgently needed at many Dutch universities. I put my heart and soul into diversifying knowledge in our education, and creating a more inclusive and safe space for students and teachers. However, this is no individual effort, but a collective one. Together, we can create space to include historically oppressed knowledges. Hence, it is a long-term ambition to contribute to knowledge diversity with teachers and students at various universities, for example through organisations like the Comenius Network.

How and with whom do you want to realise those ambitions?

Knowledge diversity requires close collaboration with authors themselves. In the case of African perspectives, this means strong collaboration with African philosophers like Mogobe Ramose, Michael Eze, Beatrice Okyere-Manu, and Pius Mosima. Thus although the above awards are individual awards, I could not have taught these courses without the support of these dear colleagues. From the first time I taught African philosophy at WUR in 2018, it has been a deep wish to co-teach this course with an African philosopher, so that we bring intercultural dialogues into the classroom. Hence, I am deeply grateful that since 2 years Pius Mosima is co-teaching African philosophy at WUR. I hope that the collaboration with African colleagues and universities will strengthen and deepen in the coming years.

Alessandro Bombelli | Educator of the Year 2023 TU Delft

Why did you receive you the teaching award from your university?

During the TU Delft Education Day on November 9th, 2023, a selection committee comprising the Vice-Rector, the Academic Director of the Teaching Academy, the previous Educator of the Year winner, and board members of inter-faculty Student Associations decided that I, out of the eight faculty Educators of the Year, was the TU Delft Educator of the Year.

The reason why students from the Aerospace Engineering faculty voted for me was my openness to discussion and feedback, my desire to challenge their critical thinking, my care for their understanding and well-being, and apparently my (mis)use of memes and jokes during lectures.


‚ÄúIt is never a binary choice between research or education, but how we allocate time and passion between the two.‚ÄĚ
Alessandro Bombelli
TU Delft

What are your ambitions for the coming years in terms of educational development and with whom do you want to realise those ambitions?

On a personal note, I want to improve my BSc-level teaching skills. Especially in BSc courses, which are very large (e.g., 400 students), it is very hard to teach in a way that well addresses all students. Notwithstanding, we should be adaptive and understand that teaching BSc or MSc students requires different skills, and BSc-level teaching is where I would like to improve the most. Generally speaking, I am passionate about mathematical modelling, a skill which has been slightly obfuscated in recent years by the advent of Artificial Intelligence and similar buzz trends. I want to ensure that students are aware of their choices and can interpret the output of their models without (entirely) outsourcing this to a machine. Within TU Delft, I am working with colleagues on a project leveraging serious games as an alternative learning process for advanced mathematical modelling to increase engagement and knowledge retention. We hope to share the final product with other interested teachers and create a small community.      

Do you have any more dreams or wishes when it concerns the position of education and -in particular- teachers within the university? 

In technical universities, research is the main core task. In Italian, I would say this is Pulcinella's secret, i.e.,  an open secret that everybody knows without explicitly admitting they do (check this wikipedia page for more information about the Pulcinella's secret - in the "Characteristics" section).

In my view, academics pursued such a career because they received a good education that fostered their curiosity: I believe education is the pillar supporting research. My perception is that being an excellent researcher and an OK educator is accepted without posing growth challenges, while the other way around makes career opportunities scarcer.

This might hinder the intrinsic motivation of educators (admittedly, I am biased here). I also recognize the wind is changing, as more entities are recognizing the value of education. For example, I am grateful for the support of our Teaching Academy, which provides an amazing environment for educators to develop ideas. Hence, I hope this wind of change continues. It is never a binary choice between research or education, but how we allocate time and passion between the two.        


Florent Gauvin | TU/e's best bachelor lecturer

Why did you receive you the teaching award from your university?

One of the reasons I was nominated and eventually won the Teaching Award is because I always try to show as much passion as I can while I am teaching. I also try to be available and innovative, which is not always easy, but I am trying and I believe the students feel this. If I look back at my students’ feedback, the energy that I have while lecturing is often acknowledged (even on Monday morning, which is quite an achievement for me!). Also, something that may sound obvious, but I try to show a lot of empathy to my students as well. I am not doing this job just to be the connection between the study material and the student, but to create passion, and (hopefully) to inspire young adults to do great things in their future careers!

‚ÄúThe impact of education is greater than anything else, considering that our students will become the actors of our field in a few years!‚ÄĚ
Florent Gauvin
TU/e

What are your ambitions for the coming years in terms of educational development and how you want to realise these ambitions?

 My main ambition is to keep improving myself as a teacher, especially with the many tools available to make our lectures more interesting to activate the students, especially with large groups. I think that we should all try to do things differently for the students, because not only teaching evolves faster than we think - online teaching during COVID is a good example of the fast evolution of teaching methods -, but we do have a lot of options that we might not be aware of, hence the need of getting informed about how others are actually teaching. I am currently trying to get more people from my department into my courses, to strengthen the connection between different topics, and I am also working at the international level, to develop courses with Erasmus+ funding with several universities in Europe.

Do you have any more dreams or wishes when it concerns the position of education and -in particular- teachers within the university?

My wish would be to have teaching as a central aspect of academia. Nowadays, I feel that teaching is just one task among others, but it should be -or it even must be- the main task for all of us, our priority as staff, because the impact of education is greater than anything else, considering that our students will become the actors of our field in a few years! This is even more true considering the very important topics we are currently teaching in Engineering such as circularity or sustainability. These topics are still new, and training future engineers who have experience in these topics will be critical. Therefore, teaching must be valued more, and lecturers, as well as professors, must recognize that despite their undeniable experience, they could still develop their teaching skills and spend even more time preparing for their lectures.

Foto’s: Levi Baruch en Bart van Overbeeke

Interview Heidi Toivonen | UT lecturer of the year 2023.

Why did you receive you the teaching award from your university?

The process started from students choosing their favourite teacher per program and ended with a grand finale where a jury assessed the mini lectures of the small group of finalists. The feedback from the students I received, underlined that they experience me as a caring, patient, and engaging teacher that motivates them to do their best. The jury commented that my lecture had the right amount of information at the right level of abstraction and I had good use of voice and good visuals. I feel like it all comes down to a combination of things that I have done along the way since I started teaching in 2021: putting effort into designing my educational events carefully, taking time when feedbacking and assessing students, listening to student feedback, and continuing to learn more while trying to maintain my genuine enthusiasm.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúClimate change would be one good example of a challenge that calls for new forms of education delivered in multidisciplinary teams of teachers.‚ÄĚ
Heidi Toivonen
UT

 What are your ambitions for the coming years in terms of educational development?

I’m particularly interested in developing myself in hybrid and interdisciplinary forms of teaching to prepare students to tackle complicated challenges. Climate change would be one good example of a challenge that calls for new forms of education delivered in multidisciplinary teams of teachers. I love teaching research methods and also want to develop further in that field. Using new hands-on, student-oriented, and technologically advanced approaches to teach how to combine different research methods is very fascinating.

My development ambitions fit with what I as a psychologist think about the future of engineering education, because I think interdisciplinary cross-pollination is going to be the magic word. Future engineering programs might collaborate more and more with psychology departments to enhance students' understanding of human behaviour, decision-making, and user-centric design. Psychology also highlights learning soft skills like communication and teamwork, and those could be incorporated more into future engineering education. I also think that future engineering education could acknowledge the mental health challenges students and future professionals might face, and integrate psychological knowledge regarding stress management or resilience-building into the curriculum.

How do you want to realise those ambitions?

Firstly, of course, within my own home university. Collaboration between different educational institutions -also internationally- is really important. We also have to keep tight connections with the surrounding society and keep designing education that is really in touch with the needs of the world around us.

Do you have any other dreams when it concerns the position of education and -in particular- teachers within the university?

I hope that education is not positioned against research, because universities need both. As someone whose job includes both education and research, I think it is vital that the time and effort it takes to conduct both well is really taken into account. I hope that there would be more realism in recognising the amount of unpaid work the constantly overworking teaching and research staff does. I also hope that universities don’t become teaching factories but that attention is being paid to delivering high quality research and education. Now that the internationalization debates are particularly heated, my hope is that people understand that research is an international endeavour and its language is English. As a Finn, I think that there is even more potential to be unlocked among the English-speaking internationals in the Netherlands.