Although education and research can greatly reinforce each other, in practice they are still often two different worlds. In this series, we highlight lecturer-researchers who successfully forge these worlds into one. We kick off with lecturer-researcher Albert Kraaij. He developed a module called 'Research Group Assignments', which is not bound to any specific time or content. In this way, he and his students make optimum use of the free space for research into sustainable business models.

Albert teaches at the Small Business & Retail Management (ORM) degree programme and is doing doctoral research on how companies can successfully become more sustainable. His rule of thumb when it comes to research is: I don't do anything without students. “My supervisor at Erasmus University had to get used to that,” he laughs. “But this way, I gain valuable time to spend on my research and my students. Because if you don't combine the two, you don’t actually have the time to do both things properly. I engage my students in my research while they are learning. For example, I ask them to interview one or two entrepreneurs from their immediate surroundings about their business. An acquaintance with a greenhouse company in the Westland, or an uncle with a shoe shop in Iran, for instance. Thanks to our international student population, I have the opportunity to collect research data from all over the world.”

The system does not limit you, but you must understand it

Albert's students are given a role in his research in various ways. In the lessons, but also via the Research Group Assignments module. He talks about how it came about: “I am originally a controller and therefore trained to read systems. I took a good look at our curriculum and saw that it offered opportunities to combine education and research efficiently. For example, you can use the free space very well. When I realised this, the idea was born to develop a module that is completely free: not bound to a starting or ending time, not even to a specific content. So it is possible!”

Continuing to develop together with students

To monitor the quality of education, education managers want to know far ahead: what are you going to do, how are you going to do it? “Understandable,” says Albert, “but that way you kill all creativity. In that respect, I am lucky with my education manager Ronald Visser; this module was created in collaboration with him. He sees that trusting lecturers and giving them the opportunity to develop can produce good and innovative education. An additional advantage is that these lecturers connect better with students through their own learning process. At least, that is how I experience it. I think I have become a better lecturer because I am doing research now.”

Opportunities for customisation

A colleague of Albert's has also worked with the research group assignments and was very enthusiastic about the method. “Because I have standardised some things, it is not a lot of work in terms of administration. You only need to change some variables such as the learning objectives of the assignment. This way, you can use students in various ways and offer them customised assignments that suit their interests and levels. A great example is a gifted student who published a scientific article with me within this module. Because she was easily bored, she dropped out of everything, but she could really sink her teeth into this. As a researcher, I was glad that I could use her talent, and as a lecturer, I was glad that she could finally get the best out of herself.”